Rosecliff Mansion, Newport Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is known for its Gilded Age mansions, also referred to as summer “cottages”. These extravagant mansions, previously owned by the affluent families of Newport, have become popular among tourists from all over the globe. Most, if not all, of them, are now under the Preservation Society of Newport County. One such mansion is the Rosecliff. It was built in 1898 to 1902 for Nevada’s silver heiress, Theresa Fair Oelrichs. Theresa was the daughter of James Graham Fair who was involved in the Comstock Silver Lode.
She was married to Hermann Oelrichs who was an American agent for a steamship line called the Norddeutscher Lloyd. In 1891, Theresa, her husband, and her sister, Virginia Fair, bought the land on which Rosecliff now proudly stands. The trio acquired the land from the estate of George Bancroft. In 1898, they commissioned McKim, Mead and White, a prominent architectural firm, to design the mansion – and they did a fine job of it. White took on the role of the lead architect. He looked to the Grand Trianon of Versailles for inspiration. He mimicked the shape of the structure, which is basically an “H”, and he also constructed an arcade with arched windows of glazed glass that is similar to that of the Grand Trianon. The mansion is mainly made of bricks, but the veneer is of white terracotta tiles.
The Rosecliff mansion offers a unique architectural experience. Its beauty can be attributed to numerous factors such as the brilliant use of building and finishing materials; the ingenious spatial planning that resulted to magnificent views inside and outside of the house; and the use of varying room heights and floor elevations to create a sense of drama. The most dramatic and impressive area in the mansion is perhaps the ballroom. At forty by eighty feet, it is the biggest ballroom in all of Newport. It features the “sweetheart’s staircase”, which is a heart-shaped staircase made of limestone.
At that time, this grandiose ballroom played a significant role in Newport. It became the venue of numerous social gathering and parties. Theresa Oelrichs was not part of any business, and she was often left at home with little to do. This being the case, she became actively involved in Newport’s elite social circle. Together with Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Theresa quickly became one of the three most celebrated hostesses in Newport.
In 1947, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Monroe bought the mansion. In 1971, the New Orleans couple turned the house over to the Preservation Society of Newport County. In addition to giving all the contents of the mansion to the Preservation Society, the Monroe’s also gave two million dollars to cover any repairs that would need to be made.