Rosecliff Mansion in Newport
Newport, Rhode Island is known for its
Gilded Age mansions, also referred to as
summer “cottages”. These extravagant
mansions, previously owned by the affluent
families of Newport, have become a popular
among tourists from all over the globe.
Most, if not all, of them are now under the Preservation Society of Newport
One such mansion is the Rosecliff.
It was built in 1898
to 1902 for Nevada’s
silver heiress, Theresa Fair Oelrichs.
the daughter of James
Graham Fair who was
involved in the Comstock Silver Lode.
She was married to Hermann Oelrichs who was
an American agent for a steamship line
called the Norddeutscher Lloyd. In 1891,
Theresa, her husband and her sister,
Virginia Fair, bought the land on which Rosecliff now
acquired the land from the estate of George
Bancroft. In 1898, they commissioned McKim,
Mead and White, a prominent architectural
firm, to design the mansion – and they did a
fine job of it. White took on the role of
the lead architect. He looked to the Grand
Trianon of Versailles for inspiration. He mimicked the shape of the
structure, which is basically an “H”, and he also
constructed an arcade with arched windows of glazed glass
that is similar to that of the Grand Trianon. The mansion is
mainly made of bricks, but the veneer is of white terracotta
The Rosecliff mansion offers a unique architectural
experience. Its beauty can be attributed to numerous factors
such as the brilliant use of building and finishing
materials; the ingenious spatial planning that resulted to
magnificent views inside and outside of the house; and the
use of varying room heights and floor elevations to create a
sense of drama. The most dramatic and impressive area in the
mansion is perhaps the ballroom. At forty by eighty feet, it
is the biggest ballroom in all of Newport. It features the
“sweetheart’s staircase”, which is a heart-shaped staircase
made of limestone.
At that time, this grandiose ballroom played a significant
role in Newport. It became the venue of numerous social
gathering and parties. Theresa Oelrichs was not part of any
business, and she was often left at home with little to do.
This being the case, she became actively involved in
Newport’s elite social circle. Together with Mrs. O.H.P.
Belmont and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Theresa quickly became one
of the three most celebrated hostesses in Newport.
In 1947, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Monroe bought the mansion. In
1971, the New Orleans couple turned the house over to the
Preservation Society of Newport County. In addition to
giving all the contents of the mansion to the Preservation
Society, the Monroe’s also gave two million dollars to cover
any repairs that would need to be made.