Rough Point Cliffs, Rough Point Mansion

On the granite and red sandstone cliffs of Rough Point, stands another one of Newport’s many picturesque Gilded Age mansions: the Rough Point. Frederick William Vanderbilt commissioned the Peabody and Stearns architectural firm to take on the job of designing and constructing a summer home along Bellevue Avenue bordering on the Cliff Walk. Peabody and Stearns began the project in 1887 and it saw its conclusion after five years in 1892. The mansion is indeed the perfect summer retreat as it overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It even has masterfully landscaped gardens that are cooled by the ocean breeze.

The Vanderbilt family began renting out the Rough Point during summers. In 1904 and 1905, the mansion was rented by William Bateman Leeds Senior who was also known as the “Tinplate King”. Leeds, along with a few business colleagues, owned the American Tin Plate Company. After renting it for a year, he fell in love with the Rough Point mansion and he bought the property from the Vanderbilts in 1906.
Unfortunately, he died four years later. His wife, Nancy Leeds took over, and she hired John Russell Pope to improve portions of the home’s exteriors.

During 1922, James Buchanan Duke and his second wife Nanaline bought the house from the Leeds family. Duke was heavily involved in the electric power and tobacco industry, and he is also a benefactor of the Duke University. The couple commissioned White Allom to renovate the house and to make the interiors less dark and more livable. In 1925, Duke passed away and his estate was left to his only child who was twelve-year-old Doris Duke.

In 1962, Doris began refurbishing the mansion. She bought pieces of art and antiques to complement the existing set of family heirlooms. The collection of furniture and décor in the mansion grew as Doris traveled and continued buying art pieces and antique furniture for Rough Point. Doris spent a considerable fortune on paintings by Gainsborough, Renoir, and Van Dyck.

Unlike many of the other mansion in Newport which has not been lived in by members of the elite society for as long as sixty years, Rough Point was home to a socialite, in the person of Doris Duke, until the 1990s. Because of this, the mansion attained that inviting lived-in appeal that many tourists enjoy. This contrasts to the stiff and very formal ambiance of the other summer cottages in Newport, Rhode Island.

In 1993, Doris Duke passed away. For a couple of years, the mansion was closed as litigation processes took place. During the year 2000, the house was opened to the public. It was acquired by the Newport Restoration Foundation, which now operates the Rough Point mansion as a museum.