Great American fortunes grew after the Civil War (1861-65) and so many rich millionaires, who were familiar with European standards of aristocratic life and opulence, began building a series of large sumptuous houses, modeled after Florentine palaces, English castles and French Châteaux. These millionaires admired the beautiful sea setting of Newport Rhode Island, where they then decided to build lavish houses that they called “cottages” and which were only occupied for two months a year during the summer. Among the wealthy elite arriving in Newport were several of the Vanderbilts.
All these palatial estates are open to the public. In the summer some of them host the Newport Music Festival while in the winter we can admire their Christmas decorations.
William K Vanderbilt, the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the clan and its fortune, commissioned Richard Morris Hunt in 1888 to build the finest summer house money could buy on Bellevue Avenue, Newport , in time for the debut of their daughter who married the Duke of Marlborough.
The favourite grandson of Commodore, Cornelius II, also hired Richard Morris Hunt who conceived the Breakers as a Palazzo of the Italian Renaissance. Work began in 1893 and the 70 room limestone palace was completed in just over two years.
Motivated by family competition, George Washington Vanderbilt opened Biltmore in 1895. The largest private residence in America has 250 rooms and was built in the style of a French renaissance château by Richard Morris Hunt. It is situated in North Carolina. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit this gorgeous estate.
In 1894, industrialist James Deering began construction of a Renaissance- style Italian villa in Miami. The name Vizcaya is a Basque word for “elevated place”. The house contains one of the finest collections of European decorative arts from the Renaissance to the present.