Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on the Cliff Walk from Ochre Point at The Breakers in Newport, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of Newport’s most popular attractions is the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, a trail that runs along the rocky cliffs on the southeastern side of Newport. It is famous for both the scenic beauty of the Atlantic coastline, as well as the architectural grandeur of the Gilded Age mansions on the opposite side, but its origins were far more practical than recreational. Much to the chagrin of millionaire property owners who would come several centuries later, the legal concept behind the Cliff Walk came in 1663, when King Charles II granted Rhode Island a charter that, among other rights, allowed all colonists to fish along the shoreline. This doctrine of publicly-accessible shores was later enshrined in the state constitution, and is still in effect today.

In the early years of Newport’s history, this right was of little significance here on the sparsely-settled southeastern shore, and there was not much to prevent people from walking along the cliffs if they felt so inclined. However, by the mid-19th century Newport was becoming a popular summer resort, and the right of people to walk along the cliffs soon came into conflict with the privacy and the property rights of the millionaires who built their summer homes here along the coast. As a result, many of the landowners built fences or hedges for privacy, making many of the mansions completely invisible from the trail.

The first photo was taken from the easternmost part of the trail, at Ochre Point behind The Breakers, the famous home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The gates in the distance on the left mark where the trail leaves the Vanderbilt property, and beyond the gates is the roof of Ochre Court, the home of prominent real estate developer Ogden Goelet. Like The Breakers, this house was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, and was the largest in Newport when it was completed in 1892, although it would soon be surpassed by The Breakers itself, which was completed in 1895. However, by the time the first photo was taken only about a decade later, both Vanderbilt and Goelet were dead, although the houses would remain in their families until well into the 20th century.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this landscape has remained remarkably unchanged. Although not visible in the 2017 photograph, both The Breakers and Ochre Court are still standing, as are many of the other Gilded Age mansions along the Cliff Walk. However, most of these are no longer privately owned, thanks to changing tastes and the incredible upkeep costs of these houses. What had been an extravagant symbols of wealth in the late 19th century had become expensive white elephants by the mid-20th century, and today The Breakers is a museum while Ochre Court is the administration building for Salve Regina University.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers, seen from the Cliff Walk in Newport, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Newport is renowned for its many 19th and early 20th century summer “cottages,” which were built by many of the nation’s wealthiest families and represented some of the finest examples of residential architecture in this era. However, none could quite compare to The Breakers, which was completed in 1895 as a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the prominent railroad tycoon who had inherited much of the Vanderbilt family fortune from his father William and grandfather Cornelius. With 70 rooms and over 125,000 square feet, it dwarfed all of the other Newport mansions, and it would go on to epitomize the luxury, grandeur, and excess of the Gilded Age.

The Breakers is situated on Ochre Point, a rocky promontory on Newport’s eastern shoreline, and was built on the site of a previous mansion of the same name. The original Breakers was a wooden, Queen Anne-style mansion that had been designed by the prominent architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns for tobacco merchant Pierre Lorillard IV. It was completed in 1878, but he owned the house for less than a decade before selling it to Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1885 for $450,000, in what was at the time the largest real estate transaction in Newport’s history.

As the favorite grandson and namesake of the family patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt II had inherited $5 million after his grandfather’s death in 1877. Nearly all of the remaining family fortune, close to $100 million, had gone to Cornelius’s father, William H. Vanderbilt, who managed to double this amount in jut a few years. However, William died in 1885, just a few months after his son purchased The Breakers, and Cornelius inherited nearly $70 million from his estate, equivalent to nearly $2 billion today.

Cornelius’s younger brother, William K. Vanderbilt, had received a similar inheritance from their father, and he and his socially ambitious wife Alva soon set out to build Marble House nearby on Bellevue Avenue. This lavish mansion far exceeded the original Breakers in opulence, and its $11 million construction costs dwarfed the paltry $450,000 that Cornelius had spent to purchase his summer home. Marble House was completed in 1892, but later that year The Breakers was destroyed in a fire, providing Cornelius with the opportunity to eclipse his brother and sister-in-law in constructing a new summer home.

At the time of the fire here in Newport, Cornelius was just finishing a $3 million expansion of his massive Fifth Avenue mansion, making it the largest private home in New York City’s history. Despite this, he and his wife Alice spared no expense in rebuilding The Breakers. They hired Richard Morris Hunt, the same architect who had designed Marble House, and within six weeks of the fire he had produced preliminary designs for the house. Cornelius and Alice ended up choosing his second design, though, which was inspired by Italian Renaissance-style architecture, and construction began in the spring of 1893.

The house was completed in just two years, thanks to the efforts of some 2,000 workers who worked in shifts, both day and night, to ensure that it was completed as soon as possible. It was much larger, and had been built in far less time than Marble House, but at $7 million it had actually cost significantly less to build, with William having spent $7 million just on marble alone. It would be Richard Morris Hunt’s magnum opus and, as it turned out, his last major commission, as he died in Newport while supervising the finishing touches in the summer of 1895. The house’s completion came none too soon for Cornelius Vanderbilt, though, who was only able to enjoy one summer at the house in good health before suffering a debilitating stroke in 1896.

Cornelius, Alice, and their children would continue to spend several more summers here at The Breakers, but Cornelius never fully recovered his health and he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in September 1899, a day after returning to New York City from Newport. Alice would outlive him by 35 years, and became known as “Alice of the Breakers” for her long ownership of the house. However, the Gilded Age was rapidly drawing to a close at the turn of the 20th century, as was the Vanderbilt family’s wealth and prominence. William H. Vanderbilt’s children, including Cornelius, had done little to grow the family fortune, but excelled at spending it, particularly on lavish mansions in New York and summer houses such as The Breakers, Marble House, and the Biltmore Estate.

By Alice’s death in 1934 at the age of 89, the family fortune had been squandered and divided among so many descendants that it was essentially gone. Most of the New York City mansions, including her own Fifth Avenue home, were gone, replaced by modern high-rises, and the many summer homes in Newport and elsewhere were already antiquated white elephants from a long-gone era. During Alice’s later years, taxes alone on The Breakers amounted to $83,000 per year, plus operating expenses that included paying nearly 60 servants and other employees, along with 150 tons of coal to heat the house each winter. She eventually took to alternating years spent in Newport and New York, so that both houses were never open simultaneously.

Of Alice’s seven children, she outlived all but three of them. Her first child, Alice, had died as a child in 1874, and she subsequently lost her oldest son William to typhoid fever in 1892 while he was in college. Alfred died aboard the RMS Lusitania, when it was sunk by a German submarine during World War I, and Alice’s youngest son, Reginald, was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic who died of cirrhosis in 1925, a year after the birth of his daughter, future fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt. Her only other son, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, was disinherited by his father for his unapproved marriage, and neither he nor his sister, the famous sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, had much interest in acquiring The Breakers.

As a result, the mansion ultimately went to Alice’s youngest child, Gladys, who was 47 at the time and married to a Hungarian count, László Széchenyi. She owned the property for the rest of her life, until her death in 1965, but in 1948 she began leasing the house to the Preservation Society of Newport County, and for the first time it was opened to the public. She would continue to maintain an apartment on the third-floor, as would her daughter Sylvia, but otherwise the rest of the house was preserved as a museum. Sylvia ultimately sold The Breakers to the Preservation Society in 1972 for just $365,000, substantially less than what her grandfather had paid for the original house 87 years earlier, although the sale included a stipulation that she be allowed to continue to use the third floor apartment for the rest of her life.

After Sylvia’s death in 1998, the third floor continued to be used by her children, Paul and Gladys Szápáry, for the next 20 years, but in early 2018 the Preservation Society asked them to leave, citing safety concerns. This move came shortly after the Szápárys voiced their opposition to the Preservation Society’s controversial decision to build a welcome center on the property, which many critics argued would mar its original landscape and historic appearance. Their departure ends four generations and nearly 123 years of the Vanderbilt family living here, but it also gives the Preservation Society the opportunity to restore the third floor and make it accessible to the public for the first time.

Today, The Breakers is one of the nine historic Newport homes that are owned by the Preservation Society and open to the public. It is is one of the nine historic Newport homes that are owned by the Preservation Society and open to the public. Aside from the colonial-era Hunter House, all of these are Gilded Age mansions that represent some of the finest examples of residential architecture in 19th century America, including William and Alva Vanderbilt’s Marble House. However, The Breakers remains, by far, the largest and most impressive of these homes, and has been well-preserved over the years, as these two photos show. Because of its architectural significance, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, and it is now one of Rhode Island’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting over 400,000 visitors per year.

Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this church was built around 1889 as Park Congregational Church, and was used by this church until they merged with South Congregational Church in 1973. That same year, they sold the building to Faith Baptist Church, but it was gutted by a fire just three weeks later. The wooden upper section of the church was destroyed, but the lower brick section survived the fire, and the church was rebuilt a few years later.

Today, the building stands vacant and deteriorated, with hardly any resemblance to its appearance in the first photo. The surviving walls have been heavily altered, but there are still a few remnants of the original design, including the steps to the side entrance, the arched windows on the left side, and a few of the windows on the right side. Despite these dramatic alterations, though, the church is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, right around the same time that the church was rebuilt.

Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:

The McKnight neighborhood in Springfield was developed in the late 19th century, just to the east of the Armory and a little over a mile from downtown Springfield. The large, elegant homes, landscaped streets, and easy access to trolley lines made it a desirable neighborhood for many of the city’s prominent residents, with hundreds of families moving here by the end of the 19th century. The neighborhood was almost exclusively residential, but there were also a number of new churches that were established in the neighborhood, including Park Congregational Church, which is seen here in these photos.

The church was established in 1889, and this building was completed around the same time. Its design reflected the popular Romanesque architecture of the era, and it was constructed with a variety of materials, including a stone foundation, brick lower walls, and shingled upper walls. It was situated in a prominent location at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street, and it was named for the Thompson Triangle, the largest park in the neighborhood, which is located directly opposite the church.

The first photo was taken soon after the building’s completion, and it shows a round turret at the northwestern corner of the building. However, this was removed by the time the second photo was taken nearly 50 years later, and the building instead had square, one-story additions on either side of the Clarendon Street entrance, on the left side of the photo. The other notable change in the second photo is the cupola, which was added to the top of the roof.

This building continued to be the home of Park Congregational Church for more than 30 years after the first photo was taken, but in 1973 the church merged with the South Congregational Church. Shortly after the merger,  this property was sold to Faith Baptist Church, which had previously been located at 76 Oak Street. However, in April 1973, just three weeks after Faith Baptist moved in, this building was gutted by a fire. The brick section of the walls survived the fire, though, and the building was subsequently reconstructed around them, with a dramatically different architectural style that included a low, mostly flat roof, and a tall, narrow tower at the Saint James Avenue entrance.

Despite its heavily modified appearance, the church building became a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District in 1976, when the neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would remain the home of Faith Baptist Church into the early 2000s, but in 2006 the congregation merged with Christian Hill Baptist Church, which is located nearby on Bowdoin Street. This building was later sold in 2013, but it appears to have remained vacant ever since, and it is currently boarded up and in poor condition, as seen in the 2017 photo.

First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mass

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church at 57 Bay Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:


During the 19th century, Springfield experienced significant population growth as it developed into a major industrial and commercial center. From its 1800 population of 2,312, it grew to over 62,000 by 1900, and with many new residents bringing new languages, cultures, and religious beliefs to the city. At the start of the 19th century, Springfield’s only religious institution was a single Congregational church, but over time Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and other denominations would all establish churches in the city.

By the turn of the 20th century, many of these churches served specific ethnic groups, particularly recent immigrants. The early Catholic churches were predominantly Irish, but other parishes were later established for French, Italian, and Polish Catholics. In addition, there were six Protestant churches that held their services in a language other than English, including one German, one Italian, one French, and three Swedish churches. Of the Swedish churches, there was one Congregational church, one Lutheran church, and a Methodist church, which was located here on Bay Street.

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1893, and in its early years it held services in a hall above the First National Bank on Main Street, opposite Court Square. However, in 1901 the congregation built this church building, near the corner of Bay and Pleasant Streets in Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood. Its Shingle-style design reflected architectural tastes of the era, although its windows, with their pointed arches, give it somewhat of a Gothic appearance as well.

In the late 1930s, around the time that the first photo was taken, the church was renamed the Bay Street Methodist Church. The congregation continued to use this building for the next decade or so, until it merged with the Asbury First Methodist Church in 1952. The new church held its services in the Asbury church building at the corner of Hancock and Florence Streets, and this property on Bay Street was sold in 1953 to the Church of the Nazarene. This church would remain here for the next 13 years, until moving to a new building on Wilbraham Road in Sixteen Acres in 1966.

Later in 1966, the building was sold to the Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, which remains an active congregation here more than 50 years later. During this time, the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved, and the only significant change in this scene has been the addition of a wheelchair ramp on the right side of the building. It stands as a good example of Shingle-style church architecture, and it is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nehemiah A. Leonard House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 87 Mulberry Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house underwent a significant exterior renovation in the early 20th century, but it actually dates back to 1870, when it was built with a Second Empire-style design that included a clapboarded exterior, a mansard roof, and a bay window on the right side. It was originally the home of Nehemiah A. Leonard, a New Bedford native who came to Springfield after graduating from Brown University in 1848. Here, he studied law under George Ashmun, a Congressman who was one of Springfield’s most prominent lawyers. After being admitted to the bar in 1851, Leonard joined Ashmun’s firm as a partner, and went on to have a successful legal career.

Early in his time in Springfield, Leonard met Clara T. Chapman, the daughter of one of George Ashmun’s friends. He and Clara married in 1854, and for many years they lived in rented houses in the city. However, in 1870 they built a house of their own here in Mulberry Street, in what was at the time one of the most desirable residential areas of the city. That year’s census listed Leonard’s real estate as being worth $12,000, along with another $1,000 for his personal estate, and he and Clara lived here with their three young daughters: Mary, Anna, and Katharine.

In the course of Leonard’s law practice, one of his most important clients was the Connecticut River Railroad, which ran north from Springfield to the Vermont state line in Northfield and connected Springfield with Holyoke, Northampton, Greenfield, and Vermont. He worked closely with the railroad’s president, Daniel L. Harris, who also lived in Springfield, and Leonard took over as president after Harris’s death in 1879. Leonard remained the president of the railroad for the next eleven years, until his death in 1890, and three years later the line was acquired by the much larger Boston and Maine Railroad.

During this time, Clara Leonard became a prominent social reformer who was the founder and president of the Hampden County Children’s Aid Society, as well as secretary of the Springfield Home for Friendless Women. In the 1870s, she led a campaign to reform the state prison system, advocating for separate prison facilities for female convicts. Her efforts were successful, and in 1874 Massachusetts became only the second state to establish women’s prisons.

Then, in 1880, Governor John D. Long appointed Clara to the state Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity. She was the first woman on the nine-person board, and was still serving when Long’s successor, Benjamin Butler, became governor in 1883. Unlike Clara Leonard and Long, Butler was a Democrat, and he sought to fill the board with as many political allies as possible. As Clara’s term was not yet expired, he tried several different ways of removing her, first by offering her the recently-vacated position as superintendent of the women’s prison. It was a lucrative job offer, with a salary of $2,500, but she sensed his true motives and declined, choosing instead to remain on the board, and Butler then filled the superintendent position with another Clara: Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

Unable to entice her with a well-paying government job, Governor Butler next tried to remove her through legal semantics. Under state law, the Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity was to have nine persons on the board. He argued that, since a woman was not a person in the legal sense, the phrase “nine persons” could only mean nine men, thus making Clara ineligible to serve on the board. He went as far as to appoint her replacement to the board, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ultimately resolved the linguistic dispute, unanimously ruling that Clara was, in fact, a person, and was therefore eligible to serve on the board.

During Governor Butler’s single one-year term as governor, he and Clara Leonard were also involved in a public dispute over the state almshouse in Tewksbury. Early in his term, Butler had tried to make it a political issue, arguing that the almshouse received too much state money. He claimed that the facility was poorly managed and unsanitary, and accused the superintendent and other officers of embezzling funds, abusing inmates, and even selling dead bodies to medical schools for personal profit. However, Clara Leonard was familiar with the almshouse and, along with the rest of the board, was skeptical of these accusations. She made an unannounced visit to inspect the conditions, and her subsequent report refuted nearly all of the governor’s claims, while also arguing that the facility needed more state funding, rather than less.

Clara’s report was well-received by the general public, and undermined some of the governor’s credibility. It may have even been a factor in Butler’s defeat for re-election in the fall of 1883, when he lost by a narrow margin to George D. Robinson, a Republican Congressman from Chicopee. Robinson would go on to serve three terms as governor, and during this time he reappointed Clara to another five-year term on the Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity. However, she would only serve until 1886, when she resigned because of poor health.

After Nehemiah’s death in 1890, Clara continued to live here in this house until her own death in 1904. She later became the subject of a biography written by her daughter Katharine, which was published in 1908. In the meantime, her family sold this house to Mary P. Colburn, a widow who lived here for a few years before selling the house to Richard Hooker in 1913. Before moving in, however, Hooker had the house significantly expanded and remodeled. He hired the local architectural firm of Kirkham & Partlett for the renovations, which included replacing the mansard roof with a cross-gabled one, covering the exterior walls in stucco, and building an addition to the house.

Richard Hooker was the grandson of Samuel Bowles, the prominent editor of the Springfield Republican, and after graduating from Yale in 1899 he joined the staff of the newspaper. From 1904 to 1911 he was the newspaper’s Washington correspondent, where he worked during the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. Both men offered Hooker the position of White House press secretary, although he declined these offers. He would later decline several offers from Woodrow Wilson as well, including the position of assistant secretary of the treasury and assistant secretary of the navy.

Shortly after his 1910 marriage to Winifred E. Newberry, Hooker became the literary editor of the Republican, and they moved into this house a few years later. In 1915 he became the the newspaper’s editor after the death of his uncle, Samuel Bowles, and he held the position until 1922, when he resigned because of poor health. However, he remained affiliated with the Republican, serving as president of the Republican Publishing Company and in 1924 he published a book that chronicled the newspaper’s first hundred years.

Richard and Winifred had four children: Richard, Sarah, Mary, and Arthur. The family lived here in this house until around 1930, when they moved to Longmeadow, and they subsequently rented this house to Mabel Moore, a widow who lived here with her daughter Louise and Louise’s two young children. They were living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and at the time Mabel was paying $100 in rent while also employing three live-in servants: a butler, maid, and nurse.

Mabel later purchased the house from Richard Hooker in 1945, and she lived here until her death in 1961, at the age of 86. Since then, the exterior of the house has seen few changes. There is hardly any trace of its original 1870 design, but it retains its post-1913 appearance, and it stands as one of many well-preserved historic homes in the area. Along with these other homes, it is now part of the city’s Ridgewood Local Historic District.