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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Our Newport Vacation

Hubby and I went on vacation! We visited Newport, Rhode Island. I’ve always wanted to see the summer “cottages” of the rich and famous.

We drove up on Monday. We only stopped at one antique shop so we arrived in Newport around 4 p.m. After checking into our hotel and eating dinner, we decided to check out the Cliff Walk. We started at the Forty Steps and walked south. We saw surfers at the foot of the cliff. To get to the waves, they had to wend their way out by walking barefoot through the rocks. They wore wetsuits and it looked as if most of them used short boards.

Hurricane Bertha had kicked up some mighty big swells and the surfers appeared to be having a mighty good time. In fact, all that surfing made them mighty thirsty. The trash can at the top of the cliff was brimming with beer cans and water bottles.

Hubby and I watched them surf for a while. It made me nervous wondering if they were going to surf onto the rocks at the foot of the cliff. However, their path along the wave carried them at an oblique angle.

As one surfer walked by, I asked him if there had been accidents when surfers ran into the rocks. He showed me his knees. A few scratches--that’s all, he explained.

I guess they know exactly what they’re doing.

The next day, hubby and I toured four mansions, The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, and Chateau Sur Mer. The first three reminded me of the palaces I had seen in Europe. Chateau Sur Mer was somewhat less ostentatious than the others, but there is carved wood all over the house and it is exquisite.

The daughters in the family who lived in Chateau Sur Mer never married. Of course, they had limited choices--they were only allowed to marry men from eight other families--at least that’s what the tour guide told me.

Stories like that are what intrigued me more than all the marble, gold leaf, and Louis the Fourteenth furniture.

I do believe that money cannot buy happiness and most of the people who lived in the grand mansions did not always get to enjoy their prosperity for they suffered tragedies. Divorce, premature death, and arranged loveless marriages are not my idea of a good time--no matter how extravagant the lifestyle.

After dinner, hubby and I drove along Ocean Drive. I took a picture of the Castle Hill lighthouse and then the Goat Island Lighthouse. Maybe someday, I might get a chance to do a painting of one of them.

On Wednesday, we checked out Hunter House--the oldest of the Newport mansions, built in 1748--so it was not a palace, but a center hall colonial--lots of those in NJ, too.

Above the fireplace was a painting by Gilbert Stuart--his first, a painting of dogs. The tour guide told me that the father of the Mr. Hunter who bought the house was a physician who cured Gilbert Stuart of an eye ailment. Gilbert was fourteen at the time and the doctor noticed the sketches the teenager had drawn. The doctor gave the young Gilbert paints and introduced him to the portrait artist who had painted the doctor’s portrait.

And thus, if it had not been for that one good doctor, Gilbert Stuart would not have finished the famous portrait of George Washington. I love hearing stories like that. It can easily be translated to a fictional story.

After Hunter House, hubby and I hopped on a ferry to Rose Island. I had originally thought of staying at Rose Island. I am glad I did not. I think I would have gone a little stir crazy.

The lighthouse is very nice, but guests can only walk along a small portion of the island. The rest of it is a bird sanctuary. In truth, the seagulls are the true owners of that island. Baby seagulls and their mothers were all over the place. The mother seagulls were not happy with any human who got anywhere near their offspring.

Hubby and I brought our lunch to the island. We ate at a picnic table in the shade of the lighthouse, I took some photos, picked up some shells, watched the baby seagulls annoy their mothers, and decided I’d had enough.

Back in Newport, we visited the Elms. The Elms was the home of Edward Berwind, the coal magnate. My grandfather, a coal miner, probably helped to contribute to Mr. Berwind’s lavish lifestyle. We actually had two tours of the Elms. One was the standard tour of the home, the other was a Rooftop and Behind the Scenes tour--which featured the places where the servants worked and lived.

It was a hard life for the servants, but the most startling fact was that the last inhabitant of the Elms, Julia Berwind, Edward’s sister, kept the house functioning in the same style with a full staff just as it had been back in 1901. When she died in 1961, there was still no electric washing machine. They used an agitator by hand to do the wash.


However, the house would have fallen to the wrecking ball had it not been for the Preservation Society of Newport County. Without them, there would be another shopping mall in place of the Elms.

The next day we started off the morning by visiting Kingscote, finished in 1841, a Gothic Revival home. We got there ten minutes before it opened and I looked through all the photographs I had taken while we waited for the tour to begin. I realized that I was not quite sure about the location of some of the pictures. Was that the Marble House, or Rosecliff, or the Elms?

So I bought a guidebook.

After Kingscote, we toured the Isaac Bell home, built in 1881. Isaac Bell was a cotton broker and brother-in-law of the publisher of the New York Herald.

After lunch, we headed to Chepstow, an Italianate villa, circa 1861.

At that point, we felt we had overdosed on mansions.

We drove to Green Animals, a topiary garden in Portsmouth. I am always cutting back the hedges in our yard--but ours are plain and boxy. It is amazing to see privet hedges and yews clipped into whimsical, fanciful shapes.

Not that I would do it. It is difficult simply keeping the hedge--and all the other bushes in our yard in check. Sometimes, I feel like a need a machete instead of hedgeclippers to hack away the jungle around the house.

We stopped at the Newport Winery and tasted quite a few wines. I liked their Gemini wine and the Great White. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the wines. The ones that were most elegantly written were the ones I choose to taste. :^)

After dinner, we drove out to see Second Beach, Third Beach, and Purgatory Chasm. In Massachusetts, there is a Purgatory Chasm, too. It’s rather impressive. But Rhode Island’s Purgatory Chasm is different--and scary. It is a narrow cleft in a huge rock formation. The cleft is not wide, but it goes straight down to the water. From the top of the rock, there’s a wonderful view of Second Beach, Third Beach, and the wildlife refuge. Of course, I did not go anywhere near the edge of that huge rock.

We walked along Third Beach. The sand is light grey--unlike the sand in New Jersey.

On Friday, we left Newport and headed to Simsbury, Connecticut, to see my sister, her hubby, and their children. My sister is Curator of the Gardens for the grounds of the local historical society so she took us to the Phelps Tavern Museum--another old house!

However, it was not a palace and we learned something interesting. When fireplaces were being built people would place old shoes from family members in the fireplace. This was for good luck--or so it is thought.

My sister also took us to see the largest tree in Connecticut--The Gifford Pinchot Sycamore. With a girth of 27 feet it is very impressive.

Gifford Pinchot founded the US Forestry Service. Hubby and I visited Grey Towers a few years ago, which is the Pinchot mansion in Pennsylvania. But Pinchot was born in Simsbury--so they dedicated the largest tree they could find in honor of him. :^)

My sister gave me some of the plants from her garden--perennials that multiply. I hope they do well for me.


Irene said...

If I could have lots of money, I swear, it wouldn't change me one bit. I'd be just as I am not, only rich.
Honest, Penny!

Anne Carrole said...

Penelope--My hubby and I went to Newport for the first time last summer and did pretty much all the things you did. I just loved the mansions but mostly I loved the stories behind all those doors. We stayed in a cute B&B on Spring street and loved walking around the harbor at night as well as all the tours. I loved all the houses--hard to pick a favorite. Thanks for blog as it brought back pleasant recent memories!

Irene said...

JUST AS I AM NOW!! Not not.

Karina Fabian said...

LOL--Irene, can you say "Freudian slip?"

If I had lots of money, I'd be just as I am now, too--but with staff.

Penelope, I lived in Newport for a year when Rob attended Naval Command and Staff College. I loved it. We did more of the kiddie things, like the tiny, almost garage learning aquarium where the kids could pet the sharks, but I took a ghost tour of Rosemont over Halloween. Very interesting!

One of my most fun shopping memories was going to a church thrift shop and buying a gorgeous formal gown for $10. Still have it, even though I can't fit it.

If I had lots of money, I'd be just as I am now, but with staff, a dietitian and a personal trainer.

Penelope Marzec said...

Yes--staff would be very helpful. :^)

I wanted to go on one of the ghost tours, but I have dragged hubby along on so many of those in other towns that he really was not the least bit interested.

I always ask about the ghosts in every house we tour anyway.

Leann said...

Wow, it sounds like you had a great time and saw a lot. I'm with you, I would have done the ghost tours!

Debra Maher said...

Loved seeing your post Penny! We drove to Newport last year and absolutely loved it!

We toured The Elms, the Breakers, and Rosecliff and plan to return for more. I liked the Elms tour the most, especially Behind the Scenes/Rooftop tour. Great story about the servants going on strike. Fascinating to see the contrast between lifestyles.

BTW, I recently posted about our sunset cruise on Newport's Narragansett Bay on my new blog. (Only 5 posts so far, but I'm enjoying it.) If interested...


Unknown said...

I'm glad to see you liked Newport. My family is from there, and my wife and I were there on vacation earlier this month, though all we did was lay on the beach.

If you liked Newport Vineyards, you would really like Sakonnet Vineyards over in Little Compton, about 10-15 minutes away.

Also, my dad jumped off the top of Purgetory Chasm when he was a kid. Obviously, he made it, since I'm here now.

Ben the Beach Bum

Penelope Marzec said...


Just looking at Purgatory Chasm gave me chills. Your father must have been fearless.

Next time I go to Newport, I'll check out Sakonnet Vineyards. I do like wine. :^)