Thanks For The Memory

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Nick Churton of Mayfair International Realty visits 79 Second Street, Newport, Rhode Island to discover a charming family house with an important architectural history and a big debt to a remarkable woman.

On top of this delightful house is a circular turret room.  It is a little like being in a lighthouse.  I can’t remember a much better or lighter room anywhere in which to get away from it all for a good read.  The room reads very well.

This is, in some ways, thanks to a lady called Doris Duke.  If you haven’t heard of her, she was left $80 million in 1925, when she was twelve – that’s almost $1billion in today’s money – and fortunately for Newport Miss Duke later found plenty of ways to spend it wisely.

One of her many philanthropic activities was almost single-handedly to save over 80 late eighteenth and early nineteenth century houses in Newport’s Point and Hill districts from the developers.  This was a piece of extraordinary vision, for without Miss Duke much of Newport’s precious early architectural heritage would now be only be a dusty memory.

In saving these houses and neighborhoods Miss Duke, through her foresight and formidable resources, saved the town’s architectural soul by a level of preservation that few have attempted before or since.

That is not the only remarkable feature of this house on the corner of Second and Pine Streets and only a block back from Narragansett Bay.  This is also an iconic American Shingle Style building.  Designed by Charles Follen McKim, of famous Shingle Style architects, McKim, Mead and White, as a carriage house, the building is now recognized as an important concept piece for the development of this distinctive style. The house was commissioned in 1876 just two years after architect, Henry Hobson Richardson built the very first Shingle Style structure.

But all that was yesterday.  Today I am thinking about that turret room and elegant first floor reception rooms.  Upstairs are great master and guest rooms, but better still are the enchanting children’s rooms and heavenly turret room.  These are the kind of rooms that will surely remain in their young occupants’ memories forever, making this a very special family house indeed.

Here in this Newport house a gifted homeowner, an enlightened architect and a dedicated preservationist, all perhaps unknown to each other, have each played their own part in creating an important but equally comfortable family house.  I thank all three for the delightful and thought-provoking memory.

By Nick Churton

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