Marble House - Newport, RI
Day 6 - Part 2 - Wednesday - September 14
EC/NE Camping Adventure 2022
Our second mansion of the day - Marble House - was once the summer residence of W.K. (Willie) Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva.
First, if you are not familiar with Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, I highly recommend you read “Alva”. This lady was absolutely fascinating!! She is described as a “fiery, flamboyant redhead” - maybe that’s part of the reason I like her so much. 🥰😁
Shortly after marrying Willie Vanderbilt, grandson of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, in 1875, she conceived Marble House. She hired architect Richard Morris Hunt, and together they would design a “summer home” that was unrivaled in it’s time. She would later be celebrated for her design work for this home and other architectural projects by being awarded membership into the American Institute of Architects, becoming one of the first female members!
Marble House was completed in 1892 at the estimated cost of $11 million! The marble alone was estimated to cost over $7 million! Today, the figure would be closer to around $388 million in total worth!! 😳😳😳
The home was comprised of 50 rooms and it required a staff of 36 servants (butlers, maids, footmen, coachmen, cooks) to handle the daily chores. The home was given to Alva by Willie as a gift for her 39th birthday.
Now, let’s talk more about Alva. This woman was a social dynamo, and elevated herself into the very top of Newport society. I’m not sure what she had on Willie, but in 1895 she divorced him, which was truly scandalous in those days. Women just didn’t do that then! She walked away from the Vanderbilt family with Marble House, custody of all three children, and support of $100,000 a year, AND she retained her social status! Then she did the unthinkable of marrying yet another Newport millionaire, Oliver Belmont. Still, this woman survived the scandal and thrived in the social circles of her time.
She became a fierce champion of women’s rights, and would later give much of her wealth to this important cause.
If you are a fan of The Gilded Age TV series (I’m obsessed) on HBO, the main female character, Mrs George (Bertha) Russell, is obviously a nod to Alva.
It is going to be interesting to see just HOW closely they tie this character’s life to Alva as the series plays out. 😁
Next up! The third and final home we visit on this day is The Breakers - summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, Alice.