Rosecliff Mansion sits along the historic Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was built between 1899-1902 by silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs. The architect, Stanford White, modeled the home after the royal French retreat at Versailles. Oelrichs hosted many parties in the home and was well-known for the elaborate themed occasions. After her death, the home was sold several times. In 1971, the Monroe family gave the home and all of its furnishings to the Preservation Society of Newport. The historic home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Today, the home offers public tours and use of its facilities for weddings and other events.
In the historic Bellevue Avenue neighborhood,
there sits a grand mansion modeled after the French royal retreat,
Versailles. It was built on the banks of
the Atlantic Ocean in 1899 by a silver heiress named Theresa Fair Oelrichs and
her husband Hermann.
Theresa Fair Oelrichs, also known as “Tessie,” was
born in Virginia City, Nevada during its boomtown years. The town grew after
her father and his partners found silver in the nearby mines in the late 1850s.
Theresa’s father was James Graham Fair, an immigrant from Belfast that found one
of the richest silver lodes in history. He made his fortune mining silver in
Nevada. When Theresa was just a child,
her parents divorced, and Theresa, her sister Virginia, and brother Charlie lived
with their mother. They continued to
live a luxurious life. She was eighteen
years old when she went to Newport for a summer and met her future husband,
Hermann Oelrichs, who was playing tennis at the Newport Casino. They married in 1890. A year later, they purchased the Rosecliff property
from the estate of George Bancroft, a prominent American historian. The young couple decided to replace the
original house with the mansion that stands today.
The home was designed and built by architect Stanford
White. White modeled the home after the Grand Trainon at Versailles in France.
Rosecliff’s outer walls are constructed of brick and completed with a façade of
white, terra-cotta tile. The terra cotta
and glazed finish give the impression that the home is made of marble.
It took three years to complete the home and its
construction cost about $2.5 million. Mrs. Oelrichs was so excited about her new
summer home that she was hosting parties before it was even finished. Her parties were some of the most extravagant
galas thrown in Newport at the time. She hosted a variety of themed parties
such as a fairy tale dinner and an all-white ball (the “Bal Blanc”). Oelrichs even
had the famed Harry Houdini at one of her revelries to entertain the guests. At the famous “Bal Blanc,” everything was decorated
in white and all guests were instructed to come dressed in white (including
their hair, which was to be powdered white).
She ordered a dozen full-sized skeleton ships with white hulls to be anchored
in the water near the home. The boats were lit up to make it look like there
was a full white fleet anchored outside Rosecliff during this extraordinary bash.
her husband abandoned her, Mrs. Oelrichs spent her final days roaming the
mansion, welcoming and seating her imagined party guests. She passed away in
1926. Her son, Hermann Oelrichs Jr., inherited the house upon her death and
lived there with his family until 1941. The home transferred ownership several
times over the next few years. The last private owners, Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar
Monroe (of New Orleans), gave the home and all of its furnishings to the
Preservation Society of Newport County in 1971.
The Preservation Society opens the home for tours several times
throughout the year. It is also available
for the public’s use as a venue for weddings and other events.