Backstory and Context
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Bellevue Avenue neighborhood of Newport, Rhode Island was the trendiest place to build a summer home - but only for the wealthiest families in America. The Berwind family was one of them, with the Vanderbilts, the Oerlichs, and others. Edward Julius Berwind was a successful coal businessman from Philadelphia. He enlisted the help of architect Horace Trumbauer to build a summer home on the Atlantic. The new home was modeled after the mid-eighteenth century French chateau called d’Asnieres, built outside Paris circa 1750. In 1898, Trumbaeur designed a home for the Berwinds in the Classical Revival style. Construction lasted three years and cost approximately $1.4 million.
The Elms was actually the second home built in Newport for the Berwind family. They had a smaller cottage where they began entertaining guests in the early 1890s. Their guest lists were too long for their first home so they planned to build something bigger to rival the homes of other Newport families, such as the Oelrichs’ “Rosecliff” and the Vanderbilts’ “Breakers” and “Marble House.”
The second home was elaborately decorated with the assortment of artwork that Mr. and Mrs. Berwind had collected during their travels, including Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings and jade pieces from the Far East. The interior decorating was designed by the Paris firm of Allard and Sons. It was also one of the first homes in the country that relied on electricity (there was no backup system) and one of the first to use electricity to make ice. The home features beautifully landscaped grounds that were cultivated between 1907-1914. The gardens contain fine specimen trees, marble pavilions, and fountains. The home’s landscaping has been restored in recent years. There is also a separate carriage house and garage on the property as well as dining room terraces with marble and bronze sculpture.
The Berwind family continued to live in the home for sixty years. Mrs. Berwind had passed away in 1922. At that time, Mr. Berwind asked his sister (Julia) to host the parties and other events held at the mansion. Mr. Berwind died in 1936, leaving the home in the hands of his sister who continued to live there until 1961. After her death, the beautiful home was purchased by a private developer who intended to raze the structure. Two weeks before the planned demolition date, the property was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored it and opened it to the public.
In 1971, the Elms was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Twenty-five years later (1996), it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. The Preservation Society of Newport County opens the home for tours several times throughout the year.
Niewenhous, Matthew J. The Gilded Butler. The Elms. January 19, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2018. https://thegildedbutler.com/2015/01/19/the-elms-newport-rhode-island/.
Weisman, Janine. The House That Never Slept. NewportRI.com. May 30, 2012. Accessed January 28, 2018. http://www.newportri.com/features/arts/the-house-that-never-slept/article_1a9df332-ac6f-11e1-ac96-00....