The holder of the Cup for 132 years from 1851 until 1983 was the New York Yacht Club and, and interestingly, just after the loss of the Cup, in 1988, they bought a magnificent club in a 1906 mansion on the shores of Newport Harbour. Members for clubs with reciprocal rights can stay there, as a friend of ours from the Royal Perth Yacht Club in Western Australia did recently (Royal Perth YC just happens to be the club that won the Cup in 1983).
The main activities in Newport are around the harbour area and Thames Street where there are restaurants, boutiques, galleries, yachts and boats doing day trips. A lot of the buildings are on the wharves stretching into the harbour. Washington Square is the historical centre of Newport and where George Washington met a number of times, with the French commander, le Comte de Rochambeau, to plan defeating the British. This led to the victory at Yorktown, Virginia that assured American independence.
The other important area is the Bellevue Avenue Historic Area which is where the super-rich built there summer vacation houses – try mansions. Even the private homes in this area are amazing. The International tennis Hall of Fame is also on Bellevue Avenue, in an 1880 structure, which now includes a museum as well as a number of different types of courts.
On our previous visit to Newport, we visited Rosemount, the mansion featured in the original version of The Great Gatsby so this time we toured The Breaker and The Elms.
The Elms is a somewhat smaller “summer cottage” with only about 40 rooms. It was built for a coal mine magnate in 1901 for a cost of $ 1.5 million (about $40 million in 2017 money). It is a little more sedate but also features European paintings, furniture and sculptures. In keeping with the French architecture of the house, the grounds of The Elms, were designed in French eighteenth-century taste and include a sunken garden and a large coach-house and stables.
In their prime, the owners of these mansions spent vast amounts of money outdoing each other with their parties.
Vernon Court, one of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue, houses the Museum of American Illustrators. This is a private museum owned by an architect and his wife and has over 2,000 original works of noted American illustrators including Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, J. C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth. Many of the works on display were use as covers for major publications such as The Post, Time Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and others.
We are fortunate to be able to visit these mansions at all because in the 1950s and 60s, it looked as though most of them were going to be demolished to make way for developments. One way to see many of them is by doing the “Cliff Walk”, a 5 km walk along the shoreline and past the front of the houses.