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November 11, 2006
This is that very rare creature, a mansion without a gift shop, I know, a shocking statement but true. If any of the houses could be said to feel like a cottage, Chateau Sur Mer has perhaps the most likeable atmosphere. This is a house where you can almost imagine yourself living. It has a warm and lived in feel that is very obviously missing in the other mansions. (Belcourt excluded.)
This was not my first visit here but it was the first time I made the Wetmore connection. The Wetmore family can trace their hometown roots to my hometown. I knew that there was a street called Wetmore Place in Middletown but I never put two and two together until we were waiting for our tour to begin and I was looking at a genealogy chart on the wall. Chateau Sur Mer (House on the Sea) must be visited on a guided tour, we along with another couple made up our tour and our guide was Barbara Caldwell. The original house was built by Seth Bradford between 1851-52 for William Wetmore. Mr. Wetmore made his money in the China trade. Constructed of granite from Fall River in the Italianate style it was the grandest house in Newport. In 1856 he hosted a grand party, 3,000 were invited and the President of the United States received one of the invitations.George Peabody Wetmore hired architect Richard Hunt to update the mansion and the High Victorian French Chateau design was created. The Wetmore’s took a decade long European honeymoon while the update was going on. Hunt experimented on this home using Eastlake style for the Great Hall and Arts and Crafts style in the tiles of the fireplaces. In the gentlemen’s library the ceiling is coffered and the fireplace is carved wood done in the Renaissance style. Never has such a mixture of styles made such a lovely whole. The stunning stairway is one of the finest Hunt ever created and he payed visual tricks to make the 45 foot central hall appear taller. Until 1894 it was year round home.Most of the furniture is not original to the house but the Library Table I. It now belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is on loan at Chateau Sur Mer. There is a fine collection of Rose Medallion china, Amari, Rose Canton and Rose Mandarin on display. William Morris and Eastlake created the Wallpaper for Mrs. Wetmore’s bedroom. Everything is in a very grand style and yet not overwhelming, okay I personally don’t have Carrera Marble fireplaces but I would like them. Unfortunately the Wetmore daughters did an update of their own and a great deal of the wonderful designs were covered by oil-based paint. The Preservation Society has made it their purpose to restore these areas to the 1870's. The house remained in the family into the 1960's and most of the fine paintings were bequeathed to Yale University.
From journal Newport - Gilt, Gold, and Greed
New York, New York
November 21, 2000