From Nearly Lost to National Historic Landmark

Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth

Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth

It’s only through the intervention of The Preservation Society of Newport County that The Elms still stands.

Designed by architect Horace Trumbauer for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward Julius Berwind, the magnificent mansion was modeled after the mid-18th century French chateau d'Asnieres outside of Paris, which was built in 1750. Architect Horace Trumbauer reproduced a distinguished 18th century country house.  It was in keeping with the classical tastes of the time.  

The Elms is a model of classical symmetry – windows balance doors, paintings answer paintings, and mirrors are positioned opposite one another.  While grand in scale and richly decorated, the most distinctive feature of the house is the grounds. The ten-acre park contains almost 40 species of trees and variety of manicured shrubs.  At the western edge of the property is a formal sunken garden, and a grand allee featuring statues and fountains.

Photo courtesy of Discover Newport

Photo courtesy of Discover Newport

It’s reported cost to build? $1.4 million -- equal to more than $36 million in modern times. Even more remarkable? That The Elms was originally intended to be used for just 8-12 weeks every year during the summer season.

When Berwind’s last heir died in 1961, all of the The Elms’ artwork and furnishing were auctioned off and the home was scheduled for demolition. The Preservation Society stepped in at the last minute, brought back many of the original furnishings, and breathed new life into the home. Just three weeks later, The Elms opened to the public as a museum.

Today, the wrecking ball’s loss remains our gain. Visitors now enjoy year-round access to The Elms thanks to guided and self-guided tours of the resplendent residence and its remarkable gardens and grounds. One of these tours is exclusive to The Elms, offering visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how the other half lived.

The Servant Life Tour highlights the stories of the men and women who helped cater to this lavish lifestyle that the Berwind family lived. You'll hear the stories of the butler, Ernest Birch, his wife Grace Rhodes, a cook in the house and even one of the maids, Nellie Lynch Regoli. 

Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth

Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth