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