If any of the mansions epitomizes the Gilded Age of Newport’s wealth, it is Marble House. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt for William and Alva Vanderbilt, this cottage is modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles. This house is visited with a self guided headphone tour. There are numbered plaques in the rooms, you can hear just the basic numbers or if you want to know more there are additional items you can listen to.
The 50 room "cottage" took three years to build at a cost of $11,000,000. They used 500 cubic feet of marble in the construction. Marble was shipped into Newport from Europe and housed in special sheds. The building was the talk of Newport and fences had to be built to keep people from seeing it as it was being constructed. Workers were forbidden to talk about the part they were working on. The Vanderbilt’s planned to have a grand unveiling of their magnificent new home. William gave Marble House to Alva as a Birthday present and she worked closely with Richard Hunt on all the details of the House.
One look at the Grand Salon at Marble House and you will understand why it was called the "Gilded Age." Gold, gold, everywhere you look more gold. Is there such a thing as too much gold? This room certainly pushes the envelope. Even where there isn’t gold, the mirrors reflect gold. All the gilding was applied by hand and in some places you can still see wood grain through. It certainly was meant to impress, and it does in a Victorian overdone kind of way. A bit over the top as far as I’m concerned.
Like most of the "Cottagers" the Vanderbilt’s only spent six or seven weeks a year at Marble House. During that time they entertained and were entertained by the cream of society. All this was to one end to make sure that their children married into the best families. For Alva that meant gaining a title for her daughter Consuelo. She chose the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo didn’t love him and didn’t want to marry him but her mother forced her. The Duke didn’t love Consuelo either but he needed her father’s money, so a deal was arranged. The Vanderbilt’s threw a party to entertain the Duke on August 25, 1895. Three hundred guests, three bands of music ending at 5am, according to Alva ‘A perfect night." One has to wonder what Consuelo’s take on the same night was.
One room you must see is the Gothic Room. It is dark, with stained glass. Alva had the room built in Paris, dismantled and rebuilt at Marble House.
Alva was active in the suffragette movement, her wealth helped to fund it. She divorced William in 1896 and soon married his friend Oliver Belmont. She moved to Belcourt Castle but she retained ownership of Marble House. She sold it to Frederick Prince in 1932 and his family summered here for 30 years. The Preservation Society obtained the House in 1963.