Rough Point

Rough Point

:"Rough Point is also the name of a headland in Tralee Bay, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Rough Point is one of the fabled Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, now open to the public as a museum. It is an English Manorial style home designed by architectural firm Peabody & Stearns for Frederick William Vanderbilt [] Construction on the red sandstone and granite [] began in 1887 and completed 1892. It is located on Bellevue Avenue and borders the Cliff Walk and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm. [ [ RP Facts ] ]


In 1894, the Vanderbilts began renting Rough Point to summer guests. William Bateman Leeds Senior, known as the ‘Tinplate King’, rented the home in 1904 and 1905. He was one of the owners of American Tin Plate Company, a tin plate trust. He purchased the 10 acre estate in 1906. After he died in 1910, his wife, Nancy Leeds, used John Russell Pope to make some exterior alterations to the home. She remained the owner until 1922. Their son, William Bateman Leeds, Jr., married Princess Xenia Georgievna of Russia.

In 1922, James Buchanan Duke, the founder of fortunes in electric power and tobacco, and benefactor of Duke University, and his second wife Nanaline bought the house. [ [ Newport Restoration Foundation - Rough Point Estate ] ] They used Architect Horace Trumbauer to assist in renovating the house; two new wings were added to the home [ [ DDCF ] ] . Nanaline hired design firm White Allom to transformed the home's dark interiors [ [ RP History ] ] . James died there in 1925, leaving his enormous fortune and vast estate to his only child, 12-year-old Doris Duke [ [ Newport Restoration Foundation - Rough Point Estate ] ] . The house became one of her several very private estates. It was the site of Doris's debutante ball in 1929.

Mrs. Duke continued to spend her summers at Rough Point but after the 1938 hurricane that devastated Rhode Island, and with the advent of World War II, Mrs. Duke’s visits became less frequent. In the early 1950’s, Mrs. Duke took up permanent residence in New York City and emptied Rough Point of all its furnishings. [ [ RP History ] ]

In 1962, after Nanaline's death, Doris Duke once again became a frequent visitor to Newport and turned her attention to refurnishing Rough Point. In 1958 and 1959 she began purchasing art and antiques for the house and combined these new pieces with family treasures. Rough Point was reopened in 1962 and, over the years, became one of Miss Duke’s favorite residences; she lived there May through November most years and continued to collect items for the house during her wide-ranging travels. [ [ RP History ] ] In 1966, the most controversial event in Duke's entire life occurred at the estate. She and her interior designer Eduardo Tirella drove to the house where Tirella got out of the car to open up the gates. Duke "accidentally" gunned the car; she struck Tirella dragging him across the street with the car and then crushed him against a tree. [ [ Eduardo Tirella - Biography ] ]

During Hurricane Bob in 1991, the house's Solarium served as a shelter for Princess and Baby [ [ Doris Duke and Rough Point ] ] , Duke's two pet Bactrian camels. The camels were gifts from billionaire Saudi arms-dealer and businessman Adnan Khashoggi. [ Independent, The (London), Jun 8, 1995 by DAVID USBORNE]

Rough Point is different from most of Newport's other mansions. Cottages such as The Breakers and Rosecliff have been uninhabited by socialites for nearly sixty years and when toured appear austere and museum-like. Rough Point was home to a living socialite well into the nineties and though architecturally insignificant the house maintains a clever mixture of grandeur and hominess that others lack. In a way, Doris was the sole remaining gilded age socialite. While under the ownership of Doris Duke, the house was filled with hundreds of priceless antiques, while the drapes on her bed were bought at J.C. Penney [ [ Doris Duke and Rough Point ] ] . Paintings in the home include Gainsborough, Van Dyck, and Renoir.

During Ms. Duke's stays, staff at Rough Point would pick vegetables daily for use in the cooking. Vegetables and flowers were shipped from the greenhouses at Duke Farms in New Jersey each spring to be planted, she said. A historical plant list of what was at Rough Point includes artichoke, squash, cabbage, lettuce, onions, peppers, spinach, eggplant, beans, okra and cucumbers. The list of herbs is long, too, including basil, chamomile, chives, dill, fennel, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, spearmint, tarragon, borage, which is valued for its cool cucumber aroma and flavor and lovage which looks like extra large celery leaves. [ [ ] ]


The property remained with Duke until her death in 1993. It was tied up in litigation for a few years and opened to the public in 2000. It is currently owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation. Tours are limited to 12 people each.


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