Historic Structures

Milton H. Sanford-William King Covell House, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 2, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House

The Boston Journal on August 9, 1870 published the following:
The most elegantly finished house ever built in Newport is that of Mr. M. H. Sanford, just completed. Though a New Yorker, the work has been done entirely by Boston parties, even to the furnishings of the parlors. Messrs. Fehmer and Emerson are the architects, and A. A. Low & Co. the builders. The location is on the Point and the lawn has a water front and sea wall built at great expense. The house is rather plain on the exterior, of the bar finish, with French roof and wide piazzas on three sides. The interior finish is hardly to be described. Not a particle of paint or shellac is employed in the whole house, and there are to be no carpets used. The floors from top to bottom are laid in hard wood, in fancy patterns, no two rooms alike, and waxed. Oak, ash, cherry, hard pine, maple and black walnut are employed in these, and the floors are grooved, tongued, and glued in a most thorough manner. The woodwork of the parlors is butternut, with ebony trimmings and panels of mottled wood of the root of the butternut tree. These panels all through the house are polished as finely as a piano, the rest of the wood being waxed. The dining room is finished in black walnut, with mottled panels and a carved wainscoting, and is the only room in the house papered. The paper is green and gold, in imitation of leather, and cost $18 a roll. The furniture of walnut, inlaid with gilt, with coverings of red Russian leather, and the floor is of walnut and oak, in a beautiful pattern. The hall is a novelty, and surpasses any seen in Newport villas. It is 35 feet from floor to ceiling, and a grand staircase, with polished rail and panels, winds around it, each landing having a fancy piece laid in different colored woods. From each story are projecting balconies with bronze gas fixtures, and near the top is a beautiful stained glass window. But the frescoed walls are one of its chief attractions, and the designs and colors are of the most chased and elegant description. It is frescoed in the Pompeian style and done in oil in the best manner, as is the whole house, even to the servants rooms. Everything is complete, and the billiard and smoking rooms are perfect little gems. There are very few houses in the country finished as is this, and Boston may well he proud of its handiwork. The house is palatial, and no expense has been spared to make it what the owner desired: perfect. Everything is done in the most thorough manner, and even the inside of the closet doors in the upper story is as "beautifully polished and waxed as are those of the parlors. The finest grained wood that could be procured is used in the floors and woodwork, and in the furniture which matches and which is also oiled and waxed in the same manner. In the third story is Kate Field's sanctum, for this is her room. She is the niece of Mrs. Sanford, and lives with her. The room designated for her use overlooks the harbor and bay, and has a bay window, with mirrors on either side reflecting the view and enabling a person lying on the couch built in the window to see everything for miles each way without looking out. The floor is laid in stripes of walnut and ash, with fancy borders and corner and window pieces,, and the walls are finely frescoed. The furniture is of the bamboo pattern, and rich Turkish rugs are laid about the room. A graceful arched bridge leads from the lawn to a little pier where lies Mr. Stanford's little yacht and Miss Field's pretty blue boat. The view of the Karragansett (Bay) and the channel leading out into the sound (ocean) is unsurpassed, and the river steamers. New York boats, and all the sailing vessels that enter or leave the harbor must pass before the door.

The Evening Post on August 10, 1870 published the following:
"Mr. M. H. Sanford, a well-known New Yorker, has Just completed the finest house, as far as interior decorations and finish are concerned, ever built In Newport. It is an elegant seaside residence, built in the most thorough and costly manner, and is almost palatial in its appointments. There are many larger and more showy summer homes here, but none more attractive.

The exterior is of the bar finish, with French roof and wide piazzas surrounding it on three sides. It is painted in two shades of gray, with dark brown trimmings, and stands close down by the shore, a flight of solid granite steps leading from the front piazza to the water.

The lot was small, and Mr. Sanford, unable to obtain more land, has built out a sea wall one hundred feet, filled it in, and made a pretty little lawn, surrounded on three sides by the sea. This has been done at enormous expense, but the effect is very beautiful. From this wall a graceful arched bridge, spanning fifty feet, leads to a little pier where, when not in use, lie Mr. Sanford's yacht and Miss Kate Field's pretty blue boat. There are accomodations for bathing also, and a fresh sea breeze is always stirring.

Entering the house by the front door, you step directly into the hall, which extends the length of the house, a double door composed of two immense sheets of plate glass opening from the back end upon the veranda facing the sea. The floor is laid in narrow strips of cherry and black walnut, with an elaborate fancy border of walnut and maple.

And here I would say that no carpets are to be used in the house, every floor being laid in this manner, each room of a different pattern. All kinds of hard wood are employed in them, and they are all grooved, tongued and glued, then polished with wax.

The main hall is eighteen feet square, and is open from floor to ceiling, a distance of thirty-five feet. From each story are projecting balconies, with bronze gas fixtures on the balustrades, which light the hall in a very beautiful manner. The staircase is very grand; is of solid black walnut waxed, with mottled walnut trimmings, polished like the case of a piano.

On each landing are fancy figures of various woods, and the stairs are not to be carpeted. The walls and ceilings like the rest of the house, are beautifully frescoed in oil, and in the fourth story is a handsome stained window.

Each room is finished in some variety of hard wood, the panels and trimmings made of the same kind of tree, but of the root, and highly polished. The parlors are finished in butternut, with ebony and gold moldings and mottled panels. The dining room is of black walnut, and has a carved wainscoting of the most beautiful description. The walls are papered with green and gold paper, in imitation of leather, costing $18 per roll. With these exceptions, every room in the house, even to the servants', are frescoed in oil. Everything is done in a most thorough manner, the interior of the closet doors being finished with as much care as those of the parlors.

A fine billiard room is on the second floor, and a cozy little smoking room above, stained glass doors opening upon one of the hall balconies.

The thresholds are of black marble; the hinges of the doors bronze, with silver plated trimmings; and the cost of the chandeliers, which are green bronze and silver, with amber globes, would build a comfortable house.

The furniture has been made to order to match the rooms in which it is to be placed, and here again no expense has been spared. Rich Turkish rugs are laid down in the chambers, and will be used largely in the other rooms during the winter. In the fourth story, counting the basement, looking seaward is Kate Field's sanctum; for this is her home. She is a niece of Mrs. Sanford's.

The walls and ceilings are frescoed in two- shades of gray, with borders after the Pompeian style. The floor is laid in stripes, with an intricate border of ash, pine and black walnut; and the furniture is oak and ebony, in the bamboo style. Jutting out from one corner is a square bay window containing an upholstered couch, and commanding a magnificent view of the harbor and bay. This window is mirrored on either side , and the view is reflected in such a manner that a person occupying the couch can see in every direction.

Mr. Sanford takes possession next week. The house was begun last fall, with the intention of having it in readiness early in the season, but the work has been done in such a manner that it was impossible to have it completed before.

The location is on the "Point," at the other end of the town from Bellevue avenue. All the steamers and vessels that enter or leave the harbor must pass almost before the very door.

This is one of the most desirable situations in Newport, and is preferable to the greater part of the avenue, as is also the south side of the harbor, where are many beautiful houses."

According to newspaper accounts Milton H. Sanford intended to erect a more modest summer house, but altered his plans causing a delay in the construction. The southwest room of the third floor was known as Kate Field's room. A niece of Mrs. Sanford, she was a writer and editor of a magazine in the 1880's. The Town and Country Club, a literary group founded in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe meet occasionally in the house during the 1870's.

Floor plan: Entering the house one steps into a three story open stair hall. Turning to left an east-west hall extends to the French windows on the west that open to the porch. On the right is the dining room at the northwest corner and the two parlors to the left are at the southeast and southwest corners. The service area is under and behind the stairs at the northeast corner. The kitchen and servants quarters were in the basement. A dumb waiter is connected to the serving pantry. Between floors and to the north of the second landing is located the billiard room. The second floor had bedrooms in the northwest, southwest and southeast corners.

In the center of the west facade was located the bathroom for family and guests. One of the original marble top wash basins remains in the guest room, the northwest corner bedroom. On the third floor were three more bedrooms above those below. At a slightly lower level was a small room above the billiard room called the smoking room in some descriptions.

There have "been no major alterations or additions to the house. The kitchen has been moved up from the basement to permit an apartment. Another small kitchen has been installed on the second floor to permit another apartment.