Private tour of Vernon House

Part One: Outside the Vernon House
Part Two: The interior of the Vernon House
Part Three: The Re-Dedication of the Rochambeau Statue, Plinth and Pyramid

 

This is Part Two of Newport trip as promised

Vernon House, Rochambeau’s Headquarters, 46 Clarke Street, on the corner of Mary Street in Newport, Rhode Island

Our tour guide was Mark Thompson, Executive Director of Newport Restoration Foundation. He met us ( Nancy, Patrick, John and myself), at the front steps and showed us into the front door.

A little background on the house history:

The house was probably built in the late 17th century with many changes in the 18th century. In1758 Metcalf Bowler purchased the house. It was much smaller at that time, with only four major rooms. In two years he expanded the hose to its current footprint.

It was transformed into a two 1/2 story mansion. It is believed that Peter Harrison was responsible for the design changes, as well as for other notable buildings in Newport: The Old Brick Market, The Redwood Library and The Touro Synagogue. William Vernon bought the house in 1773.

This house, a fine example of Georgian architecture, passed through the hands of some of Newport’s wealthiest merchants. The unusual exterior is finished with rusticated wood in the outline design of the carved stone. If you do not touch it, you are sure the house is made of cut stone. Vernon House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

General Rochambeau and his son, Donatien, were both installed in the Vernon house and lived there as paying guests. Samuel Vernon, in the absence of his father, William, was a gracious host. At that time William Vernon was president of the Eastern Naval Board in Boston and as such was the first secretary of the Navy.

Below is a quote from my book, Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant, concerning Rochambeau’s tenancy here: It was not all work and no play!

“To provide his (Rochambeau’s) officers with some entertainment, aimed at maintaining morale during the long winter to come, Rochambeau built a pavilion with a dance floor behind the Vernon House. It became known as the “French Hall” Rochambeau said that since his men could not march, due to the snow, they might as well dance. The young ladies of Newport and surrounding towns were most agreeable to the plan.”

In part one – of this three-part post, you see Nancy Callahan President of the Alliance Francaise of NW CT and myself standing under the profile of Rochambeau at the corner of the edifice.

Here are some images of some of the interior. According to Director, Mark Thompson, please note that the house is currently awaiting final plans for restoration work. I took photos of the stairway to the second floor, showing original banister, spindles and newel post.

 

Newel post on the stairway, at bottom

 

 

Main Staircase

 

Main fireplace downstairs

 

 

An example of some japanning panels revealed in the living room. Painted panels with designs not very clear due to age.

Japanning panels

 

The Japanning, now uncovered, may be from the 17th century house.  If this is true,
then Rochambeau never saw it as  new panels cornered it since between 1713 and 1729 per Thompson. Here is another view. This is why the study of history is full of surprises.

The Japanning may be from the 17th century house.

 

 

 

The rear entrance shows the location of Rochambeau officers’ dance pavilion

An Afternoon of High Drama in Newport, R.I. June 6, 2019

Part One: Outside the Vernon House
Part Two: The interior of the Vernon House
Part Three: The Re-Dedication of the Rochambeau Statue, Plinth, and Pyramid

 

My husband, John and I arrive in Newport about noon on June 6th where we meet our Connecticut friends, Nancy, and Patrick at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Here is the first part of our visit. The other two parts will be posted soon. In this way the suspense builds!

Nancy Callahan, President of the Alliance Francaise of NW CT and Jini Jones Vail by the corner of the Vernon House

 

Part One: Outside Vernon House

It took me a few days to line up our first event on June 6, 2019. I have wanted to visit the William Vernon House, 46 Clark Street, since the early years of research and writing: Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant. Every time I came to Newport, I found that the house was inaccessible as it was privately owned. Vernon House was General Rochambeau’s headquarters from July 1780 for at least a year before he marched to the Hudson with his 4,000 troops to coalesce armies with his commander, George Washington.

Vernon House is the ‘crème de la crème’ of dwellings to visit in Newport in my estimation. Even now, it is not a simple task finding the key to the house of my dreams. It takes a circuitous route to find an ‘entrée’. First I write to my friend, Mary-Gail Smith, President of the Alliance Francaise of Newport. I know that if anyone could help, it would be she. Certainly, Mary-Gail knows the one person who would come to my aid with the golden key.

It is she who will be feted today at 5:30 at King Park where the newly re-furbished Rochambeau statue, plinth, and pyramid stand in all their glory to be enjoyed in their perfection for another 100 years. Mary-Gail is the woman of the hour today. Her four years of fund-raising and travail are to be celebrated in a few hours.

I wait for her response, knowing how busy she is today. She sends me an email with a name and a phone number. This is how I find Mark Thompson, Executive Director of the Newport Restoration Foundation. He left me a note at the most helpful Laura of the Yankee Pedlar Inn who assisted greatly in the plan.

So, here we are, Nancy Callahan, President of the Alliance Francaise of NW CT and myself by the corner of the Vernon House. Do you recognize my Rochambeau necklace from an earlier post?

Nancy and I are standing below the copper relief bust of General Rochambeau in profile. We arrive a little early to take a couple of photos before we tour the house. The suspense is building as we will meet Mr. Thompson at 1:30 around the corner at the front door.