Historic Structures

Chateau-sur-Mer Mansion (Wetmore House), Newport Rhode Island

Date added: July 28, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House Mansion

"Chateau-sur-Mer", its lodge, entrance arch, and greenhouse were built in 1851-1852 by the Newport contractor Seth C. Bradford for William Shepard Wetmore, merchant in the China trade. His son, George Peabody Wetmore, greatly enlarged the house in successive major campaigns in the 1870s and 1880s under Richard Morris Hunt, with interior decoration by Luigi Frullini. Wetmore further developed the outbuildings and grounds. His daughters, Edith and Maude Wetmore, maintained the house in proper style until their deaths. The estate was sold at auction in 1969 to The Preservation Society of Newport County.

Initially in 1850, William S. Wetmore purchased several acres of the Gibbs land on Old Beach Road. It was reported in the Newport Mercury, October 25, 1850, that he intended to erect a house of Fall River granite, 150 feet by 72 feet, three stories high with, a long, two story wing. The drawing room was to be 24' x 43', the oval dining room, 22' x 36', the hall, 20' x 56', and another room 20' square. However, after a serious fire March 11, 1851, James Van Alen halted construction on the Bellevue Avenue brownstone house he had commissioned Seth C. Bradford to build. On July 25, 1851, William S. Wetmore purchased this property, the site of the present chateau, on which a stable had been completed. Shortly after the completion of the new Fall River granite house, William S. Wetmore gave a "fete champetre" for his life-long friend George Peabody of London. It was quoted as "probably the greatest affair of the kind ever given in this country. Over 10,000 guests were said to have been present," The New York Times estimated those present at 2,500. Pavilions for eating, drinking, and dancing were set up in the gardens and music was played by the German Musical Society. The "Card of Refreshments" included woodcocks, partridges, lobsters and crabs, pate do foie gras, oysters, ice cream, meringues, puddings, fruits of all sorts including black Hamburg grapes from the Wetmore greenhouse, champagne, Madeira, and Amontillado. This party was a model for the competitive entertainment of Newport after the Civil War.

Annie Derby Rogers Wetmore, the daughter of William S. Wetmore, married William Watts Sherman. H. H. Richardson's famous house was designed for her. It is located on property which was originally part of the estate of "Chateau-sur-Mer." It was this portion of the estate which extended to the sea. After the death of Edith Wetmore, in 1968, the Parke-Bernet Galleries conducted an auction of the furnishings, September 16-18, 1969.

About 1867, George Peabody Wetmore added a billiard room to the estate. Located a short distance to the east of the Chateau, the building was similar in its architectural character to Bradford's design for the porter's lodge. Although the structure was reputed to cost $7,000, it was removed, for it does not appear in the 1876 Atlas of Newport. In 1869, Richard Morris Hunt designed the first of many alterations and additions to the estate. That year a stone wall 110 feet long on the west boundary was erected at the reported cost of $11,000. By 1873, the terminal date given by Mrs, Hunt for the commission. Hunt had probably completed the first great expansion of the house. The service wing to the north was gutted, then enlarged by pushing out a square cornered bay on the north and another on the west to create the billiard room. Between the billiard room and the grand stair case to the east which led from the new porte-cochere, Hunt inserted a chimney. Originally the dining room, the room to the north of the west entrance became the library. The stair hall and study to the east were opened to create the large three story hall with balconies and skylight. Further expansion of the house to the east permitted an enlarged dining room and new service areas to fill out the block of the enlarged building. Hunt also altered the exterior appearance by remodeling the original west entrance and changing Bradford's hipped mansard roof with a concave lower slope to a steeper and higher mansard with a sheet metal pseudo-cornice. To the east of the grand stair case. Hunt located a square tower containing a newel service stair. On the second floor, the area above the billiard room provided space for three rooms and two baths. Above the new dining room were located two new nursery rooms. The ceiling heights of these new rooms corresponded to those established in the original portion of the house. The lower ceilings of the service area permitted an additional level to be inserted. An elaborate kitchen was installed in the basement. The carpenters for most of this work were Simmons and Wilbour. Stephen S. Albro was the mason. Luigi Frullini of Florence was responsible for the decoration and carving in the dining room and library. Begun in 1872, these two rooms were completed between 1876 and 1877 at a reported cost of $6,000 per room. The third story in the northwest corner of the house contained guest rooms and servant quarters after this remodeling. Sometime between 1873 and about 1890, Hunt added another story above the dining room wing. He pushed the mansard up to the same height as the roof over his staircase, giving space at the top for two large trunk rooms above the nurseries. Alterations have been reported for the years 1878, 1879, and 1880. The enlarged entertaining facilities required that the basement be reorganized and tiled. At this time the pantry and china closet were refinished in cherry.

Improvements to the stables were made in 1883 according to designs by George C, Mason and Son, with S.S. Albro, mason, and William F. Wilbour, carpenter. The reported cost was $25,000. In 1903, Mr. Wetmore had a young relative, Ogden Codman, redecorate the southwest ground floor of the original house, the green room, to the style of Louis XV. Probably at this time or earlier, the dressing room of the suite over the ballroom was given a panelled, Colonial Revival fireplace wall with old Dutch tiles. After the original entrance was abandoned, John Russell Pope was commissioned to extend Hunt's revised west entrance to a square bay window. The triple window above was changed to a double motif with French doors opening onto the flat roof of the expanded bay. Also in 1914, Pope paved the recessed area way around the north and west sides of the billiard room with tile and enclosed the space with a granite balustrade. At some later date than 1914, the northeast area way was tiled and given a balustrade to match the one by Pope. Initially Hunt provided both a dumbwaiter from his original kitchen to the pantry and a luggage lift running through all five levels of his service wing. When the luggage lift became an elevator, probably in 1914, and the kitchen and servant's hall were exchanged, the space once taken in the pantry by the dumbwaiter became the silver vault.

Over-all dimensions: Original structure approximately 64' x 64' with a 28' x 36' service ell to the north; enlarged to an irregular plan of 100' 'by 108' with porte-cochere projecting 30 feet on the north, three to four stories.