The Elms in Bellevue Avenue
The Elms is one of Newport’s several mansions operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County since 1962. The mansion is located along Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. It was originally owned by a Philadelphian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind. The Berwinds hired Horace Trumbauer to design their summer cottage after the French chateau d’Asnieres in Asnieres, France which is a community in the suburbs of Paris. The $1.5 million projects began in 1898 and it was completed in 1901. The couple commissioned the Allard and Sons of Paris to design the interiors of the mansion, which, of course, were done extravagantly. The Elms also featured Classical Revival sunken gardens which were elaborately landscaped around expensive marble sculptures, pavilions, fountains, stables and a carriage house and garage by C.H.Miller and E.W. Bowditch.
These gardens were planted during the early 1900s, but they were recently restored to their original magnificence. Berwind was a man of technology, and he was one of the first in America to have had electricity installed in his residence. He also had an electric ice-maker, which at that time, was considered an extreme luxury. The Elms mansion has three floors. On the first is an imposing ballroom, a salon, a breakfast room, a dining room, a conservatory, an impressive library, and a marble hallway. On the second floor are the luxurious bedrooms and a private sitting room. On the topmost floor are the servants’ quarters.
When Julius Berwind’s wife Sarah passed away in 1922, he asked his sister Julia to help in the management of the household. Fourteen years later, Julius Berwind died, and Julia had to take over everything. Unlike her brother, Julia was not into technology, and so there was no significant improvement in the mansion for the next twenty-five years. In 1961, Julia Berwind also passed away. She left the mansion to one of her nephews, who was not interested in governing the forty servants that made up the Elms’ staff. The bereaved family decided to sell the property to a land developer who wanted to demolish the Gilded Age mansion. Fortunately, it was purchased and saved by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Today, the Elms is open to anyone interested in learning about the lives of the former residents and also a little of Newport’s past.
A tour of the Elms includes a visit to the mansion’s basement, which houses old coal-fired furnaces fed through tunnels from an adjacent street. Tourists are also brought up to the tiled roof upon which is an aluminum platform. People can stand on this platform and safely enjoy the view of the Elms’ beautiful trees and intricately landscaped gardens. Since 1996, the Elms mansion has been a National Historic Landmark in Newport.