You Can Buy a Newport Mansion Owned by American Royalty

(Bloomberg) -- Sophie Girard’s family has been in Newport, R.I., for what she estimates is 17 generations. She’s a direct descendant of Roger Williams—who founded Providence, the state’s capital, in 1636—and, more recently, of Nicholas Brown, after whom Brown University is named.

One of the primary heiresses in the family at the turn of the 20th century had “as much as $80 million,” Girard says, pointing out that it was “not a lot, compared to the Vanderbilts.”

It wasn’t until relatively recently—1895, a mere 123 years ago—that Girard’s great-great uncle Harold Brown built a 13,962-square-foot vacation house on Bellevue Avenue in Newport with his wife Georgette. (Harold was Nicholas’s grandson and a member of Ward McAllister’s “Four Hundred” grouping of top society in New York.)

The 25-room house has a Gilded Age pedigree that would make Edith Wharton jealous. It was designed by Dudley Newton, one of Newport’s most prolific architects during the area’s heyday; its landscaping was done by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted (co-designer of New York’s Central and Prospect parks); and its interiors were designed by Ogden Codman, who co-wrote a book on interior decoration with Edith Wharton. 

Napoleon’s Bed

Though the exterior of the home is apparently designed in a “Norman hunting style,” its interior was inspired, Girard says, by her ancestors’ honeymoon trip to Paris. “They fell in love with the Empire style,” she says, referring to an aesthetic developed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. “They collected furniture from the period and even bought a set once owned by Napoleon.”

Codman duly designed the rest of the interior to match the bedroom set (which Girard says was donated to the Rhode Island School of Design “years ago”), and the rest of the house remained unchanged until Georgette’s death in 1958. 

At that point, the house was purchased from Georgette’s estate by her niece, Eileen Slocum, a socialite and a major force in Republican politics. Slocum and her husband John (a foreign service officer whose collection of James Joyce manuscripts and editions is now part of Yale’s rare books library), bought the house for about $85,000.

“When she moved in,” Girard says, “she did virtually nothing—a minor update or two in the bathrooms, and she did redo the kitchen, which we think is tragic. It had been very dark wood, and they redid it in all white.”

Other than that, though, the house’s interior remains unchanged and remarkably well-preserved, thanks in part to the continuous presence of a live-in staff.

The house contains rooms for eight servants—four staff bedrooms on the building’s second floor, a butler’s quarters in the basement, and a separate house for the gardener and chauffeur—though eventually Slocum made do with just a cook, a maid, and a gardener.

After Slocum died in 2008 at the age of 92, it took several years to assess her estate; eventually Girard and members of her family put the house up for sale at $5.9 million. It’s now being re-listed with Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty in Newport at a reduced price of $4.995 million.

Coming-Out Parties

The house sits on 4.85 acres, and has 12 bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, and three half-baths. Visitors enter through a porte-cochere in a vast marble hallway, through which a curved marble staircase can be seen leading to the second floor.

The ground floor, though, is dedicated to entertainment spaces. There’s a parlor, a morning room, a dining room, and a library. “We’ve all been married in the house,” Girard says, referring to herself and her cousins, “and we all had our coming-out parties in the house, too.”

Girard says that despite her history with the house, she’s “prepared to sell it, should it sell.”

Even so, when she and her family members were going through the house after her grandmother’s death to prepare it for showings, “we had one little issue that plagued us,” she said. The issue, it turns out, was the attic.

“Somehow, Granny just ended up inheriting a ton of stuff,” she explains. Over the years, her grandmother put most of the inheritances in the attic. “We did a huge job of cleaning it out,” Girard says; after what was wanted had been divvied up, the family  had to bring in someone to hold a three-day auction of what remained.

“A lot of wonderful things were unearthed,” Girard says, including cases filled with belongings from her grandfather’s grandfather,  multi-millionaire Colonel Herbert Jermain Slocum (a direct descendant of Plymouth Colony’s Myles Standish), who may best be known for his dogged, occasionally illegal pursuit of Pancho Villa. 

“Some things though,” Girard says, “we just had to let go.”

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