Enticing Newport

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Middletown, RI to Newport, RI
NEWPORT, Rhode Island—Though we didn't relish the idea of doing chores, we realized that we'd be in a pickle if we didn't get up off our buns and get some things done.  So we mustered the energy to catch up on some essential tasks today.  "Hot dog!" we exclaimed in unison mid-afternoon when we realized we had completed haircuts, prescription refills, laundry, car wash, and several other errands that would keep us rolling for the next few weeks.  It was time to explore Newport.
With its reputation as a summer resort and home to the not-so-modest "cottages" of the Vanderbilts and Astors, we had to check out more of Newport.  Founded in 1639 by a group of individuals whose religious beliefs had clashed with the leaders of nearby Portsmouth, Newport served as the state's first capital.

Early in the nineteenth century, southern plantation owners began to build stately vacation homes in Newport where they could come to escape the brutal summer heat of the South.  By mid-century, they were joined by wealthy Yankee merchants, who constructed even grander estates.  Of course, no Gilded Age industrialist could resist such a place, so by the turn of the 20th century, the nation's wealthiest families were spending their summers in Newport as well. Vanderbilts, Astors, Wideners—all had expansive estates in Newport.
Chateau-sur-Mer (pictured above) was the most palatial residence in Newport when it was completed in 1852 for a merchant in the China trade.  With its grand scale and lavish parties, the estate ushered in the Gilded Age in Newport.  It was the scene of many memorable events for its wealthy visitors, including an elaborate country picnic for more than 2,000 guests in 1857.  
After the Vanderbilts moved into the neighborhood in the 1890s, the "modest" 11,500-sq. ft. manor was eclipsed by far larger "cottages."  Arguably the grandest of Newport's mansions is The Breakers, the 70,000-sq. ft. house built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, older brother of George Vanderbilt, the owner of Asheville's much larger Biltmore House. 
The Breakers (photo from Wikimedia)
Today The Breakers and several other mansions are owned by the Newport Preservation Society, which has opened them to the public for tours.  Under the terms of various wills through the years, the current Cornelius Vanderbilt heirs are still permitted to vacation in the upper floors of The Breakers while tourists file through below.

While the super-rich had their seaside estates, the rest of Newport was offered Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile recreational trail that runs between many of the largest mansions and the sea.  Some of the estate owners built tunnels through their property to ensure it still had shore access while complying with opening the coastal walkway to the public.
Cliff walk tunnel
In addition to the appeal of a couple of letterboxes hidden along Cliff Walk, the trail offered stunning views, both seaward and inland.  Being here in the off-season, we have enjoyed the lack of crowds on the path, as well as in restaurants and shops.  As in many expensive resort towns, low season prices are quite reasonable also, leading us to contemplate a lengthier Newport stay in the future.