For our twenty-third wedding anniversary, we took a day trip to Newport and enjoyed a tour of The Elms. Nerds? Yes. Nerds. The Elms is not the grandest of Newport’s Gilded Age “summer cottages” (mansions), that would be the Vanderbilts lavish Breakers, but it is still pretty grand. It is the third largest of the Newport mansions with forty-eight rooms some of which, like the dining room, were designed around enormous pieces of art. Anyone can have a gold-encrusted piano. The Elms had an underground rail tunnel designed to bring in coal from a nearby station without anyone having to see or hear it. And, you know, the piano.
PemberleyThe Elms, modeled after the Château d’Asnières (c.1752) in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, was designed by Horace Trumbauer for Edward Julius Berwind. If you, like Edward, had stupid amounts of new money and wanted to impress, Horace Trumbauer was THE Gilded Age architect for you. He designed two other Newport “summer cottages”—Clarendon Court (Edward C. Knight mansion) and Miramar (Eleanor Elkins Widener mansion)—as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library of Philadelphia.
A German-born coal magnate who counted the Prince of Wales and Theodore Roosevelt as friends, I cannot begin to stress how rich and powerful Edward Julius Berwind was. In 1930, the New York Times named him “one of the 59 men who rule America.” He had a monopoly on global coal production and supplied much of the coal used by the New York Subway system (he helped found it) and the US Navy (he was retired from it). He was strongly opposed to union organizing. He may, as the docent repeatedly said, have been kind to his household staff, but I doubt his miners would have said the same.
The Elms’ lavish interior was designed by Jules Allard to emulate the opulent 18th century French style. It showcases many of the French and Venetian artworks collected by the Berwinds during their travels abroad (all those Venetians in the dining room, etc), as well as sculptures and statues original to the Château d’Asnières.
I have nothing to say about the gardens. They were fine. Marble pavilions, fountains, a sunken garden, and tea house. Everything as expected. Nothing particularly wow.
7/10; would not be surprised if my ancestors mined Berwind coal.