Exterior of the Marble House, built in 1892 for William K. Vanderbilt, Newport, Rhode Island, New England, United States of America, North America
Fraser Hall/© Fraser Hall
Tour at least a few of the Newport mansions—euphemistically called “summer cottages” by their initial occupants—for an inside look at the incredible wealth and royal ambitions of 19th-century America’s 1 percenters. Even with its gold-leaf opulence, the Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion, retains some warmth and a sense that the family actually spent time there and that the children weren’t hushed and out of sight. Marble House, based on Versailles’s Petit Trianon, is interesting for the chilling social ambitions of its mistress, played out in the interior design and in the tour’s narrative. At the Elms, the Servant Life Tour is highly recommended as a tonic and counterpoint to the high living.