These days all the big celebrities have amazing summer houses, so we decided to take a look at the seasonal retreats that started it all: the Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. In the 19th century, America’s wealthiest families, including the Vanderbilts and Astors, flocked to the famed summer cottages for only about six weeks out of the year. The uber-rich would race their yachts in the bay and throw lavish parties at night.
Today the architectural marvels are National Historical landmarks maintained by the The Preservation Society for Newport County. The properties are open for public tours, providing a rare look into the fabulous lives of the country’s social elite during the Gilded Age.
Our first stop is Marble House, the summer house of William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. The house was finished in 1892 and cost $11 million to build.
William gave Marble House to his wife Alva for her 39th birthday. Quite a grand present considering the couple divorced just a few years later in 1895.
Alva later built the spectacular Chinese Tea House on the estate's seaside cliffs. Here she hosted women's rights rallies, working to get women the right to vote.
Just a few blocks up the Newport coastline is the greatest of the Newport mansions, The Breakers. The Breakers was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt's other grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II.
Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the original house called The Breakers in 1885. In 1892 the wooden house burned down and Vanderbilt had architect Richard Morris Hunt create this grand replacement.
The Great Hall was designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance and is made out of rare marble from across the world. On each of the Great Hall's six entrances, there is a limestone figure representing achievements in the arts, science and commerce. Figures include Galileo for science and Dante for literature, with the architect himself, Robert Hunt, standing as the embodiment of architecture.
The library at The Breakers was the centre of family life for the Vanderbilts. Busts of many of the Vanderbilt family align the library and the fireplace was taken from a 16th century chateau in the French province of Burgundy.
The Kitchen at The Breakers was designed as a separate wing with fare safety in mind after the original Breakers house burned down. The kitchen contains an ice chest, which held ice taken from local ponds.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II had his own room separate from that of his wife. The room was built in the French style of the Louis XIV era.
The music room at The Breakers was used for recitals and dances. Remarkably, the whole interior of the music room was constructed in France, shipped to Newport and installed by French craftsmen.
The Breakers' grounds span around a dozen beautiful acres. They include many rare trees from around the world, each hand selected for the estate.
This is the absolutely unbelievable view of the Atlantic Ocean from the back of The Breakers. Being a Vanderbilt definitely had some perks.
The Breakers from the back. The mansion was designed to resemble a merchant palace of the Italian Renaissance.
One last look at The Breakers. The mansion was one of the first private houses to have electric lighting, which was previously used exclusively in public buildings.
Further up Newport lies The Elms, the summer home of Edward Berwind. The house was finished in 1901 and cost $1.4 million to construct.
This is the spectacular ballroom. The Elms was designed by Horace Trumbauer and inspired by the 18th century chateau d'Asnieres outside Paris.
Between 1907 and 1914 the Berwinds developed the Classical Revival gardens on the grounds of The Elms. The garden is spotted with beautiful marble statues and special trees.
Back down the Newport coastline sits Rosecliff, the beautiful estate of silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs. The house was finished in 1902 and cost $2.5 million.
Just a few blocks up the street is Chateau-sur-Mer, the ornate mansion that ushered in the Gilded Age of Newport in the mid-19th century.
The library of Chateau-sur-Mer. The chateau was once owned by George Peabody Westmore, Governor of Rhode Island.
Richard Morris Hunt, architect of The Breakers, redesigned much of the chateau in the late 19th century. Chateau-sur-Mer was known for its elegant gatherings of the social elite.
Walk to the other side of Newport and you will find Hunter House, the 18th century home of Senator William Hunter. Hunter was President Andrew Jackson's representative to Brazil.
The back of Hunter House faces the western coastline of Newport. Hunter House is an exceptional example of Georgian Colonial architecture.
The entranceway of Kingscote, which was originally designed in the Gothic revival style by architect Richard Upjohn.
William Henry King, a China Trade merchant, bought the estate in 1864 after the original owners left America at the outbreak of the Civil War.
The dining room at Kingscote was redesigned toward the end of the 1800s. It combines Colonial American and exotic Eastern design, a pretty cool mix.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.