Land's End

42 Ledge Road, Newport, Rhode Island

Built in 1864, for Samuel Gray Ward (1817-1907) and his wife, Anna Hazard Barker (1813-1900). The early history of this house is fraught with mistaken identity that calls for diligence over dilettantes. It was designed by John Hubbard Sturgis for the transcendentalist banker from Boston who co-founded New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - Samuel G., not Samuel C. Ward. It was then purchased by R. Livingston Beeckman, but not the R. Livingston Beeckman who became Governor of Rhode Island. Things then get a little easier as Land's End is most famous as the home of its next owner, the era-defining author - and not too shoddy interior designer - Edith Wharton....

This house is best associated with...

Samuel Gray Ward

Samuel G. Ward, of New York City; Partner in Baring Brothers Bank

1817-1907

Anna Hazard (Barker) Ward

Mrs Anna Hazard (Barker) Ward

1813-1900

Robert Livingston Beeckman

R. Livingston Beeckman, of Lapsley, Beeckman & Co., Brokers, of New York

b.c.1820

Margaret (Foster) Beeckman

Mrs Margaret Atherton (Foster) Beeckman

1832-1904

Edith Wharton

Mrs Edith Newbold (Jones) Wharton, Gilded Age Author

1862-1937

Edward Robbins Wharton

"Teddy" Edward R. Wharton, of New York

1850-1928

Eleanor (Thomas) Beeckman

Mrs "Nancy" Eleanor (Thomas) Beeckman

1878-1920

Robert Livingston Beeckman

R. Livingston Beeckman, 52nd Governor of Rhode Island

1866-1935

Edna (Marston) Thacher

Mrs Edna (Marston) Burke, Beeckman, Thacher

1893-1969

George Eustis Paine

Chairman of the New York & Pennsylvania Company; of New York & Paris

1892-1953

Helen (Ellis) Paine

Mrs Helen (Ellis) Paine

1895-1948

Augustus Gibson Paine

"Gusty" Paine, President of the New York & Pennsylvania Company

1919-1993

Thomas Leiter

"Tommy" Leiter, of 1531 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington D.C.

1912-1958

Oatsie Charles

"Oatsie" Marion Saffold (Oates) Leiter, Charles; Society Grand Dame

1919-2018

George Dunton Widener, Jr.

George D. Widener Jr., of Erdenheim Farm, Pennsylvania; "Exemplar of Racing"

1889-1971

Jessie (Sloane) Widener

Mrs Jessie (Sloane) Dodge, afterwards Widener

1883-1968

Joseph Francis Mele

"Joe" Mele of Washington D.C. & Newport, R.I.

b.c.1950

Victoria (Leiter) Mele

Mrs Mary "Victoria" (Leiter) Butler, Mele

b.1950

In 1860s Newport, there were two well-known Samuel Wards but not only were they quite different to one another, they were also entirely unrelated to one another. It fell to Ralph Waldo Emerson to set the record straight in reference to the builder of Land's End: "Many persons have confounded our Samuel Gray Ward, because of his later living at Newport, with Mr. Samuel Ward, a resident there, brother of Mrs Julia Ward Howe, but with quite other sympathies and attitudes in the (Civil) war, as his sister in her noble poem "The Flag" scrupled not to show". Samuel G. Ward built his summer home on the southeast end of Ledge Road, visible today from what has become the popular "Cliff Walk".

Samuel Gray Ward was hugely admired by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller although they were bitterly disappointed when he turned his artistic hand to business. Although a talented poet and painter, it is often overlooked that he was in fact a banker and a co-founder of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Determined to support his wife (the daughter of the colorful banker Jacob Barker), from 1854 he became senior partner in the agency started by his father for Barings Brothers and it was their agency that oversaw the purchase of Alaska in 1867 for a cool $7.2 million.

The Other R. Livingston Beeckman

In 1876, the Wards commissioned Charles McKim to build Oakwood and returned to summering in their native Massachusetts. At about the same time, they sold Land's End to one R. Livingston Beeckman. However, just as many histories of Land's End have confused the two Samuel Wards, it would appear they have also been confused by the fact that were two R. Livingston Beeckmans. It's usually always said that the R. Livingston Beeckman who became Governor of Rhode Island purchased the house from the Wards; and, although he did live here (as a child and an adult), in 1876 he was just a boy of ten. 

Now, this is pure conjecture on my part - and if someone could add, confirm, or deny, please leave a comment - but there does appear to be one possible explanation for the oft-repeated mistake: Governor Beeckman's father, Gilbert, was a merchant at New York when his business took a direct hit in the financial Panic of 1873. Two days before Christmas in 1874, he suffered a fatal heart attack and very soon afterwards, in much reduced circumstances, his widow moved their family down to Newport. Gilbert had just one brother, R. Livingston Beeckman, for whom his better-known nephew was named. The timing fits perfectly and it certainly seems plausible that given the circumstances, it was Gilbert's brother who purchased the house for his struggling, widowed sister-in-law.

Through the eldest of Gilbert's children, Katherine, they were well supported in Newport: she married Louis Lasher Lorillard months before her father's death. He was the younger brother of Pierre Lorillard IV who built The Breakers that was later replaced by its iconic namesake; and, he inherited Vinland from his famously single cousin. Indeed, despite their father's bankruptcy, all the Beeckman children would go on to marry rather well.

"Windows Framing the Endlessly Changing Moods of the Misty Atlantic"

In 1893, the future Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Edith Wharton bought Land's End for $80,000, which she retrospectively described as, "an ugly wooden house with half an acre of rock and illimitable miles of Atlantic Ocean". While she held little love for the climate and Newport itself with its "vapid watering-place amusements," she did come to love Land's End and the view from its windows that framed, "the endlessly changing moods of the misty Atlantic". With the help of her talented niece, Beatrix Farrand, she began by bringing the exterior up to, "a certain dignity by laying out a circular court with high hedges and trellis-work niches". She continued her work by extending the house and then brought in her friend Ogden Codman Jr. with whom she redesigned the interiors. Their work here formed the basis of her book "The Decoration of Houses" but she eventually tired of Newport and - just as Samuel G. Ward had done - moved to Lenox in the Berkshires, selling Land's End a year after finishing her grander mansion, The Mount.

Back to the Beeckmans

In June, 1903, Mrs Eleanor Beeckman paid $122,500 for her new husband's old childhood home. That previous October she'd married R. Livingston Beeckman, nephew and namesake of the R. Livingston Beeckman who purchased the house some forty years before for his widowed sister-in-law. In January, 1903, Mrs Beeckman's father had died and left her about half of his estimated $20-million estate that she shared with her brother, Edward, whose first wife went on to marry Cole Porter. She wasn't slow to make use of her wealth and in the same year as buying Land's End, she also commissioned Warren & Wetmore to build them a townhouse in New York at 854 Fifth Avenue

"Survived More... Accidents than any other Member of Newport Society"

Beeckman had been a broker in New York and made a name for himself as a sportsman who excelled in tennis and polo before entering politics in 1908. Four years later (1912), they quit New York for good and were living here year-round when Beeckman was elected Governor in 1915. They may have envisioned a quieter life for themselves here, but it didn't quite turn out that way: they were burgled while playing cards; they waded into the sea at the foot of their garden to rescue a pair of fishermen whose boat had capsized; they recuperated here after being thrown from their car in the French countryside when their chauffeur collided with and killed a drunk; and, they apparently had, "an exciting time" fighting a fire ignited by a loose electrical connection to their silver safe when it was reported that, "Mrs Beeckman worked as hard as any of the volunteer fire fighters". By 1912 alone, it was reported that "R. Livingston Beeckman (had) survived more railroad, polo, and yachting accidents than any other member of Newport society".

Aside from entertaining the great and good of Newport, the Beeckmans lavished much of their attention on their garden which was noted for its American Gladiolus while their greenhouses were said to be, "magnificent (and) caught the eye of the visitor at once and held it". They were no doubt a welcome distraction from the escapades of Beeckman's nephews and nieces, namely Francis Ormond French II, his siblings Edward and Julia.

Mrs Eleanor Beeckman died in 1920 and three years later he secured the hand of another wealthy heiress, Mrs Edna (Marston) Burke, whose father had died in the previous year. She had recently divorced her first husband, Oscar M. Burke, and having taken custody of their son, Edwin, Beeckman (who had no natural children of his own) finally became a father at the age of 57, doting upon his stepson. He and Edna continued to live here permanently up until a few years before his death when they took to wintering in Santa Barbara where he dropped dead of a heart attack in 1935. That year, Edna leased Land's End for the season to Mrs Augustine L. Humes of New York before selling up in 1936.

"Body Discovered on Lonely Beach"

The new owner from 1936 was George Eustis Paine who lived between New York and Paris before becoming Chairman of his family-owned paper manufacturing firm, the New York & Pennsylvania Company. He was a passionate collector of artefacts associated with Napoleon and amassed a 155+ piece collection that included items such as one of Napoleon's personal maps, various autographed books and books belonging to and about Napoleon; several bronze sculptures of the Emperor; portrait miniatures; snuff boxes, etc.

Paine's time here was ended abruptly after 1948 when his wife, Helen Ellis, was found to have died "mysteriously" on a beach five miles from Land's End at Middletown. Having been, "in the best of health and spirits" she was reported missing in New York only to be found the following day face down in the sand at Middletown, 35-feet from the water's edge and about a quarter of a mile away from the nearest summer cottage that was unoccupied. She had not drowned and there were no marks on her body, but a number of pink pills were discovered in a locket that she wore around her neck. Footprints in the sand showed that she had, "wandered erratically along the beach for about 440-feet".

Oatsie's Whim

After his wife's death, George Paine bought "The Waves" further along at 57 Ledge Road. He gifted Land's End to his eldest son, Augustus Gibson Paine, who was married in 1953 to a grand-daughter of William K. Vanderbilt II. In 1952, Augustus leased the house to Thomas Leiter and his wife "Oatsie," who preferring Newport to Bar Harbor had used her famous southern charm to persuade Tommy to buy it, which he did that fall. 

The 8.5-acre estate then consisted of the main house, the gardener’s cottage, an eight-car garage, and a greenhouse with the remnants of Edith Wharton's gardens. Oatsie immediately became one of the leading lights in Newport society but her marriage to Leiter (nephew of both Lady Kedleston and the Countess of Suffolk, and grandson of Levi Leiter, co-founder of Marshall Field & Co.) was over just two years later (1954).

In 1957, Oatsie sold the main house for $55,000 to George Dunton Widener Jr. who in the previous year had both inherited and then sold Miramar. Retaining the gardener's cottage and the garage, Oatsie moved into the former - that she named "The Whim" - with her daughter, Victoria. In 1969, her fortunes improved when she married Bob Charles and in the same year they connected the cottage to the garage to create a 7-bedroom summer home with two libraries and plenty of entertaining space as they divided their time between Washington D.C. and Newport. In the meantime, Widener (grandson of the builder of Lynnewood Hall) summered here with his wife, Jessie Sloane, whose name was noticeably absent in her mother's will which almost certainly came about from a rift caused by her mother's decision to abandon her children to marry Perry Belmont.

The Mele Mêlée

The Wideners were still summering here in 1964, but after that the next twenty years of ownership at Land's End are somewhat murky - and if you can help, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. The fog clears in 1989 when Oatsie's daughter, Victoria, and her second husband Joe Mele brought Land's End - then described as a 23-room estate - back into the family fold paying the price tag of $2-million. But, just five years later (1994) the Meles wanted to put it back on the market at which point Oatsie stepped in and bought it, even though she had no intention of moving from "The Whim" where she lived permanently from 2007 until her death in 2018. Just to finally confound matters, in the year after Oatsie died, the Meles put Land's End - their summer home for the last quarter of a century - back on the market and retreated into "The Whim". Land's End was sold in 2020 to friends of theirs from Connecticut for $8.6-million.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 11/07/2019 and last updated on 04/08/2022.
Images Courtesy of WikiMapia; Edith Wharton’s Former Newport Mansion Hits the Market for $11.7 Million (May 20, 2019) by Joyce Chen for Architectural Digest; The Early Years of the Saturday Club: 1855-1870, by Edward Waldo Emerson; Land's End Sells for $8.6 million, Newport Daily News; The Architectural Imagination of Edith Wharton: Gender, Class, and Power in the Progressive Era (2007) by Annette Benert

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Ralph C works in Land's End