Brown-Slocum House

459 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island

Completed in 1895, for Harold Brown (1865-1900) and his wife Georgette Sherman (1872-1960). The main entrance to the 13,962-square foot 25-room house is near the corner to Hazard Avenue and the 4.5-acre estate stretches back Coggeshall Avenue. The house itself was designed by local architect Dudley Newton while the interiors were the work of Ogden Codman and the gardens were laid out by Frederick Olmsted. It remained in the same family until 2018 and was sold for $4.4-million....

This house is best associated with...

Harold Brown

Merchant, of 459 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island


Georgette (Sherman) Brown

Mrs "Georgie" Georgette Wetmore (Sherman) Brown; of, Newport R.I.


Eileen (Gillespie) Slocum

Mrs Eileen (Gillespie) Slocum


John Jermain Slocum

J.J. Slocum, of Washington D.C., Tuxedo Park, N.Y. & Newport, R.I.


Harold Brown grew up at the Nightingale-Brown House in Providence. He was a great-grandson of Nicholas Brown who with his brothers co-founded Brown University through the vast profits they made in the slave trade, and it was Nicholas' brother, John, who gained the dubious distinction of being the first American to be prosecuted for slave-trading. Harold and his brother, John (brother-in-law of George W. Vanderbilt) were also - but altogether less controversially - in business together, lending money for mortgages and investing in real estate out west. But, their multi-million dollar fortune was derived from the family's continued presence in trade, notably the East Indian trade. In 1892, he married Georgie Sherman, grand-daughter of William Shepard Wetmore who forty years before had built Chateau-sur-Mer on the opposite side of their home on Bellevue Avenue.

American Crunch

In 1893, Harold bought 'the old Burns place' that occupied a block of just under five acres bounded by Bellevue, Hazard, Coggeshall and Howe Avenues. By October, 1894, he had submitted plans with Dudley Newton for a 25-room rough-cut stone house of locally quarried granite trimmed with brownstone and topped with a slate roof. Once said to have been inspired by a Norman hunting lodge, in all reality it was a typically American house, and was far closer in style to Vinland or Rough Point than anything in Normandy.

French Filling

At about the same time, Daniel Berkeley Updike introduced Brown to Ogden Codman who was then working on his classic book with Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, in which they stressed the philosophy of classicism over clutter. Having honeymooned in Paris, the Browns developed a taste for early Napoleonic furniture - purchasing among other items a bedroom set that had apparently belonged to Emperor himself which with other pieces was later given by the Browns to the Rhode Island School of Design. Coupled with several 18th century heirlooms from China and Europe, their furniture was a perfect fit for the style favored by Codman and their home became his first major project.

Despite its French décor and furniture, Mrs Brown was disinclined to give her new house a French name, or for that matter, any name at all. Her niece, Eileen Slocum, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "Aunt Georgette thought these French names for houses were silly... a lovely little warm sarcastic smile would come across my aunt's face when someone said they were going to one of the houses with a French name".

Brown-ial Living

The original entrance was on Hazard Avenue, near the corner with Bellevue while what was the tradesmen's entrance still exists on Coggeshall Avenue. The 4.85-acre gardens were designed by Frederick Olmsted with gravel pathways that wind through lawns shaded by beech, oak, maple and butternut. The entrance to the house itself is under the porte-cochère and the front door opens onto a long, marble-floored hallway at the end of which is the marble stair hall. Off the hallway are the principal reception rooms that include the drawing room, morning room, dining room and library. In addition to rooms for the family, there were four staff bedrooms on the second floor, a butler’s quarters in the basement, and separate cottages on the grounds for the gardener and chauffeur.

While travelling in Europe, Harold was telegrammed of his brother's perilous health. Racing to get back to his brother's side in New York, he died himself just six days after his brother. Georgie never remarried nor had any children and lived on here alone for the next 58-years. But, although she may have lived here alone, she was certainly far from alone in Newport: her also widowed sister-in-law built and lived at Harbour Court; her unmarried first cousins, Edith and Maude, were the chatelaines of Chateau-sur-Mer; and, even closer to her, was her half-sister, Lady Camoys, who summered at Stonor Lodge.

Slocum Style

Mrs Brown died in 1960 when the house was purchased from her estate for $85,000 by her niece, Mrs Eileen (Gillespie) Slocum, "society doyenne" and stalwart of the Republican Party. She was first engaged in 1933 to John Jacob Astor VI, but he broke it off the following month before marrying Ellen Tuck French, the same whose father - the hapless Francis Ormond French II - shocked society by going bankrupt and then becoming a taxi cab driver in New York. Six years later in 1940, Eileen married John Jermain Slocum, a Foreign Service Officer and bibliophile whose collection of works, letters and manuscripts by James Joyce are now part of Yale’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Aside from postings to Germany and Egypt, the Slocums divided their time between Washington D.C., Tuxedo Park, and Newport. On moving into her aunt's house, Mrs Slocum left everything as she found it except for minor updates to the bathrooms and - to the despair of later generations - replacing the dark wood kitchen with white formica. 

The Slocums hosted regular parties here, notably Republican fund-raisers for the likes of President Gerald R. Ford, Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Vice President Dick Cheney. In later years - by which time Mrs Slocum had reduced the live-in staff of eight down to just a cook, maid, and gardener - it was her grandchildren who gave summer parties here and one of them (Phyllis Higgerson) was quoted in 1999 as saying: "We're always overflowing here, people fall asleep on the sofas".

The Next Chapter

After Mrs Slocum died in 2008 it took several years to assess her estate when the house - then listed as containing 12-bedrooms and 8-bathrooms - was put on the market for $5.9-million. It went back on the market in 2018 for $4.9-million and was sold later that year for $4.4-million, passing for the first time in its history out of family hands.

You May Also Like...

Contributed by Mark Meredith on 23/10/2022 and last updated on 02/11/2022.


Be the first to connect to this house. Connect to record your link to this house. or just to show you love it! Connect to Brown-Slocum House →