I received so many comments and compelling anecdotes on my original post on Newport house names that I couldn’t resist penning part two. So here we go, taking another look at this long-standing Newport tradition of naming one’s home (which at the least implies instant character).
Aaah, The Playhouse, with the emphasis on “play.” On the edge of a very narrow, small cove on Ocean Drive the house is subject to flooding at times during a storm. But more relevantly, it was the house where Gilded Age magnate Arthur Curtiss James kept his mistress, an accessory of that era. (So convenient, as he lived just up the road at his 125 acre estate, Beacon Hill).
Seaward had a special meaning for the owner who built on Cliff Avenue specifically to overlook Cormorant Rocks. It was upon these rocks that the gentleman, commander of a sub chaser patrolling Narragansett Bay during WWII, almost crashed during a raging blizzard in 1943. As his son says, “Dad looked out at those rocks every day and counted his blessings.”
Now known as Wrentham House, the imposing stone house designed by Richard Morris Hunt with grounds by Frederick Law Olmsted was first known as Indian Spring. Legend has it that a Native American was drowned, or fell to her death, in a spring (of which there are several) on the property.
The term windfall dates back to medieval times and was adopted for a home on Cherry Neck Creek whose land was the story of an unexpected acquisition. The original land survey was done in 1941, plating only the land above the water along the Creek. A new survey in the 1960’s plated the parcel to the center of Cherry Neck Creek (which is often done along inland waterfront property). When it came time to build, the land owner learned that the wording in his deed and the distinction of these water measurements meant that he owned three more acres than the twelve he originally thought. “Windfall” now sits high atop a rocky ledge with a gorgeous view over and up Cherry Neck Creek.
Bridle Path earned its name when the property was split from a larger estate, Swan’s Way (shown below).
The new residence, a charming wooden structure greatly enlarged since its earlier days, was originally the stables for Swan’s Way…hence the name Bridle Path.
Another nickname had less drama to it, but still reflects what many home builders will understand…with a prime spot on Newport Harbor and view of the Bridge, Shipwatch became known (briefly) as Shipwreck when the renovations labored on and on.
On its own small peninsula, Seafair (as shown in my book, Private Newport), has only been known by its nickname, Hurricane Hut, since the devastating “Great Gale of ’38.” With seas approaching fifteen feet above mean high water, the waves broke up the granite bloc seawall and hurled the stone over the house onto the front lawn. The owners and their guests, who had come to Seafair that evening for cocktails, barely escaped off a second floor balcony.
Who knew? Ker Arvor means “seaside.” The original owner named the elegant Gallic manor house after a French village where his regiment had been quartered during WWII.
Rock mass making up a very specific section of Cliff Walk is responsible for the name Ochre Court being given to this grand Robert Goelet mansion. The yellowish (ochre) oxide of iron is part of this Coal Age rock mass that contains enough fossilized plant remains to allow geologists to date geologic activity in this entire region.
If you have any Newport house names and stories that deserve to be mentioned, please do add them in the comments section below. Who knows, there may be a Part 3 in the future.