Beaulieu

614 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island

Completed in 1859, for Don Federico Luciano Barreda (1827-1883) and his wife (and niece), Matilde Barreda (1824-1917). Nestled between Marble House and Clarendon Court, their 34-room villa was designed by the English architect Calvert Vaux who had just completed Beechwood for Barreda's friend, Daniel Parish. In 1879, it was purchased by John Jacob Astor III who named it "Beaulieu" (French for "Beautiful Place") and for first half of the 20th century it was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt III and his wife, Grace, who in her era, "entertained and was entertained by more members of European Royal Houses than any other woman in America". Many of the original features were stripped out after it was sold, but from 1956 Beaulieu was rejuvenated by Eisenhower's Chief of Protocol, Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., and his wife Ruth who lived here for over 60-years. Enjoying a long and rich history, it is one of the oldest of Newport's cottages and still remains a private family home today....

This house is best associated with...

Federico Luciano Barreda

Don Federico L. Barreda y Aguilar, of Peru, New York & San Francisco

1827-1883

Matilde Laverrerie Barreda

Matilde Laverrerie y Barreda

1824-1917

William Tilden Blodgett

William T. Blodgett, Co-Founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1823-1875

Alfred du Pont Jessup

Alfred D. Jessup, of Philadelphia; Head of Jessup & Moore, Paper Manufacturers

1826-1881

John Jacob Astor III

John Jacob Astor III, of New York City & Newport, Rhode Island

1822-1890

Charlotte Augusta Gibbes

Mrs Charlotte (Gibbes) Astor

1825-1887

William Waldorf Astor

The Rt. Hon. "Willy" Astor, 1st Viscount Astor, of Hever Castle, Kent

1848-1919

Mary Dahlgren Paul

Mrs Mary (Paul) Astor

1858-1894

Calvin Stewart Brice

Calvin S. Brice, U.S. Senator & Chairman of the Democratic National Committee

1845-1898

Olivia Meily

Mrs (Catherine) "Liv" (Meily) Brice

1840-1900

Cornelius Vanderbilt III

Brigadier-General "Neily" Vanderbilt III, of New York City

1873-1942

Grace Wilson Vanderbilt

Mrs Grace Graham (Wilson) Vanderbilt

1870-1953

Wiley Thomas Buchanan Jr.

Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., Ambassador & Chief of Protocol of the United States

1913-1986

Ruth Elizabeth Hale

Mrs Ruth (Hale) Buchanan, Wheeler

1918-2019

Federico L. Barreda was born in Spain and went out to Peru as a teenager in 1840. In 1851, he and his brother, Felipe, obtained a lucrative contract to market and import guano (an artificial fertilizer made from fish) into the United States. In 1856, to place himself among the most influential movers-and-shakers in the world of American business, he paid $85,000 for a townhouse in New York off the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and $24,000 for five acres overlooking the sea at Newport. He commissioned Calvert Vaux both to expand and remodel his townhouse, and to design and build his summer house.

Vaux's "Marine Villa with Tower"

By the time the 14,500-square foot summer house was complete, Barreda had spent a total of precisely $150,000 on the land, its construction, and decoration, which was almost double the price of Beechwood next door. The house is approached by a gravel driveway that curves its way up from the entrance gates on Bellevue Avenue. The grounds were landscaped by Eugene A. Baumann (1817-1869), a Frenchman who like Vaux - although to a far lesser extent - was also involved in creating New York's Central Park. He laid out various footpaths from the house that led towards a balustraded 'viewing terrace'. Ascending its stone steps on either side, it sat on a man-made eminence 14-feet above the grade of the lawn offering a magnificent and dramatic view over the sea and cliffs below.

The brick and Nova Scotia stone house was a statement and it certainly achieved its ambition. Typically, while the house was highly praised by architects (being among the earliest in America to incorporate a mansard roof in the then newly emerging French Second Empire style), of course the more staid of Newport's residents grumbled that it was "pretentious"! It was originally fronted by a three-story tower and its 34-rooms included 16-bedrooms, all maintained by 18-servants including six who 'lived-in'.

A Repose from Grief

On his appointment as Peruvian Minister to the United States, Barreda celebrated in style by hosting a party at Beaulieu for which he hired New York's Delmonico's Restaurant to do the catering - the same who catered at the Grand Ball given for the Prince of Wales that same year. Barreda's diplomatic career saw him posted to Europe between 1864 and 1867, and in 1866 he leant his summer home to his old friend William H. Seward.

In April, 1865, Seward - the U.S. Secretary of State - was one three men targeted by John Wilkes and his conspirators that left Abraham Lincoln dead. An assassin broke into the Seward home in New York and succeeded in stabbing the Secretary five times in the head but was beaten off before managing to escape. In the attack, three of their children were injured and the incident had such an affect on Mrs Seward - a prominent abolitionist and champion of women's rights - that just weeks later she had a heart attack and died.

Blodgett & the Marrying Jessups

The Financial Panic of 1873 brought Barreda's fortune crashing down and he was forced to borrow money from his brother to stay afloat. In 1875, he sold his summer home to William T. Blodgett, the New York City art collector who with John Taylor Johnston was instrumental in founding the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But, in the same year Blodgett bought the house, he dropped dead and in 1877 his heirs sold it to Alfred du Pont Jessup, of Philadelphia, a paper manufacturer who'd been living in Europe since his retirement.

Jessup was named for his father's friend, Alfred du Pont, President of what is now known as Dupont Inc., an association which no doubt helped the success of Jessup's paper manufacturing business. Having already lost his wife in 1867 and his eldest son to a duel in 1876, Jessup returned from Europe with the intention of finding suitable partners for his three remaining children - and where better than Newport? In 1879, he succeeded in marrying off his youngest daughter, Clara, to a British Artillery officer - the subsequent owners of the Villa Aurelia now owned by the American Academy in Rome - and while her siblings left Newport without proposals, when they did marry, they married names that would have made any of Newport's society hostesses weak at the knees: August Jessup married Lady Mildred Bowes-Lyon, aunt of the Queen Mother; and, Matilda Jessup married Hon. Bernard Constable-Maxwell, son of the 10th Lord of Herries of Terregles. 

The Astor Rivalries

In 1879, after just two years in Newport, Jessup sold up to John Jacob Astor III whose wife of just over thirty years, Charlotte, had finally succeeded in teaching him to enjoy his wealth. The following year they were joined by John's younger brother, William, and his wife, Lina, who purchased Beechwood 'two doors' up from them on Bellevue Avenue.

On the face of it, two brothers who lived next door to one another in New York who then each bought summer homes all-but next door to one another may have given the impression of two closely-knit families who couldn't spend enough time together. But, all was far from how it seemed: In 1875, their father died leaving the bulk of the $90 million Astor fortune to be shared equally between John and William (their youngest brother, Henry, was disinherited). In a world of primogeniture, this led to a confusion between who should now take on the role as head of the family which was then exacerbated - to say the very least - by William's socially-obsessive wife, aka The Mrs Astor. By the time Lina bought Beechwood, the two branches of the Astor family were at dagger's drawn.

By 1882, the Astors were said to have named their Newport home "Beaulieu" but whereas Lina revelled in Newport society and referred to the resorters as her "villagers," Charlotte built a brick wall between their gardens and the Cliff Walk to stop prying eyes peering in.

Charlotte died just five years later in 1887 when her husband gifted the house to their only son, Willy Waldorf Astor, and his wife, Mary Dahlgren Paul. By the time his father died three years later, Willy was tired of his failures in politics and his aunt's relentless quest for family dominance. In 1891, he famously declared, "America is not a fit place for a gentleman to live" and left for good, establishing his branch of the family in England where they remain today. Building Two Temple Place in London as the nerve-center from which he ran his vast property empire in America, he held on to Beaulieu and for the next decade leased it for 'the season' to the established and aspiring American aristocracy.

Turning Heads - Mrs Brice & Her Daughters

For most of the 1890s, Beaulieu was the summer domain of Mrs "Liv" Brice, wife of the self-made U.S. Senator from Ohio and leading Bourbon Democrat, Calvin S. Brice. Liv was described as, "a consummate social arbiter" and preceding every Newport season she and her daughters took their customary trip to Paris to fill their wardrobes with the latest fashions in silk, lace, and velvet - all ensured to turn heads. Liv's curves and her avant-garde sense of style frequently saw her name topping the gossip columns.

Their parties were no less inconspicuous and at Beaulieu in 1895 Mrs Brice presided over what the contemporary press referred to as, "the most elaborate lawn party ever given in Newport". 350 of their closest friends were invited for what was essentially a tea party, but enlivened by a dog circus, a mesmerist, and a gypsy fortune teller who was certainly in the right place for the customary demand to "first cross my palm with silver"!

The following year - to the unadulterated horror of Lina Astor -  the Brices upped the ante by introducing refined Newport society to the bawdy, buxom stars of Vaudeville... to resounding success! After various Irish rough-and-tumble renditions from “The Bowery Brunhilde” Maggie Cline, Mrs Brice thrilled her guests when May Irwin took the stage, already one of the most famous "Coon Shouters," she was then at the peak of her fame for having just partaken in the world's "first on-screen kiss". Her raucous performance of 'I Want Yer, Ma Honey' was repeated no less than five times by popular demand!

US-Russian Relations

In 1898, Calvin S. Brice died, and the following year a sense of decorum was reintroduced to Beaulieu when it was rented to Mrs Potter Palmer, of Chicago. In September, 1899, a Russian altar was transported from New York and re-erected in the Drawing Room at Beaulieu for a ceremony performed by two Russian Orthodox priests that solemnized the marriage of Mrs Palmer's niece, Julia Dent Grant (grand-daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant), and the Russian Prince Mikhail Cantacuzène, Count Spranznki.   

Neily & Grace Vanderbilt

Neily Vanderbilt was the eldest surviving son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II who in 1895 built the jewel in the crown of all the Newport summer palaces, The Breakers. Neily's wife, Grace Wilson, had first been introduced to the Vanderbilt family in 1891 when they already disapproved of her father who they regarded as a Civil War profiteer. But, back then, she was not Neily's girlfriend, she was the girlfriend of his elder brother who died the following year at Yale. Having switched her affections to the next heir, Neily's parents were incensed when in 1896 he declared his love for the girl they regarded as nothing but a heartless fortune hunter. In the ensuing argument, Neily was banished from home after striking his father who days later suffered a crippling stroke. The second stroke in 1899 was fatal and it would be 27-years before Neily's mother would speak to him again.

Neily's inheritance was slashed to $1.4 million, which was then given a $6 million top-up by his ill-fated brother, Freddy. In 1901, Neily and Grace agreed to a lengthy lease of Beaulieu and they eventually bought it from the Astor family in 1930 when they made extensive improvements to both the grounds and the villa. But, back in 1901, with Neily's mother now a virtual recluse in New York, he and Grace were free to enjoy the good life.

La Fête des Roses

Neily and Grace may have been the "poor relations" but in 1902 during Tennis Week they hosted the sort of party that Mrs Brice would have loved: "La Fête des Rose," the highlight of which was a performance of the first act of "The Wild Rose" for which Grace had shipped down the entire cast from Broadway. Among those starring in the show with Marie Cahill, Eddie Foy and Irene Bentley was the young Evelyn Nesbit. It was her role in this same show at that same time that brought her to the attentions of Stanford White and Harry Kendall Thaw, placing her at the center of an abusive 'love' triangle which famously culminated in Thaw murdering White and "the trial of the century".

To bring the show to life here, Grace had the 40-by-60 foot stage overlooking the cliffs  reconstructed by two gangs of carpenters who worked night and day for five straight nights. The lucky 100 with invitations entered the estate through a specially erected entrance arch 25-feet wide and 18-feet high near the south gate. This led them onto a 256-foot long walkway lined with palms and enclosed in turkey red calico festooned with garlands and laurels and illuminated by 600 red and white lights. On either side were tens of booths containing carnival side-shows with a gypsy camp, wheels of fortune, tests of strength, shooting galleries, troupes of black dancing girls, doll games, "toss the ring," singing girls, a Punch & Judy show etc., etc. In the final booth near the house was the 'ticket office' that dispensed the all important pass for the main spectacle. From here, guests entered Beaulieu itself which was described as "a wonderland of flowers," notably American Beauty roses, and here they were greeted by their host and hostess.

On the conclusion of the main event, dinner was served in the Dining Room and on the piazzas while the theater was transformed into an open air ballroom, still replete with a large chandelier and hundreds of tiny electric lights. After dinner, gold and silver fireworks were shot over the cliffs and two orchestras played until breakfast was served at sunrise. Each guest departed with a silver gift, such as cigarette cases, French horns, automatic dancing dolls and monkeys, buckles, atomizers, tie cases, bon-bon baskets filled with candies etc. The next day, The New York Times gave a brief summary of Theodore Roosevelt's political tour, but dedicated an entire column to La Fête des Roses!

"We Regret to Inform You, Madame..."

It was said of Grace that she, "entertained and was entertained by more members of European Royal Houses than any other woman in America". That may well have been the case, but she eventually became so insulated within her Gilded cocoon that she barely spared a thought for the war in Europe nor for the sensitivities of her staff and family.

In 1914, Grace insisted on inviting the German Ambassador, Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, to a dinner at Beaulieu. While he was initially recalled at the start of the war, he was sent back to America that August with secret instructions to assist the German war effort "by all means necessary". Neily was a Colonel in the reserve Guard and had two nephews then fighting in the British Army. Furious with Grace, he refused to come.

Undeterred, she pushed ahead anyway and everything was going to plan when the soup was removed at the conclusion of the first course. They waited for the fish to arrive for the second course, but nothing stirred from the kitchen and neither was there a servant nor a footman to be seen. Grace rang for her English butler, Gerald, but he too failed to appear. At last, an Irish kitchen maid came out holding a silver tray on which rested a note: "We regret to inform you, Madame, that we cannot any longer serve the enemy of our respective countries... we have thrown the dinner in the bin and have all left your service - after every one of us carefully spit well into the soup"! Her staff did return the next day, though not uttering word, and Grace was advised to do the same!   

"A Deplorable Wreck"

Grace continued to summer at her beloved Beaulieu up until her death in 1953. In the same year, her executors placed it on the market and three years later it was bought by Benjamin Coates (1918-2004), a Harvard graduate who served in the war as a Naval Intelligence Officer and then ran the Coates Board & Carton Co., of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He only owned the house for 18-months, but in that time tore out all the original marble fireplaces, removed much of the panelling and lighting, and knocked down the greenhouse. He then sold it to Newport realtor John W. Richmond, and when he showed the Barreda's grandson around in 1959, it was in "a deplorable condition".

The Wiley Buchanans and Beaulieu Today

In 1960, President Eisenhower's Chief of Protocol, Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., and his wife Ruth, were staying as the guests of John Rovensky at Clarendon Court. Knowing that Beaulieu was on the market they were curious just to take a look, and as far as Ruth was aware, that was all they had done. Later, the wily Chief of Protocol handed their daughter a flier and said, "don't say anything, but let me show you what I just bought".

In 1961, it was reported that the 9-acre estate had been split between the Buchanans and Newport veterans Ottavio and Ena Prochet, but it would appear that the Buchanans later bought that land back as Beaulieu continues to sit on 9-acres. In the meantime, the Buchanans set about restoring what their daughter had called "a wreck" to its former glory, and sparing no expense they hired "the world's most expensive decorator," Valerian Rybar, who gave the interiors a look that is as elegant today as they were back then. Travelling to France, they bought replacement fireplaces and light fixtures, and also converted the original 2,000-square foot carriage house into a 3-bedroom guesthouse.

The Buchanans, along with John and Noreen Drexel of Stonor Lodge, represented the new vanguard at Newport. In 1962, Spain's young heir to throne, Juan Carlos and his wife Princess Sophia, spent part of their honeymoon at Beaulieu, and the Buchanans also hosted various ambassadors so that it wasn't long before Newport began to sparkle once more. Beaulieu remained the beloved domain of Mrs Ruth Buchanan up until her death in 2019. It was sold the following year for $12.3 million, and remains a private home.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 03/05/2021 and last updated on 13/05/2021.
Image Courtesy of Wikimapia.org; From the Guadalquivir to the Golden Gate, by Way of Lima, Baltimore, New York, Newport, Washington, London, Paris, and Cuajiniquilapa (1977), by Frederick Barreda Sherman; Federico Barreda, SewardProject; The New York Times; Villas & Cottages by Calvert Vaux; Getting Dressed, Gilded Age Tea Parties by William DeGregorio for the Museum of the City of New York; A Guide to Newport's Cliff Walk: Tales of Seaside Mansions & the Gilded Age, by Ed Morris; Beaulieu, aka Ruth's World, HabituallyChic; Inside a Newport Estate that Hasn't Changed for 55 Years, by Whitney Robinson, for Town & Country.

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