The Elms (Edward J. Berwind House), Newport Rhode Island
Date added:August 25, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House Mansion
The Elms (Edward J. Berwind House), Newport Rhode Island
 Additional Information
  • Built: 1900-1901
  • Status: Occupied
  • Architect: Horace Truiubauer
  • Location: West side of Bellevue Avenue, between Bellevue Court and Dixon Street
  • City: Newport
  • County: Newport
  • State: Rhode Island

Mr. Berwind, owner of the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company gave many parties during the Newport season. The house-warming was a triumph. Lighrs of all sizes and shapes were scattered around the grounds. The interior was filled with American Beauty roses, with rose trees and rose vines going from floor to ceiling. Two orchestras played in the ballroom and the Newport Band played in the park.

The novelty of this party was the pet monkeys which the Berwinds hired to play amid the palm trees.

Other gala occasions were often reported in the local papers. A dinner dance was held at "The Elms" August 14, 1902. One of the honored guests was Miss Alice Roosevelt, daughter of the President.

The following article was published in the Newport Herald of August 10th, 1901:
"Yesterday morning, the Elms, the new summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Berwind on Bellevue Avenue which is justly considered by those who have been within its walls to be the handomest private dwelling in America. In minor details the house is still uncompleted, but enough of the place is completed to show the estate to advantage.

'The Elms' to be appreciated must be seen and not less than three hundred ladies were present during the reception at which Mr. and Mrs. Berwind received.

Not only was the interior of special interest to the guests but the magnificent grounds, the landscape gardening being a treat for lovers of plants, trees and flowers. A feature of the lawn that interested many was the velvet like grass in front of the villa.

A description of 'The Elms' follows:

The house is built of white stone in the style of Louis XIV with its central "pavilion" projecting beyond the alignment of the two wings it belongs to the type of "chateaux" built by the great architect Mansart of Versailles fame, for the nobles of the Louis XVI court. The sober and yet graceful architecture of the building, the perfection of the carving, where any has been used, its thorough conformity, illustrates a quality so rarely found in modern buildings i.e., a rich simplicity. The architect is Mr. Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia.

The boundary wall on Bellevue avenue, in which stone has been happily combined with open iron grille work, form the necessary foreground to the house and figuratively speaking "frame it" in proper architectural surroundings. Two groups of carved stone are to be placed eventually on the balustrade crowning the top of the house above the center pavillion, and will so give the necessary picturesqueness to the outline of the roof.

To enter the house you walk up a few steps and pass through magnificent grill rooms [sic!] of glass and wrought iron into a hall of unusual proportion forming a gallery the entire length of the house. The walls are of cream white Caen stone with the color effect obtained by the use of breche violette marble pilasters and columns with gilt bronze capitals and bases. On the wall, opposite the entrance, are framed in gilt mouldings two beautiful ancient oil painted panels representing episodes of the history of Catherine Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus; these are two of a set of paintings bought in Venice by Mr. Berwind, and come from the Cornaro palace; they were painted by "Tieplo" and his pupils for the florification of the illustrious family of Doges of that name. In this gallery open all doors leading into the principal rooms. The wide door opposite the main entrance opens into a ball room 50 x 45 feet. This room is decorated in the style of Louis XV., and the richly-carved woodwork is soberly painted in cream and white with no gilding at all except the mirror frames. All the details of the ornamentation on the walls and cornice have been worked out in the feeling of the period in its minutest detail. The window curtains are made of a broche silk executed in Lyons after a piece of old silk selected by Mr. Berwind. The richly carved furniture made of unique models and the marble mantel piece of pavonazzo enriched in gilt bronze complete the scheme of this room.

The dining room opening into the ball room through two large double doors is decorated with a series of superb paintings, two of which were used in the hall as described. The woodwork is of light oak, the doors of mahogany all being faithfully reproduced from the original room for which the paintings were originally made. The ceiling is made of coffres of oak richly ornamented with carving. Four crystal chandeliers hang in the four corners and are fitted with specially made lamps to throw the light on the paintings. The mantel piece reaches nearly to the ceiling and is made of Vert antique marble with panels of agate onyx inserted in it at places and bronze mounted. In the center of the upper portion is a niche with an old Roman "bust of "Varacalla" [sic!] in the polychrome marble.

The breakfast room adjoining the dining room is panelled up with light oak with some little gilding and beautiful carving of the style Louis XV. The principal feature of this room consists of four large panels of beautiful Chinese lacquer of the black and gold family. They are believed to be, according to the testimony of the best experts, at least five hundred years old as is shown by the fact that the personages represented do not wear the familiar cue of the later period Chinamen. The panels represent symbolically the history and life of a deified hero.

The silk used for the curtains, the furniture, rug, and in fact all the ornaments in this room are stamped with the feeling of what they call "Les Chinoiseries Louis XV., at a time when extensive commercial intercourse with that country in the last century brought to France a fad for all Chinese ornaments.

The drawing room opening into the ballroom opposite the dining room forms an exact counterpart to it in size and disposition. It is treated in the style of Louis XIV. in the same strain of soberness as the ballroom; there is no gilding on the ornamentation, and the room is entirely painted in grey and white, but the carving on woodwork is of the most perfect kind that can be produced in these times. The two centre panels facing each other on the two opposite walls are the "clou" of the room. One is a barometer and the other a thermometer which have served as a pretext for two decorative motifs; in the first one, the dial is supported by the figure of a young woman surrounded by flying amours scattering the flowers of spring. The other dial is supported by the figure of an aged man surrounded by the attributes of winter. On the ceiling is one of the best canvasses ever painted by De Witt, a celebrated painter of the 18th century. The painting possesses the soft "blonde" color characteristic of the master. It represents a Boreas and Aquilom driven from the skies by the figure of Spring accompanied by Flora, goddess of the flowers, Zephyris under the features of young amours, and other divinities.

The library at the end of the gallery hall is panelled up with a high wainscoting of walnut of the style of Henry II. The dark color of the walnut is relieved by imbrications of lighter wood and above the wainscoting the walls are hung with cramos in brocatelle.

The mantel piece of imposing proportion reaches the ceiling. The lower part of it is in white carved stone and the upper part of richly carved walnut frames, one of Mr. Berwind's art treasures, a beautiful terra cotta bas-relief by Delia Robbia.

Near the library is the palm room with the walls entirely of stone. At one end is fountain of red marble with dark bronze figures representing nereide and a triton holding a dolphin spouting water into the lower vasque of white marble. In the four corners are four statues of white marble carved in the latter part of the last century, and represent the four seasons.

The staircase to the second floor to main hall is a magnificent double evolution staircase built entirely of white breche violette and pavonazzetto marble. The walls are of Caen stone with marble pilasters and on two sides are covered by two Gobelon [sic!] de "Hautelice" tapestries representing mythological scenes. The tapestries are of exceptional value both as to quality and design; two others forming part of the same set are hung in the second story hall which reproduces the disposition of the hall downstairs; and it forms a long gallery nearly the entire length of the house where all the bed rooms and apartments open. The walls of the gallery are lined with red silk on which are hung twelve tapestry panels reproducing some famous portraits of the most famous painters. This series of panels is quite unique in this country. They are woven with gold and silver and on some of them the execution is so perfect that they give the illusion of the oil paintings from which they were copied.

All the bed rooms are treated in the Louis XV. and Louis XVI. style. The woodwork has been kept .in perfect white, but in each room the character is given by the exquisite choice of the color of the silk hangings selected by Mrs. Berwind. The furniture is of richly carved wood enameled white with the variety of shapes and outlines to be found only in the two styles used. The spacious bath rooms adjoining each bed room are appointed with the luxury and comforts known only in this country.

It might be added that Mr. Berwind has been aiming at excellence in every respect throughout the house, no ornamentation in carton pierre but only carved wood, and no imitation of any kind has been permitted by him even in the less important apartments, and it can be said that in excellence of execution the work cannot be surpassed. Mr. and Mrs. Berwind have superintended every detail and suggested all ideas; they selected themselves the color of the silks, the designs of the furniture, discussed the plans and in fact arranged the details of the entire house."

Over-all dimensions: 120 feet by 60 feet; rectangular, nine bays, 3 stories.

Floor plan: The central entrance foyer is part of the grand stairwell and of the main north-south hall. A straight run of seven steps leads to the hall. On the east facade, to the left of the foyer, is an open area, the south alcove. At the south, the hall terminates in the corner room, the library. To the right of the foyer is another open area, the north alcove. At the north, the hall terminates in a vestibule or coat room, which also serves as an access to a powder room to the east and the service area and stairwell to the north. The three central rooms on the west facade, from north to south, the dining room, the ballroom, and the drawing room open into the main hall. The ballroom entrance is on a direct east-west axis with the center entrance door. The five rooms on the west facade open into one another through large doors placed on a north-south axis wall. On the south, this traffic pattern terminates in the conservatory. From this room Floor plan: The central entrance foyer is part of the grand stairwell and of the main north-south hall. A straight run of seven steps leads to the hall. On the east facade, to the left of the foyer, is an open area, the south alcove. At the south, the hall terminates in the corner room, the library. To the right of the foyer is another open area, the north alcove. At the north, the hall terminates in a vestibule or coat room, which also serves as an access to a powder room to the east and the service area and stairwell to the north. The three central rooms on the west facade, from north to south, the dining room, the ballroom, and the drawing room open into the main hall. The ballroom entrance is on a direct east-west axis with the center entrance door. The five rooms on the west facade open into one another through large doors placed on a north-south axis wall. On the south, this traffic pattern terminates in the conservatory. From this room toward the north, paired doors located at both the east and west ends of the east-west walls open to the drawing room. Thus a double traffic pattern running parallel to the main hall is established from the conservatory, through the drawing room, ballroom, and dining room. The western most access terminates in the breakfast room, located at the northwest corner of house. The eastern access terminates in the two-level butler's pantry to the north of the dining room. Although the second floor room arrangement is similar to that of the first floor, the plan is not nearly so open due to the placement of bathrooms and closets or storage area adjoining each of the eight bedrooms and center sitting room. The third floor contains sixteen rooms and three bathrooms arranged to the east and west of a central north-south hall which terminates at doors leading to the roof area. The house contains a full basement. The kitchen and servants' dining and sitting rooms are located in the northwest corner. An entrance and entrance hall extends from the north to the laundry room which is located under the center main hall. The basement extends under the first level of the terrace on the west. The wine cellar is located under the center terrace steps. The area beneath the ballroom contains a cold food storage room, work shop and other storage facilities. The entire southern area of the basement is devoted to mechanical equipment. A sub-basement level contains furnace, boiler, water pumps, and a coal storage area. A tunnel containing railroad tracks extends from the north side of Dixon Street to this sub-basement area. Coal was thus delivered and ashes removed from the furnace area. Other storage areas extend under the first basement level.

A small elevator, original to the house, runs from the first basement level to the third floor. The octagonal interior is finished with ivory painted panelling framing three mirrors. The cove is decorated with painted green swags. There is a frosted glass skylight.

The mansion is set back from a broad tree lined avenue which is lined with similar estates. The entrance facade faces east, yet the main vista and private facade faces west overlooking a vast, complex arrangement of terraces, gardens, fountains, sculpture and pavilions.

Historic landscape design: The second level of the terrace is reached by three sets of stairs of thirteen steps each extending from each of the three portions of the first level. A gravel path extends the full length of the house, to the west of which is a granite retaining wall topped with urns, separating the second level from the third terrace level. Two side stairs of eleven steps each lead to the third level. Another walk, balustrade, and flight of six steps are a bridge from the third level to the vast lawn. Between the balustrades and gravel walks are a variety of lush plantings such as boxwood and arborvitae. Seven nineteenth century French sculpture groups are symmetrically arranged on the terraces. A vast sweep of the lawn dotted with large beech trees is unbroken by paths. The gravel paths run parallel to the north and south boundary walls. Approximately 360 feet west from the lower terrace balustrade is a north-south path running parallel to the west facade of the mansion and extending from a gate on Dixon Street to the courtyard of the carriage house and garage complex. On the west side of this path is a niched hedge fitted with marble busts on high pedestals. Three fountains, one on the extreme southern end of the axis, another centered just to the east of a four step terrace, the last centered in front of the carriage house and garage complex, serve to mark the balustrade and terrace on which are located two tea houses or gazebos. A staircase leads from the north tea house to the sunken garden to the west. An Italian well head with a frieze of dancing cherubs and a goat is centered in this garden. This landscaping of nearly fourteen acres, including that of non-contiguous properties which Berwind had acquired, was designed by Trumbauer, with assistance from Charles H. Miller and Ernest W. Bowditch and Bruce Butterton, the gardener.