The Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth and extreme wealth, swept across America from the late 19th to the early 20th century. During this era, Rhode Island emerged as a pivotal player. The state turned into a magnet for the wealthy elite, experiencing an unprecedented transformation.

The state became the summer haven for rich tycoons, successful entrepreneurs, and industrial magnates. Spectacular mansions and luxurious summer homes bloomed across its landscape, showcasing the excessive wealth typical of the Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age was not only an era of physical opulence. It also signaled a great societal and cultural shift. Providence, Rhode Island's vibrant city, grew into an industrial and commercial powerhouse. Its architectural and cultural landscapes adapted, mirroring the era's rising affluence.

Today, the remnants of Rhode Island's Gilded Age offer a window into a significant chapter of American history. Whether you're a history buff, architecture connoisseur or an inquisitive traveler, the opportunity to explore the history, opulence, and cultural richness of this epoch in Rhode Island awaits.

Newport Mansions: Echoes of the Gilded Age's Affluence

Newport, Rhode Island, with the Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop, was the Gilded Age's arena for the wealthy. Notable families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors built grand mansions, masquerading as “summer cottages”. These architectural marvels still radiate the era's prosperity and grandeur.  Take a tour of these extraordinary properties at your own pace. All are truly unique, and grand and have incredibly rich family histories Once you you see one you will want to see them all

The Breakers: The Vanderbilt Dynasty's Masterpiece

The Breakers, the Vanderbilt family's crown jewel, overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Its 70 rooms, adorned with imported Italian marble and detailed gold leafwork, reflect the Vanderbilt's penchant for grandeur. A walk through the French-inspired Great Hall or the opulent Music Room transports visitors back to an era of unparalleled wealth and extravagance.

Marble House: An Epitome of Luxury

William Kissam Vanderbilt gifted Marble House to his wife, Alva, on her birthday. Constructed from 500,000 cubic feet of marble, this mansion combines European architecture with American audacity. Alva Vanderbilt, a women's rights advocate, hosted "Votes for Women" rallies here, intertwining the mansion's history with the suffragette movement. This property also boasts a true Chinese Tea House where you can make reservations for tea time at certain times of the year - you will feel like you stepped right into the Vanderbilt family. It has beautiful ocean views and later you can take a stroll along the Cliff Walk. 

Rosecliff: Glamour and Romance Personified

Silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs' mansion, Rosecliff, personifies glamour and romance. Modeled after Versailles' Grand Trianon, its heart-shaped staircase and grand ballroom have hosted extravagant parties. Rosecliff's beauty even made it to Hollywood, serving as the setting for the film, The Great Gatsby. Each Summer and Fall this mansion hosts two exciting events the Newport Flower Show and the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival.

Belcourt: A Unique Blend of Architectural Styles

Belcourt, another Newport Mansion, reflects the eclectic taste of Oliver Belmont. He mixed Gothic, Renaissance, and country house aesthetics, straying from the popular Italian Renaissance and French chateau styles. The mansion's large carriage room, a nod to Belmont's love for horse carriages, is its standout feature. A fun fact is that this property was the original site of the Newport Jazz Festival.

The Newport mansions each tell a unique story. They provide a glimpse into the Gilded Age's opulence and extravagance. Visiting these mansions offers a chance to experience the dazzling affluence of this transformative American era.

Providence's Industrial Transformation

Providence, Rhode Island's vibrant capital, witnessed a significant shift during the Gilded Age. The once tranquil colonial town metamorphosed into an industrial and commercial powerhouse, with factories, warehouses and trade centers altering the cityscape and trade ships thronging its waterfronts.

Rhode Island State House: A Beacon of Growth

The Rhode Island State House symbolizes Providence's growth. Constructed in the 20th century, its grand neoclassical architecture and one of the world's largest self-supporting marble domes dominate the city skyline. More than a governance hub, the State House embodies the prosperity of the Gilded Age.

Benefit Street's Evolution: A Tale Told on a Street

Benefit Street, among the city's oldest, mirrors the architectural transformation of the era. Once a residential area for Providence's elite, it changed as the wealthy moved to newer neighborhoods and their colonial homes were repurposed into shops, offices and boarding houses. The preserved structures offer a snapshot of Providence's rich past.

Industrial Trust Building: A Testament to Prosperity

The Industrial Trust Building, or the 'Superman Building', is a symbol of Providence's industrial surge. Finished in 1927, it remained the tallest building in New England until 1964. This skyscraper's rise reflected the city's advancement and the financial industry's growing influence in Providence.

Landmarks of Providence's Industrial Transformation

Providence's industrial transformation is not limited to these structures. Other landmarks also stand testament to the city's growth during the Gilded Age, such as:

  • The Arcade, the country's first indoor shopping center
  • The Lonsdale Company Mill complex, reflecting Providence's stronghold in textile manufacturing
  • The Corliss Steam Engine Company, where the era's most advanced steam engines were built

The changes of the Gilded Age still echo in Providence's architectural and cultural scenes. These landmarks remind us of a time when the city was evolving into the dynamic city we see now.

Rhode Island's Cultural and Intellectual Hubs

Rhode Island's Gilded Age left a lasting impact on its cultural environment, with the state's affluence fostering the growth of various cultural institutions. This era of prosperity shaped Rhode Island into a hub for arts, culture, and intellectual exchange.

Providence Athenæum: A Sanctuary for Intellectual Exchange

The Providence Athenæum, a member-supported library established in 1836, played a pivotal role during the Gilded Age. Amidst the state's industrial growth, it provided a sanctuary for intellectual discourse and enlightenment. The city's intellectuals found a place to exchange ideas, read, and engage in meaningful conversations within its walls. Thus, the Athenæum stands as a testament to the intellectual enthusiasm of the Gilded Age.

Newport Art Museum: A Platform for Artistic Expression

The Newport Art Museum, founded in 1912, holds a significant position in visual arts. This institution championed the promotion of arts and culture during an era of prosperity. It provided a platform for artists to express their vibrant works, attracting both locals and tourists. The Newport Art Museum enriched Rhode Island's cultural fabric and continues to inspire art enthusiasts.

Artists and Intellectuals: Shaping a Creative Community

The Gilded Age saw a dynamic fusion of artists and intellectuals in Rhode Island. Inspired by the era's opulence and societal changes, they expressed their perspectives uniquely. The state's cultural institutions nurtured these talents, facilitating their artistic and intellectual growth. These creative footprints provide a deep insight into the cultural abundance of the Gilded Age.

Elite Recreation and Leisure in the Gilded Age

The Gilded Age marked not only industrial growth and architectural wonders but also exclusive recreation for the wealthy. Rhode Island's elite class reveled in a lavish lifestyle, engaging in numerous entertainment activities.

Newport Casino: The Epicenter of High Society Sports

Built in 1880, the Newport Casino served as the social hub for the affluent, despite its misleading name. This social complex, designed by the distinguished architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, became a favorite venue for the rich and famous. It was here that lawn tennis debuted in the United States, making the Casino the cradle of American tournament tennis. In 1881, it hosted the first U.S. The championship for national men's singles is currently recognized as the U.S. Open, drawing both wealthy patrons and sports enthusiasts. Currently, this historic site is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, preserving the sport's legacy.

The Newport Polo Club: The Glamour of Polo

With the establishment of the Newport Polo Club in 1876, polo, the sport of kings, found a home in Newport. This made it America's first polo club. Polo matches soon became glamorous events, attracting the city's elite with exciting sportsmanship and the opportunity to display the latest fashion trends. The Newport Polo Club continues to draw crowds, hosting public matches throughout the summer and keeping the tradition of the Gilded Age alive.

The extravagant leisure activities of Rhode Island's elite during the Gilded Age offer a captivating glimpse into the period's opulence. Visiting these historical sites provides a unique chance to experience and appreciate the recreation of the affluent society of that era.

Visit the Gilded Age

Step into a unique experience of Rhode Island's historical landmarks from the Gilded Age. Amid grand mansions, bustling industries, and cultural hubs, whispers of the past subtly enchant and educate you. Travel to Rhode Island for this immersive American history lesson.