Visiting the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport, RI

I visited Newport, RI in June 2018 and along the way stopped in two of the Gilded Age mansions: The Elms and Rosecliff. I chose these two mansions as I had visited The Marble House and the Breakers about seven or eight years ago and wanted to see a different set of the Gilded Age mansions. This post focuses on the Rosecliff Mansion, which is one of the smallest of the Gilded Age mansions in Newport, RI.

The exterior of Rosecliff from the backyard.

History of the Rosecliff Mansion

Rosecliff was built by Theresa ("Tessie") Fair Oelrichs, a silver heiress from Nevada, whose father James Graham Fair was one of the four partners in the Comstock Lode. Tessie was the wife of Hermann Oelrichs, American agent for Norddeutscher Lloyd steamship line. She and her husband, together with her sister, Virginia Fair, bought the land in 1891 from the estate of George Bancroft and commissioned the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White [1] to design a summer home suitable for entertaining on a grand scale.

The commission for Rosecliff occurred in 1899, in which principal architect Stanford White modeled Rosecliff after the Grand Trianon, the garden retreat of French kings at Versailles. After Rosecliff was completed in 1902, at a reported cost of $2.5 million, Mrs. Oelrichs hosted opulent parties and displays of entertainment here, including a fairy tale dinner and a party featuring famed magician Harry Houdini. 

Rosecliff is now preserved through the generosity of its last private owners, Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar Monroe, of New Orleans. They gave the house, its furnishings, and an endowment to the Newport Preservation Society in 1971. 

Interior Views of Rosecliff

The grand staircase in Rosecliff. Note how the architectural design of the top of the staircase resembles a heart.

Another view of the grand staircase at Rosecliff.

A grand piano in the ballroom.

"The Sea Monster" depicted in one of the framed photos.

A vase in a hallway between two rooms.

Dining room table.

Detail from one of the windows at Rosecliff.

Magazines on display.

Books and candles on an elegant marble table.

Bohemian Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement and Oscar Wilde’s Newport

During my visit to Rosecliff, there was a special exhibition on Bohemian Beauty and Oscar Wilde's visit to Newport, RI. This exhibition celebrates the ideas embodied by the artists, poets, and thinkers popular during the Aesthetic Movement (1870-1890), an important era of artistic experimentation in the United States and abroad. The exhibition features a selection of furniture, ceramics, wallpaper, glass, silver, paintings, and costumes illuminating the tenets of this “art for art’s sake” movement personified by its most influential impresario Oscar Wilde. 

Oscar Wilde portrait at the Rosecliff special exhibition Bohemian Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement and Oscar Wilde’s Newport

As for Oscar Wilde's visit to Newport, the Preservation Society of Newport County provides an overview:

In 1882 a 27-year old Oscar Wilde embarked on an 11-month tour of North America “to teach U.S. citizens the value of a good tea service and a well-hung picture in the family foyer.” He was sent to America to embody “fleshly poet” Reginald Bunthorne from the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera “Patience.” Producer Richard D’Oyly Carte organized the visit to promote the play which was about to make its American debut. Instead, Wilde commenced playing himself. Upon disembarking at New York harbor, he purportedly told customs officials he had “nothing to declare except his genius.”

At the time of his tour Wilde was a proponent of the Aesthetic Movement in Britain (1870-90) but it would be another eight years before he published his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray and even longer before he produced a series of “devastatingly witty plays” that culminated in his most enduring artistic achievement in 1895, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Bohemian Beauty explores the message of aestheticism that Wilde brought to the New England seaside town. He was invited by Rhode Island native Julia Ward Howe to speak at the Newport Casino on July 15, 1882 to lecture on “The practical application of the principles of the aesthetic theory to exterior and interior house decoration with observations upon dress and personal ornaments.”

One of the ceramic pieces at the Bohemian Beauty exhibition at Rosecliff.

The Bohemian Beauty exhibition runs through November 4, 2018 at Rosecliff.

Rosecliff in Popular Culture

The ballroom of the Rosecliff Mansion was used to film scenes for the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, as well as other films such as High Society, 27 DressesTrue Lies, and Amistad

If You Go

Rosecliff is one of the Newport mansions that's open year-round. Confirm the schedule here.

I would recommend purchasing a ticket to Rosecliff with another Newport mansion, as you'll save some money doing so. Since most of the Newport mansions are within walking distance on Bellevue Avenue and don't take more than a couple of hours to explore, it's a good idea to see two mansions in a single day.

548 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840


[1] The McKim of McKim, Mead, and White is the architect behind The Boston Public Library.

Visiting the Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts

The Hammond Castle Museum is a unique structure located on the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The building was constructed between the years 1926 to 1929, by inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr. to serve as his residence. Its architectural style is that of a medieval castle, with elements inspired from French, Norman, and English castles.

About John Hays Hammond, JR.

John Hays Hammond, Jr. was born in San Francisco, California. His family moved to South Africa in 1893, as John's father was active as a mining engineer for Cecil Rhodes' mines in South Africa. In 1898, the family moved to England, where the young John Hays Hammond, Jr. fell in love with castles and life in earlier times. The family returned to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

John Hays Hammond, Jr. showed an early affinity toward science and invention. When John Hays Hammond Jr. was twelve years hold, his father took him along on a business trip to visit Thomas Edison’s famous laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey.  Edison took a personal interest in the boy and gave him an extended tour of the facility in response to the many questions he was asking. John Hays Hammond, Jr. came under the wing of Thomas Edison and Thomas Edison served as John's mentor in his early years. The two men stayed in contact their entire lives.

Over the course of his life, John Hays Hammond, Jr. was awarded over 800 patents (in comparison to about 1,200 patents that the much more well-known Thomas Edison held) for over 400 of his inventions.  Many of these inventions were in radio control, electronics, naval weapons, and national defense.

Hammond Castle Museum

As far as Hammond Castle itself, the Hammond Castle Museum website explains its origin:

Hammond Castle was built in the late 1920s by scientist, inventor, and interestingly enough, an art connoisseur of the highest order, John Hays Hammond, Jr. (1888-1965). Sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the castle brings together a unique combination of art, architectural elements and culture, backstopped by many innovative technological applications, yet unknown and unseen by the visitor.

Hammond was widely traveled, but had been exposed to the art and architecture of old European at an early age. He appreciated the eras spanning ancient times, through the medieval period, and into the Renaissance. He purchased a broad collection of artifacts for display, and created his residence around large stone archways, windows, wooden facades, and other architectural elements from the Old World. He was aptly described as a man of the future, but who chose to live in the past. The building he left behind is one of the truly unique structures on this continent, where visitors can experience being immersed in a true old Europe environment without actually being there.

His vision for the building was for it to be medieval in style—yet bridging several periods—so as to incorporate his expanding collection of stand-alone Classical antiquities through 16th century architectural elements. The project began when he retained the services of one of the preeminent architectural firms of the time, Allen and Collins, formed in 1904, and which maintained offices in Boston. Hammond’s project eventually came to the attention of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who had purchased a large collection of medieval artifacts in 1925, and was so inspired by what Hammond had done, he launched his own similar project on a site above Manhattan. It was to eventually incorporate pieces from five different European abbeys, and is known today as The Cloisters, an arm of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Yet, as might be expected from an inventor, Hammond’s building was uniquely different. He included many features of his own design that were revolutionary and befitting the structure, and most are virtually undiscernible to the untrained eye. For example, Hammond’s collection of 15th Century facades was to be housed in the Courtyard being planned by the architects to meet Hammond’s vision of what a medieval village might be. Given the covered Courtyard was also to include tropical plantings, it was necessary to ensure a suitable level of humidity and space temperature. A pool was included to be the source of humidity. Steam pipes installed around the bottom perimeter of the pool to control water temperature, as well as to drive the correct amount of moisture in the air above. A green dye was also added as a decorative feature to obscure the depth of the water, which in fact, was a swimming pool. Overhead, steam-fed pipe-racks were installed just beneath the clerestory to offset radiant heat loss through the glass. Finally, a tropical rain downpour could be summed from above to water the vegetation, or if he preferred, a foggy evening.

Perhaps the greatest item in Hammond’s residence is the gigantic pipe organ, an instrument designed and built by a collection of world-famous organ builders over a period of ten years. Consisting of 8,400 pipes it was the largest organ installed in a residence in this hemisphere, and second in size only to an organ in a certain Philadelphia department store. The design of the wind boxes, as well as the placement and installation of the organ within the Great Hall were in keeping with Hammond’s style. As much as the instrument had meant to Hammond, he could not play it. However, he did invent a device included within the console which could record what was being played, such that it could be accurately replayed, much the same way pianos (a much similar instrument) were beginning to do at the time. The organ was a centerpiece of the Hammond’s entertaining, and some of the greatest organists in the world were invited to play the instrument. Many returned after his death to give recitals.

The Hammond Castle was both John Hays Hammond Jr.'s personal residence (and that of his wife, the former Irene Fenton Reynolds of Gloucester, MA) and the headquarters of his commercial enterprise, the Hammond Research Corporation. The residence was ultimately transformed into a museum open to the public, because, sadly, John Hays Hammond Jr. and his wife had no heirs.

Photos from my visit to this excellent museum are below.

Exterior Views of the Hammond Castle

View of the Hammond Castle from the backyard of the residence. The backyard overlooks the Atlantic ocean.

View of the Hammond Castle from the front garden.

The arch: an element from the Roman times.

A statue of a lion guards the drawbridge to the Hammond Castle. 

An architectural element on the exterior of the Hammond Castle.

Ivy covering a window at the Hammond Castle.

A section of the exterior of the Hammond Castle.

The final resting place of John Hays Hammond, Jr, located in front of the castle. It is said that poison ivy covers the site because Mr. Hammond did not want to be disturbed in his death.

Near the main entrance to Hammond Castle. In the distance is the Atlantic Ocean.

Interior Views of the Hammond Castle

The Hammond Castle contains a room which has a pool. John Hays Hammond, Jr. used to take a dip here, sometimes jumping off from the second story ledge in the background.

The view of the courtyard and pool from the second story ledge.

Another view of the courtyard.

One of the interior rooms of the Hammond Castle showcasing some of Hammond's inventions. 

A newspaper clipping describing Hammond's invention of the "dynamic accentor," which allows for amplification of organ pipe tones. From the article: "This amplification is subject not only to general control, but also to fine, detailed control to a surprising degree. Thus, not only can the full power of the organ be increased, but also certain parts of the music, such as the solo voice, an inner part, the accompaniment or the bass (pedals) can be brought out with more power."

A full panel display of some of John Hays Hammond Jr.'s 800+ patents.

Detail from the interior courtyard in the Hammond Castle.

The dining room table. The majority of items at the Hammond Castle are antiques that have been brought over from Europe.

Another view of the dining room. To the left is the window that looks out to the courtyard and pool.

The library room where John Hays Hammond Jr. would conduct business meetings and read his favorite books.

Detail from the library room.

A guest bedroom. Mr. Hammond was a known prankster, and this room could be shut on all four sides by Mr. Hammond if he so chose.

Curiously, this staircase was built with for the convenience of left-handed persons. For right-handed people, it is a bit awkward to traverse.

Some of John Hammond's artifacts and memorabilia are housed in this room. 

Detail of a clock and painting depicting warships in battle. John Hays Hammond Jr. was a pioneering inventor of guided missiles for the United States Navy.

The famous great hall of the Hammond Castle. This hall entertained guests and contained the massive pipe organ that John Hays Hammond, Jr. had installed on the second floor.


  • John Hays Hammond, Jr. was a strong believer in the paranormal and even promised that after his death he would return to this realm as a black cat.  Claims include disembodied voices, moving objects, uneasy feelings and full-bodied apparitions. The Hammond Castle was on one episode of a SyFy series called Paranormal Pioneers.
  • John Hays Hammond, Jr. used his radio control technology combined with gyroscopic stabilization to send a pilotless “ghost ship” around the Gloucester harbor, and then remotely controlled a yacht that sailed from Gloucester to Boston and then back again.

If You Go

The Hammond Castle Museum is open to the public primarily during the summer months. The summer season typically begins on Saturdays and Sundays in May, from 10 AM to 4 PM, with the last tickets sold at 3:30 PM. Beginning in June and extending through October 6th, Hammond Castle is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 AM to 4 PM, also with the last ticket sold at 3:30. The Hammond Castle is closed on Mondays and all U.S. public holidays.

Pro tip #1: After you purchase the ticket(s) to the museum, make sure to allocate ten to twelve minutes of your time to watch the film about John Hays Hammond, Jr. and the Hammond Castle, located in the back of the gift shop. While the film is of average quality, it reveals many things about the castle which you would not ordinarily notice while walking around it. As a bonus, you'll learn about numerous pranks that John Hays Hammond, Jr. conducted (primarily directed at his guests!) while living in the castle.

Pro tip #2: If you are driving from Boston, combine the visit of the Hammond Castle Museum with a visit to Rockport, MA. Based on my experience, you can traverse the entirety of the Hammond Castle and its exterior grounds in about one and a half to two hours, leaving plenty of options to continue your day trip further up the Massachusetts coast into Rockport. Rockport is only 7 miles away on State Route MA-127 from the Hammond Castle Museum.

Pro tip #3: During the months of July and August, Hammond Castle Museum hosts the "Thursday Night Candlelight Tours." With your general admission ticket, you can be guided by candlelight at either 6PM, 7PM, and 8PM on Thursday evenings. The guides will show you the rooms the Hammond frequented and tell stories about how John Hays Hammond Jr. and his wife, Irene Fenton Hammond, enjoyed their many years living in the castle.

Admission Fees

Adults $12.
Senior Citizens (65 yrs +) $10.
Children (ages 6 to 12) $9.


80 Hesperus Ave
Gloucester, MA 01930