Last Day of Vacation

Today was the last day of vacation. Unfortunately it rained almost all day. We didn’t get to finish the cliff walk which stinks because I really wanted to do that. One good thing came out of the rain though. It started to pour as we were walking to the restaurant we wanted to go to, but it got so bad that we just stopped in front of the Rhode Island Quahog Company restaurant. This was honestly the best food we had while we were here. We enjoyed some more stuffed quahogs, surf and turf with stuffed lobster, stuffed shrimp. We tried their award winning, Rhode Islands’ best, New England Clam Chowder. Boy, was it good, actually the best I have ever had. I bought some cans of concentrate to bring home and make.

During the day while it was raining we visited the last mansion, the Breakers; good thing we bought the five mansion pass. The Breakers was completed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II to replace the wooden house that was there originally that he bought very shortly before it burned. What is nice about this house is that it never changed hands out of the family so almost everything in there is original from the Vanderbilt family.

To learn more about the mansions and the Preservation Society of Newport County please visit their site here. I have to credit them for some info on the posts about the houses as well as the info I received while on the tour.

After the Breakers, we went down Belleview Avenue (where all the mansions are, pretty much the fancy pants street in Newport) to the Belcourt Castle. Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont was the first owner of Belcourt Castle. Later on Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, Oliver’s wife joined him in the castle. If you remember the post on the Marble House, Alva was married to Cornelius Vanderbilt and divorced him and literally moved down the street to the Belcourt Castle. She received the Marble House after Cornelius Vanderbilt’s death and kept it store her dresses. Take a minute to let that set in…….. She kept a mansion as a storage closet. Anyway, after Oliver and Alva died, the son took over, but he sold the house and then it changed hands a few times. It was bought for $25,000, yes that’s right a whole mansion sized castle for that cheap, by the Tinney family, who still owns it today. One woman lives in the house all by herself. I can’t imagine why you need a whole mansion to yourself. Tours still go on in all the parts except her area. Because it was raining I couldn’t get many pictures of the outside, but you can view them at their website here.

The tour went well, it was great to be able to get up close to everything and not just pass through rooms like the Preservation Society tours, but since Belcourt Castle won’t sell the house to Society, the house is in shambles. All the precious architecture and fine linens and destroyed because it is not being restored. One room the floor bowed so much it was about an eight inch difference from one step to the next. Chairs were torn up and falling apart. The beautiful silk walls were torn and faded, same with the linen and cashmere curtains. There was even a puddle in one room. Ancient carpets are worn to nothing because they let everyone walk on them. Plaster ceilings had water damage or chipped paint. It’s just a huge shame that all that history is gone to waste. Over the years the family collected stuff from 33 different countries, and its all getting damaged. I think they are really dumb for not letting the Preservation Society preserve their family’s history that the care so much for.

After the tours we went souvenir shopping for everyone and ourselves. After dinner we headed home, where I am writing this post now.

You can see how bad the rain is in this picture. Good thing we weren’t waiting on line when it was that bad.

This little house on the grounds was actually a cottage for the kids to play in. It’s almost the size of a full house and four times larger than any NYC apartment.

Belcourt Castle. Doesn’t look like the castle you probably had pictured in your head, but there is something in the house that allows it to be defined as a castle.

What I want to do next is formulate a hotel review as well as the whole Newport experience. Look for those posts coming during the week.

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  • Vacation – Day 7 Today was a pretty good day. We woke up early and rode the ferry to Block Island. Unfortunately there is only one ferry from Newport to Block Island and it arrives there at 11:15 and […]
  • Vacation – Day 4 Wednesday was a very cloudy day with some rain in the evening. Due to the weather, we decided to go on the tour of the some of Newport's mansions. We visited the Elms and the Marble House […]
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  • Vacation – Day 3 Tuesday was a very hot day. Jamie and I decided to check out the famous Cliff Walk that was located only a few blocks down the road from our hotel. We had no idea that it was 3 1/2 miles […]
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4 thoughts to “Last Day of Vacation”

  1. I object to your assessment of Belcourt Castle and I will run by it point by point.

    Why should Belcourt Castle sell to the Preservation Society? They have a monopoly on the other mansions and they’ve actually done little to nothing to promote friendship with their other neighbours.

    I think that maybe you missed a point on your tour. The floor that bows? That was intentional. Alva Belmont had a concrete hump placed under that floor to create an authentic, settled English feeling for her son-in-law, the Duke of Marlborough.

    Chairs torn up and falling apart? Belcourt acquired a lot of its antiques in an era where no one took care of them and the process of restoration is delicate. You simply cannot tear off fabric without documenting it all and trying to learn where it was created, etc. It can even destroy the value of a piece to tear off the original fabric which is ripped and replace it with a new fabric.

    The silk walls are the way they are because it is difficult to find the people who can replicate an intricate design. Remember the monogram in the fabric? Wouldn’t want to lose that.

    I know which room had a puddle in it too: the solarium. The reason? A contractor didn’t add the proper draining to the courtyard and now it has to be rectified and it will be rectified. No fault of Belcourt.

    The roof DID leak at one point and that’s what causes water damage. Can one really believe that someone would “let” their roof leak? Obviously such things are surprises and can happen at any time.

    The history has not gone to waste. With that attitude, however, people push the history to waste. They see something not pristine and they ignore it or they shun it and it is they who ultimately ruin it.

    How do I know all of this? I know the owner! Am I mad though? Certainly not. I can tell you that four years ago things were worse. What people don’t know or realize are the fact that roofers are coming in, that the ugly white in the courtyard is primer for it to be painted, that things are being done continuously and progress has been made at an astounding rate.

    I urge anyone put off by Belcourt to visit it at least once more and see the improvements which go on and on and on. I hope you have not taken my reply to your concerns as rude or offencive but merely as clarification.

  2. Not rude at all and very well written. We weren’t put off by Belcourt, just was a bit different experience seeing things that were destroyed and received the feeling that it was going to stay that way and get worse. I would hate to see all that lovely history vanish.

    Maybe part of the tour should go over these things and let everyone know, I certainly wouldn’t have made my judgments if I knew repairs were happening. It could even be a good selling point to come back and visit again.

    I appreciate your comment and all the information you shared. Because of this, when I revisit Newport again in August I will revisit Belcourt. We did have a good time there and it was well informed tour, possibly my fault for lack of questions as well.

    Thanks again, and I hope I did insult Belcourt, you, or Mrs. Tinney!

  3. Dear Joe,

    Thank you for visiting Belcourt Castle last July; your comments are appreciated. For one family to preserve history is challenging at best.

    Many preservationists, especially in the 1960s and early 1970s, believed that replacing worn damask, et cetera, with brand new material matched as closely as possible to the original was the correct policy to preserve a building. Make the place look brand new using modern technology. The Tinney Family philosophy was more like that of a doctor, to “do no harm”. There are ways to keep old fabrics, restore them and not throw them away in favor of a reproduction. Therefore we will do our best to save all the original work possible and restore it when we are certain that the processes are proper and reversible if necessary.

    I smile at your perception of Alva’s warped floor. She was creating the “antique look” as she was enamored with English country houses of the seventeenth century which had warped floors and paneling naturally darkened by age. I love it – someone pointed out to me a few years ago that the second purpose might have been Alva’s inferior physical stature. I’m short too. If I stand on that spot in front of the doors I gain 12” of height and am eyelevel with my taller guests!

    One thing likely not explained on the tour is that Belcourt was abandoned for 15 years before 1956. Every house (mansion) the Preservation Society received was in use by the millionaire who donated it to them and each property was endowed with a small fortune. The Tinney Family was told not to buy Belcourt – it was too far gone. Well, you visited. It is still here. I do live here and own the castle only as a survivor of an industrious family who spent their lives (over two centuries collectively) preserving what others disparaged as impossible to resurrect.

    Again, many thanks for including Belcourt Castle on your Newport tour. Please come again.

    Harle Tinney

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