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November 11, 2006
From journal Newport - Gilt, Gold, and Greed
April 14, 2005
When Oliver Hazard Perry built Belcourt Castle in 1891, he was a bachelor with a love for horses. This was his summer cottage, designed by Richard Hunt Morris. It was a 22,000-square-foot bachelor pad with one bedroom, one bathroom, and no kitchen. He refused to have a kitchen in the house because it posed a threat of fire to his horses. He planned to spend 6 to 8 weeks here every year with 30 of his favorite steeds. The Italian Banquet Hall, where we began our tour, was his carriage storage room. His horses had teak wood stables with drawings on the walls so that they wouldn’t get bored. Then along came his best-friend’s wife, Alma Vanderbilt. Before he knew it, he no longer had a best friend, but he did have a new wife. Life was never quite the same at Belcourt. Alma was a woman born before her time, and the word indomitable has often been applied to her. She was a staunch supporter of the suffragette movement of the tune of 1 million dollars a year.
The Belcourt Castle that we see today is the product of Alma’s vision, with the addition of the treasures that belong to the present owners, the Tinney family. Alma’s first move after Oliver’s death was to ship his horses across the street to Marble House. Her second was to add a kitchen. Maintaining a house this size has been an almost 50-year struggle for the Tinneys. They are a hands-on family doing all the repairs and maintenance, except the electrical tasks, roofing, and plumbing, themselves. They have opened the house to the public to help finance the repairs.
The tour itself was very interesting. We were divided into three groups. Our guide, Bill, talked nonstop during the hour-long tour. We learned that the ballroom is the second largest in Newport and the most haunted. If you want to find out about the ghosts, you will just have to take the candlelight tour, or even better, the Haunted Tour, which is conducted by Mrs. Tinney.
I have been on many different tours over the years in Newport, and this is certainly one of my favorites.
From journal Weekend Getaway Newport Style