The Elms is the name of one of the grand mansions constructed in the Bellevue Avenue neighborhood of Newport, Rhode Island. The home was built for a wealthy businessman named Edward Julius Berwind and his family in 1901. The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the home in 1962 after the last of the Berwind family passed away. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Today, it is operated by the Preservation Society as a historic house museum and is open for tours several times throughout the year.
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
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.