The Chateau-sur-Mer was built by William Shepard Wetmore in 1852 after he made his fortune in mercantile shipping. The home is a landmark of High Victorian architecture. His son, George Peabody Wetmore, added to the mansion and redecorated it in the Second Empire style during the 1870s. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Chateau-sur-Mer stood as one of the most palatial homes in all of Newport, Rhode Island. Spectacular parties were held on its grounds, including the "Fete Champetre", an elaborate country picnic for over two thousand guests held in 1857 and the debutante ball for Miss Edith Wetmore in 1889. The historic home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968. Today, it is open to guests as a museum.
Backstory and Context
William Shepard Wetmore was apprenticed in the shipping trade from an early age. Over the next few decades, he built a great fortune by shipping teas, spices, coffee and other goods from China. By 1852, he had retired from shipping and relocated to Newport, Rhode Island with his family. He purchased fifteen acres of land built the palatial “Chateau-sur-Mer.”
The mansion was one of the early grand estates on Bellevue Avenue in Newport. It was the most majestic in the area until the construction of the Vanderbilt houses (the Breakers and the Marble House) in the 1890s. William Wetmore died decades before those homes were built. After his death in 1862, most of his fortune was left to his second son, sixteen-year-old George Peabody Wetmore. He went on to become a U.S. Senator and a Governor of Rhode Island. Annie Derby Wetmore, William’s only daughter, received a great inheritance as well.
In 1869, George married Edith Keteltas. Just a few years after their marriage, they arranged a trip overseas and enlisted architect Richard Morris Hunt to renovate the Chateau-sur-Mer in their absence. They chose to redecorate William’s High Victorian home to have more modern Second Empire style features. The couple returned to a magnificent mansion where they hosted grand parties. On several occasions, the Wetmores entertained over a thousand guests on the grounds, such as the debutante ball they hosted for their daughter Edith in 1889.
George led his own successful path until his death in 1921. He had studied law and although he never practiced, he used his experience to enter politics later in life. Wetmore was elected twice as Governor of Rhode Island (1885-1886). In 1894, he won his first term in the United States Senate. He was elected twice more and served until 1913; he declined to run for a fourth term. During his time in the Senate he served on two committees: Committee on Manufactures (Chairman); and the Committee on the Library. Wetmore died in Boston in 1921, leaving the Chateau to his wife, Edith Keteltas (she died in 1927) and his two unmarried daughters: Edith and Maude.
The last Wetmore (Edith) died in 1966. Three years later, the lavish home was sold to the Preservation Society of Newport County. In 2006, it was designated as a national landmark. The mansion is open to the public for tours several times throughout the year.
Chateau-sur-Mer. The Preservation Society of Newport County. Accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.newportmansions.org/explore/chateau-sur-mer.
Chateau-sur-Mer. The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Accessed January 19, 2018. https://tclf.org/landscapes/chateau-sur-mer.
WETMORE, George Peabody, (1846 - 1921). Biographical
Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed January 12, 2018.