Gilded Age Mansions and Jazz Festivals

Trip Start Jul 06, 2007
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Trip End Aug 03, 2007


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Flag of United States  , Rhode Island
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Wow, what an experience!  This is one of the highlights of the trip for me.  It's a beautiful day and we arrived in Newport in time to have a quick breakfast then head for the mansions (the Gilded Age wealthy folks referred to them as *Cottages* since they were only used primarily during July and August of each year). 

Newport grew from an 18th century maritime center into the Queen of American Resorts when the city became a summering place for America's wealthiest families. These places are also known for showcasing some of the so-called greatest architects and designers of the 19th century.

We saw The Breakers first then Rosecliff then Marble House then The Elms. It's amazing what you could create with unlimited funds in a time when there was no such thing as income tax.  These mansions are over the top with regard to sheer square footage (The Breakers is over 100,000 square feet), materials used inside and out (i.e., gold, marble, alabaster, leather walls, 400 year old tapestries, etc.), ballrooms, etc.   

Unfortunately we discovered that if you intend to explore each house in depth you need much more time than we allowed.  I would definitely love to come back here to see things that we just couldn't squeeze into a few hours.

Newport is famous for more than just its gilded age mansions.  The Newport Jazz Festival is celebrating its 53rd anniversary this year. The Newport Festival is among the events for jazz enthusiasts across the world. From Louis Armstrong to Diana Krall, Count Basie to Cassandra Wilson, virtually every jazz star has participated at one time or another, and many unknown talents have used the festival as a springboard to discovery. My dad Eddie Chamblee and his then wife Dinah Washington made a well-received performance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 6, 1958. I discovered that one of the Cottages, *Belcourt*
(originally built as a 60 room, one bedroom, bachelor pad for Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont) was the site of the jazz festival during the 1955-56 seasons. Wouldn't you know it! That was one of the mansions we didn't get to see.

With the arrival of the summer colony and the New York Yacht Club, Newport became a yachting capital as well. In the 1930s, the Yacht Club brought the famed America's Cup to Newport, where it stayed until lost to the Australians in 1983.

The popular image of Newport as a Gilded Age playground for the wealthy contrasts with local reality.  While the city continues to host summer residents of dazzling wealth, and while some former summer residents now make Newport their year-round home, most Newporters are middle and working class. Newport's diversity continues to grow. Immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries brought Irish, Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Filipinos, Cambodians, and Hispanics, who joined longtime Newporters including Jewish people, African Americans, and Native Americans to enrich the ethnic diversity of the town.

Upon leaving the historic mansion environs we decided to take the scenic Ocean Drive. This is a 10-mile route that starts on Bellevue Avenue and follows Ocean Avenue around a rocky peninsula with fishing coves, swimming beaches, and public parks. The Ocean Avenue part of the drive is probably the most scenic with magnificent views of houses on rocky necks amidst the backdrop of a full-force Atlantic Ocean.
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