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Great Homes of the Gilded Age

Gilded Age Architecture: When industrialists got rich, architecture went wild

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Gilded Age Mansion

Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, Breakers Mansion is a Renaissance Revival home in Newport, Rhode Island.

Photo by Ben Newton
Beaux Arts Mansion

The Beaux Arts Vanderbilt Marble House in Newport Rhode Island

Photo by Flickr Member "Daderot"
Photo of Astors' Beechwood

Astors' Beechwood is one of the oldest Gilded age summer "cottages" in Newport, RI

Photo by John W. Corbett
The Gilded Age. The name, popularized by American author Mark Twain, conjures images of gold and jewels, lavish palaces, and wealth beyond imagination. And indeed, during the period we know as the Gilded Age (the late 1800s to the 1920s) American business leaders amassed huge fortunes, becoming a suddenly-rich baron class with a fondness for ostentatious displays of their new-found wealth. Millionaires built palatial and often gaudy homes in New York City. Before long, even refined families like the Astors, who had been wealthy for generations, joined in the whirlwind of architectural excesses.

In large cities and then in upscale resort communities like Rhode Island, noted architects like Stanford White and Richard Morris Hunt were designing enormous homes and elegant hotels that mimicked the castles and palaces of Europe. Renaissance, Romanesque, and Rococo styles merged with the opulent European style known as Beaux Arts.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 put a damper on the boundless optimism and excessive spending (often called, "conspicuous consumption") of the era. Historians often mark the end of the Gilded Age with the stock market crash of 1929. The grand homes of the Gilded Age now stand as monuments. Many are open for tours, and a few have been converted to luxury inns.

GREAT ARCHITECTS OF THE GILDED AGE:

SPEND THE NIGHT IN A GILDED AGE HOME:

Oheka Castle on Long Island, New York
Live like a millionaire in the 1919 Châteauesque summer home of financier Otto Hermann Kahn.

The Manor on Golden Pond
In an era when wealthy industrialists were building ostentatious summer homes, Isaac Van Horn, a prosperous Englishman, decided to create a stately and refined retreat that would reflect his heritage. His summer house in Holderness, New Hampshire has the aura of an English country manor.

Biltmore Estate and Inn
Constructed for George Washington Vanderbilt at the end of 19th century, Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina took hundreds of workers five years to complete. Architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house after a French Renaissance chateau.

Glen Cove Mansion
This hotel and conference center on Long Island was once the summer home of the Pratt family.

TOUR A GILDED AGE HOME:

Breakers Mansion
Breakers is the largest and most elaborate of Newport's Gilded Age cottages. It was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II and designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Vanderbilt Marble House
Railroad baron William K. Vanderbilt spared no expense when he built a house for his wife's birthday. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, Vanderbilt's grand "Marble House" cost $11 million, $7 million of which paid for 500,000 cubic feet of white marble.

Astors' Beechwood
William and Caroline Astor hired architect Richard Morris Hunt and spent two million dollars renovating Astors' Beechwood into a place worthy of America's finest citizens.

SEE RUINS FROM THE GILDED AGE:

Boldt Castle
Legend has it that multimillionaire George Boldt ordered Boldt Castle built as a testimonial of his love for his wife, Louise. Just off-shore from Alexandria Bay, New York, the castle was to be the most magnificent summer home in the Thousand Islands. More than 300 artisans, masons, stone-cutters, landscapers, and other craftsmen were hired. However, Boldt's wife died, and the castle was never completed.
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