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Rough Point

Newport, Rhode Island

Completed in 1891, for Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856-1938) and his wife (and cousin) Louise Holmes Anthony Torrance (1844-1926). It is the 5th largest 'cottage' put up at Newport during the Gilded Age, behind only The Breakers, Ochre Court, Belcourt Castle and Seaview Terrace. The socialite Bessie Drexel (1868-1944) described it as "one of the most beautiful homes in Newport". Today, Rough Point is operated as a unique 105-room house museum, left as it was by its last private owner, Doris Duke (1912-1993), to the Newport Restoration Foundation that she herself founded in 1968. Tours are available from May to November.
In 1886, Frederick Vanderbilt - grandson of the Commodore and youngest brother of those who built The Breakers and Biltmore Castle - became the first of his family to plan a new mansion from scratch on 10-acres he purchased overlooking the sea at Newport.

In 1887, Frederick and Lulu Vanderbilt commissioned Peabody & Stearns to design their Tudor-style sandstone and granite summer house, while the gardens that stretched down to the cliffs were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). Inspired by its earlier neighbours, Wakehurst and Vinland, the mansion cost $1 million to build and was completed in 1891. The Vanderbilts moved in the following year and christened their home Rough Point for the waves that crashed into the cliffs at the foot of their lawns.

During its construction, Rough Point was the most talked about house in Newport, despite being rapidly eclipsed by the likes of Ochre Court and Marble House. The principal feature of the 49-room mansion's interior was it's vast 2-story Gothic entrance hall, and this was humorously referred to in an article that appeared in The New York Sun of 1889:
The colossal size of Mr Frederick Vanderbilt's new house at Newport, and especially of his entrance hall, is still a topic of conversation. Sydney Smith (1771-1845) once said of an abnormally stout woman: "One might take one's morning walk round her, always supposing that one is in rude health and good physical training." And the remark would apply equally well to Mr Vanderbilt's house, the inmates of which must get all the exercise they want within its walls.
Lulu enjoyed entertaining, but Frederick was shy and did not enjoy the constant social parade that was Gilded Age Newport. As such, from 1894 they leased Rough Point to those who better enjoyed the exclusive enclave. By 1906, the Vanderbilts were happily established at Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park and that year they sold Rough Point to William Bateman Leeds (1861-1908) and his second wife, Nonnie May Stewart (1883-1923).

The Leeds' had been renting Rough Point for the previous two seasons, and on it becoming theirs they hired John Russell Pope (1874–1937) to make some minor exterior alterations. But, after having passed just one summer in their newly acquired mansion, William Leeds died at Paris in 1908. His widow, known as Nancy, ostensibly remained in Europe and in 1920 remarried Prince Christopher (1888-1940) of Greece and Denmark. Known from then on as "Princess Anastasia," she died just three years later at Spencer House in London.

In 1922, Princess Anastasia sold her Newport home to James Buchanan Duke (1856–1925) and his second wife, Nannie Holt. No sooner than they had acquired the mansion, the Dukes spent millions hiring Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) to enlarge it, while Sir Charles Carrick Allom (1865–1947) was brought in to renovate the interiors. Trumbauer, used Rough Point for inspiration on another of his projects, Ronaele Manor.

By the addition of an east wing, the length of the house was almost doubled, as were the number of rooms that now numbered 105. In 1925, Duke died and left his all his residences, plus his $100 million fortune to his only daughter, the thirteen year old Doris Duke (1912-1993), who was immediately dubbed, "the richest little girl in the world".

Doris and her mother continued to spend their summers at Rough Point, but by the 1950s she was often abroad and her mother advised her to donate the property to a suitable charitable cause. Her two attempts to donate the mansion to the Newport Hospital failed, and after her mother's death in 1962 she spent three months of every summer at Rough Point up until 1992. 

Once the house was back in use, Doris began to refill it with old family heirlooms and hundreds of pieces of priceless art that she collected herself. Among the many treasures seen there today are paintings by Renoir, Gainsborough, Reynolds and van Dyck; Chinese porcelain vases from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644); 16th century French and Flemish tapestries; and in the Yellow Room, side tables with ivory insets bearing the imperial crest of Catherine the Great (1729-1796) of Russia.

To add to her interests in horticulture, art and philanthropy, Doris established the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968. Through this organization, she financed the salvation of no less than 83 historic buildings in the Newport area. 

When Doris died in 1993, she left Rough Point along with all her clothes, jewellery and furniture within to the Foundation. Since 2000, her home has been operated as a house-museum, unique by the fact that it has been left just as it was when she lived there. There is no gift shop as Doris declared that she found them to be "in bad taste".