Ocean Drive Historic District
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Touring the Mansions
After the Civil War, artists, writers, and scholars discovered Newport’s natural beauty and began to summer here, some staying year round (like Castle Hill Inn’s Alexander Agassiz). Wealthy patrons soon followed and constructed grand homes, many based on European palaces, as befitted the new American royalty. Visit at least a few of these ornate “cottages”—the Breakers, home to the Vanderbilts, is the most lavish and extraordinary. Even with 70 rooms in the manner of a Florentine palazzo, it still manages to feel like a family lived there. The aptly named Marble House holds chilly-to-the-touch stories of its ambitious and clever mistress, Alva Vanderbilt. The charming, shingled Isaac Bell House, designed by the firm McKim, Mead, and White, is extraordinary for an airy floor plan inspired by both the English Arts and Crafts movement and classic Japanese architecture. The highly recommended Servants Tour at the Elms—a backstairs look at how the other half lived—provides a transition back to reality after touring these fantastical edifices. Photo by Doug Kerr//Flickr.
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