Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.
Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport has many mansions that have been preserved as a reminder of America’s glorious Gilded Age from the late 19th century. While everyone seems to know of The Breakers, the Vanderbilt’s lavish summer cottage, The Elms is just as beautiful, and my wife and I both agreed it was our favorite of Newport’s mansions.
Getting There and Parking
Located on Bellevue Avenue, just a few blocks from the Tennis Hall of Fame, The Elms has plenty of parking on the premises and is easy to visit. Just drive through the gate located at 367 Bellevue Avenue, and the parking is right there to the left. You can also walk or bike to The Elms, and its central location in Newport makes it one of the easiest to visit.
The first thing you might notice about the Elms is that it is not situated on oceanfront property and therefore does not have the glorious views that many of the other Newport mansions have. But do not let that deter you from visiting, as the Elms more than makes up for this with a spacious backyard that features a stunning sunken garden.
History of The Elms
The Elms was built in the late 19th century and was completed in 1901. It was owned by Edward Julius Berwind and his wife, Sarah, who made their fortune in the coal industry.
The house was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia and cost approximately $1.4 million to build. Berwind and his wife spent their summers in Newport, and like many of the other titans of the Industrial Revolution, built a summer cottage befitting of their status.
Similar to many of the other mansions in Newport, The Elms was built with safety in mind and used as much non-combustible material as was possible at the time. The one thing that separated The Elms from all the other Newport mansions was Berwind’s insistence that the house be wired for electricity, which was still a rarity at the time. This made The Elms one of the most technologically sophisticated homes of its time.
Parties and Passing
For over 20 years, the Berwind’s used their Newport summer cottage to host lavish parties for Newport’s elite. Sarah Berwind died in 1922, and at this time, Edward asked his sister, Julia, to be the lady of The Elms. Edward passed away in 1936 and having no children to pass the house to, he willed The Elms to Julia, who continued to live in the house until her death, in 1961.
In 1962 the house was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport saving it from demolition by developers. Since then, the house has been open to the public for tours.
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Visiting The Elms
Tours of The Elms are now self-guided using the Newport Mansions app. The app works well and can be downloaded before your visit to save time. The Elms does offer a Servant Life Tour that will highlight the folks who worked behind the scenes allowing the elite to live in luxury.
To partake in the Servant Life Tour, you should purchase your tickets in advance as space is limited. Although we did not take this tour, I would consider it because you get to go out onto the rooftop terrace for great views of the yard and surrounding area (weather permitting).
The tour starts on the first floor in the Gallery Hall and proceeds in a clockwise motion. The Library, Conservatory, Drawing Room, Ballroom, Dining Room, Breakfast Room, and Butler’s Pantry are all beautifully decorated in period furnishings and showcase the extravagant lifestyle that the Berwind’s were able to afford.
The Conservatory and Ballroom
My favorite room was the Conservatory. With numerous tall windows providing plenty of natural light, a fountain, and plenty of white marble and stone, it has a bright and airy vibe. I love the sound of running water, I find it very soothing and relaxing so I think I would spend a lot of time in the Conservatory if I owned The Elms.
The other room that piqued my interest was the Ballroom with that beautiful gold grand piano. It really is hard to imagine the lavish lifestyle that the Berwinds lived.
Now on to the second floor to see the bedrooms. As with many of the other mansions in Newport, the second floor was usually where the owner’s bedrooms were located, with perhaps a couple of guest bedrooms and a sitting room.
Edward and Sarah had separate bedrooms, which was the norm for this period and class. You will also see Julia’s room, known as the Van Alen room.
The Butler's Pantry
What caught my interest on the second floor was the backstairs that was beautifully crafted with white wrought iron railings. While used primarily by the servant staff, it was a stunning addition to the home and extends into the second floor of the Butler’s Pantry. Take a peek over the railing for a great view that extends all the way to the basement.
The last stop on the tour is the basement, where the Main Kitchen and service entrance are located. The kitchen was powered by a huge coal stove that must have churned out many a hot meal.
You can just imagine the hustle and bustle that must have gone on here when preparing for a large party. From the kitchen, you will pass through a small gift shop before exiting out the service entrance to the yard. I would highly recommend spending some time in the yard as it is a thing of beauty.
All of the mansions in Newport have spectacular backyards, but I think The Elms is the most magnificent of them all. Despite not having an ocean view, the backyard more than makes up for this with a beautiful sunken garden complete with fountains, marble sculptures, a pavilion, and a Carriage House.
My favorite part of the yard was the huge Weeping Beech trees that are so big you can literally step inside their canopy and feel like you’re in another world. They are a striking addition to the landscaping and we really enjoyed exploring them. It’s unfortunate that the Berwind’s didn’t have children because they would have loved playing amidst these gentle giants.
The Elms Visitor Information
- Address: 367 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840
- Website: The Newport Mansions
- Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5 pm
- Grounds close at 6 pm
- Starting November 1, the last admission is at 4 pm
- The Elms Servant Life Tour, guide-led daily at 10:30 am and 4 pm
- Adults: $20
- Youth: $8
- Duo Ticker: $34 (Admission to any 2 properties of the Newport Preservation Society)
- Duo Youth: $10
- Summer Passport: $42 (Admission to any 3 properties, valid through November)
- Youth Passport: $12
- Dual Membership: $80 (Entry into all the properties of the NPS for 2 adults for 1 year)
The Elms Servant Life Tour
- Adults: $15
- Kids: $7.50
When to Visit
Hopefully, you enjoyed this brief tour of our favorite Newport mansion. Newport can be very crowded during the summer months, so consider an off-peak time to visit, perhaps in early to mid-spring or in the fall when the crowds have disappeared, and the temperatures are more moderate.
Newport has a lot to discover besides the mansions, including the Tennis Hall of Fame and the scenic Cliff Walk. It’s a wonderful place for an extended weekend visit, and there is so much to see and do to keep you entertained.
© 2021 Bill De Giulio