Thursday morning we were up early for the short 36 nm run to Newport, Rhode Island. We wanted to leave early because moorings in Newport are on a first come basis – there are no reservations. So at 6:30am, we slipped off our mooring lines and headed out of Stonington Harbor. It was a relatively easy run to Newport in calm seas and without too many lobster pots along the way.
By 10:15 am, we were coming down the channel into Newport Harbor. Adrienne called the harbor master to see if we could get a mooring. Our hearts dropped when he said none were available. We had nowhere to stay in Newport. He suggested we try Old Port Marine, which also has moorings. We called them and got no answer. We continued down the inlet and just before we turned into the harbor, we got Old Port on the radio. They had a mooring for us. Hooray! By 10:36am, we were tied up to mooring number 1, right in front of the Newport Yachting Center, a great location.
As we were tying up, we noticed that Spray, the boat in front of us, seemed to be flying an Annapolis Yacht Club burgee. A few minutes later, a tender from the boat came along our starboard side, and we met Russ and Margo from AYC. We invited them on board and we had a delightful chat. While we had never met, we had a number of mutual friends at AYC.
After lunch, we were going to launch the dinghy and go into town. However, the wind suddenly picked up and it was going to be tricky lowering the dinghy from the fly bridge, so we took the Old Port launch into town. We wandered along Thames Street, the main shopping avenue. Adrienne and I wandered into a number of shops and eventually she bought a skirt at the Haley Hansen store. Then it was back to the boat for a quick shower before dinner.
Dinner was at Fluke Wine, Bar and Kitchen. Our reservation was at 5:45 pm, which was early even for us but that was all that was available until much later. When we arrived we were the only people in the restaurant, except for one or two folks at the bar. We wondered why we couldn’t get a later reservation, but figured they were booked starting at 6:30, which turned out to be the case.
We decided to try a number of their small plates for dinner. Our first two dishes were the fluke ceviche and an heirloom tomato burrata salad. Both were excellent. Our second two dishes were a grilled shrimp soba noodle salad and ravioli filled with foie gras and Medjool dates. The shrimp were good but the raviolis lacked punch. The foie gras had been pureed and so lacked that lusciousness usually associated with foie gras. Instead, it was just pureed liver. For dessert, we split the blueberry bread pudding which was good but hardly compared to the bread pudding at AYC. After dinner, we did a few errands and then headed back to the boat.
Our original plan was to head to Nantucket on Friday. But NOAA had predicted high winds for Friday and part of Saturday, so we decided to remain in Newport for the weekend.
Friday morning, we woke to the wind howling across the harbor, and it was only supposed to get worse as the day progressed. No way were we going to launch the dinghy in that mess. We had also wanted to get a pump-out from the Newport pump-out boat but that also seemed like an invitation to disaster since most of the boats in the harbor were pitching and yawing with the winds and seas. Instead, we called the launch and went into town to play tourist.
We decided to tour some of the Newport Mansions. On previous trips to Newport, we had toured the Breakers and done the Cliff Walk. This time, we opted for the “Servant Life” tour at the Elms. This tour, as the name implies, explores the lives of the servants that kept the Elms running smoothly. There was only one other couple on the tour so we had plenty of opportunities to chat with our tour guide.
We started the tour, appropriately, at the servant’s entrance. The entrance, which was also used for deliveries, was a circular drive completely covered with overhead wisteria vines and therefore was invisible from inside the house. We learned that the Berwind family, who built the Elms, traveled with over 30 servants between outdoor and indoor staff. The married servants lived nearby in Newport, while the single servants lived on the third floor, which was designed to appear as if it didn’t exist. This was because the Berwinds wanted the running of the Elms to appear as if no servants were there. As our tour guide said, they wanted to make it seem that everything happened “as if by magic.” Well, it may have seemed that way, but the reality was that the staff worked every day of the week, for about 14 hours each day, almost every day of the year.
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the servants came from Ireland and England and led lives of poverty where they were working at least that hard and struggling to feed and clothe their families. As servants at the Elms, they got free room and board and enough money to not only support themselves but send money to their families in their home countries. By these standards, the servants had good lives, as evidenced by one letter that a relative of one of the maids had written. The relative had visited the Elms and seen the maid’s room, with its bottles of perfume and comfortable furniture and judged it a good life.
Mr. Berwind had made his money in coal and was very interested in having a “modern” house; hence it had electricity and indoor plumbing with hot running water, even in the servants’ quarters. We first saw these quarters, complete with relatively spacious rooms, beautiful hardwood floors throughout and three bathrooms, two for the ladies and one for the men. The ladies’ bath was closed, but the men’s bath was open. It had one bathtub, one sink, one toilet, and a shaving station for about 6 or 7 men, and it was not spacious.
The third floor also had a telephone and an elaborate, and very modern, for its time, “intercom” system. This did not operate the way we would expect an intercom to work because we would expect the system to allow someone to call another person directly to convey a message. Instead, there was a button to activate in each room. The master or lady of the house would press the button and on the third floor a bell would ring and a flag would light up on a large board, indicating where the service was needed. The intercom would also “ring” in other servant areas of the house. A servant would be dispatched and he or she would tell the appropriate household staff on the first or second floor what was wanted, and magic would happen.
On the third floor, the staff also had access to a roof terrace that extended around the entire perimeter of the house. Sounds great, except that there was no view. The outer edge of the terrace had a 10-foot wall that, from the outside, looked like an extension of the second floor, part of the illusion that there were no servants’ quarters. As a visitors, however, we were able to climb a platform to see the view out the back, and it was a spectacular vista of the grounds, the shoreline, and the harbor.
We descended that servants’ staircase to the basement where we saw the enormous kitchen with and equally enormous cast iron stove, work stations for every imaginable type of cookery, and cabinets galore to house the pots and pans and other implements necessary to prepare the enormous quantity of food that was prepared each day for the Berwinds and their guests. The chef was paid an astounding $10,000, which translates to about $250,000 in today’s dollars! He, of course a man, was from France and was the sole ruler in the kitchen. The basement also housed a large luggage room and the servant eating areas adjacent to the kitchen.
From there we toured the nitty gritty of the household operations, the generation of the copious amounts of hot water needed for the Elms’ laundry, cooking and bathing needs and heating. The house had hot water boilers and huge coal-fired furnaces to heat water and warm the house. The furnaces used so much coal that Mr. Berwind had built a 150-yard tunnel through which small coal cars carried coal into the basement. A process totally invisible to any guest – it all happens by magic.
After our tour, we walked back into town and had lunch at the Red Parrot. We were starving. Adrienne had a fresh tomato and pesto flatbread, and I had a gigantic calamari salad. There was so much calamari that I brought half of it back to the boat for lunch the next day.
By the time we finished lunch, the wind was really whipping across the harbor. White caps everywhere! We hopped into the launch and headed for Curiosity. Water flew over the bow, showering Adrienne. It took the launch operator two tries to get close to Curiosity, but we were finally able to jump on board. At least we made it. Fortunately, we were not planning to go out again that day. It was time to relax., since we figured the adventure was over.
Foolish thoughts! We will fill you in in our next posting.