Lifestyles of the Rich (and usually Famous)
In the United States, the years from the 1870's to the early 1900's are considered the Gilded Age, a time when the USA enjoyed a great economic growth. It coincided with the Belle Epoque in France and the Victorian Age in Britain. The Industrial Age and the building of USA railroads helped to build the fortunes of many American tycoons who made more money than the average person could dream of, rivaling the monarchs of Europe and Asia and creating a sort of American royalty. The wealthy flaunted their fortunes and built great mansions around the country, especially on the East and West coasts. If you include mansions that are still standing in the South from the antebellum/plantation days before the Civil War, you have great attractions to tour. The expense of maintaining these great architectural wonders forced many families to sell, donate or convert the mansions, repurposing them into universities, parks and gardens. Their loss is our gain.
Note: Please check all websites to follow current visiting guidelines.
The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
* Tour the great mansion complete with furnishings that gives a great insight to the life of George Vanderbilt and his descendants. The grounds are massive, featuring gardens, hiking trails, shopping, events, dining, spa and a winery. It's hard to cram it all in one day, so there are hotels on property as well. Bring your camera and bicycle and enjoy!
Walker's Point, Kennebunkport, Maine
*You can't tour Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, but you can get a glimpse of the summer home of the President(s) Bush family, The Walker name comes from the maternal side of the family. Meanwhile, the town of Kennebunkport, along US Route (Highway) 1, is a charming New England town to explore and spend the day (as well as very popular).
Molly Brown House, Denver Colorado
*Margaret Brown can be considered a rags-to-riches story. In fact, she was, being the subject of a musical play and film. In real life, "Molly" and her husband, J.J. Brown, acquired great wealth during their marriage. She was a Denver socialite but was never quite accepted into the most elite group, making her even more legendary. She survived the Titanic, ran for Senate, was a philanthropist, and a champion for workers, women and children.
The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
*Newport, Rhode Island, one of the oldest cities in the USA, is famous for many attractions. It has a rich history as a seaport, part of the slave trade, the jazz festival, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the oldest synagogue in America, and, although Massachusetts and Philadelphia get a lot attention in the Revolutionary War, Newport paid a great part in that, too. It was the backdrop for the movie High Society because it is also known for its being one of the backyards of the rich and famous during the Gilded Age. Its many mansions, too many to list here, function as private residences, universities, museums, bed & breakfasts, tourist attractions and even were summer homes for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Take the tour, ride the trolleys, stroll along Bellevue Avenue or trek along Cliff Walk for a glimpse into that golden era.
Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island
*If you sail your yacht out of Newport, it won't be too long before you find yourself in Long Island Sound visiting your cousins in that other famous Gilded Age locale, the north shore of Long Island, New York. Called the Gold Coast in real life but immortalized in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby as West Egg and East Egg, Long Island's mansions have similar functions as Newport: gardens, universities, private residences, museums, etc. However, many of them did not survive to World War II and were demolished to make way for another American institution: the suburb. Visit the Nassau County Museum of Art, Sands Point Preserve, Oheka Castle and Old Westbury Gardens Vanderbilt Museum, to name a few.
JFK Museum, Hyannis, Massachusetts
You can't exactly visit the Kennedy Compound on Cape Cod. But you can get a glimpse of it from the ferry to Martha's Vineyard (the captain will announce it) and you can get a whole perspective of the family at the museum on Main Street in Hyannis. But like many other mansions and houses, the compound is still a curiosity, if not a tourist attraction, and there are many inquiries when people tour the Cape.
Springwood, Hyde Park, upstate New York (FDR)
Sagamore Hill, Long Island (Teddy Roosevelt)
*Another famous family that generates a lot of attraction for its houses are the Roosevelts. Sagamore Hill was the home of Theodore Roosevelt (FDR's older distant cousin), in Glen Cove, Long Island. The town of Hyde Park actually gives you two: Springwood, the Roosevelt family home and Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's primary home after FDR's death. All three are national historic sites and therefore normally open to the public.
Kykuit, Tarrytown, NY
*The Rockefellers can lay claim to many homes and mansions, but Kykuit in Mount Pleasant, NY is impressive. Also in impressive that since it is a National Historic site, it might be open for touring (always check the website). Built by John D., Jr for his father, it housed 4 generations of Rockefellers before 1/3 of the estate gifted by former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller upon his death.
Of course, this is only a extremely small list of mansions that can either be toured or seen from a distance.
Intro to Wave Hill, Bronx, NY
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