Go to Top

History Bytes

History Bytes: Pet Parties

In 1935, Elizabeth Drexel Lehr (later Lady Decies), former wife of social climber Harry Lehr, released a scathing exposé of life in the Gilded Age entitled King Lehr. In this book, Drexel Lehr recounts many summer events held in Newport under her husband’s purview, including a party hosted at their rented home “Arleigh” for the pampered pooches of Newport:

So we sent out invitations to a ‘Dog’s Dinner.’ All our friends’ dogs were asked (accompanied by their owners of course). There must have been at least a hundred of them, big dogs and little dogs, dogs of every known breed; many of them came in fancy dress…The menu was stewed liver and rice, fricassée of bones and shredded dog biscuit.

A subsequent exaggerated article published by local newspapers, according to Drexel Lehr, caused a scandal. She states: “After that everyone wanted to give a party whose keynote was originality, not extravagance.”

Above: A photo of “Peter” taken at Berkeley House on Bellevue Avenue in October 1916. Image from the NHS photo collections.


“Arleigh” on Bellevue Avenue, the location of the noteworthy pet party. Image from the NHS collection.


History Bytes: Norman Bird Sanctuary

Each May, pet owners across the United States celebrate National Pet Month. Given the popularity of pets, it’s no surprise that the NHS collection contains many images and stories of animals. One notable story features the origins of the Norman Bird Sanctuary.

The Norman family of Newport, whose wealth was partly secured by the development of the Newport Water Works, maintained residences both at Belair on Old Beach Road and Paradise Farm in Middletown. Photographs in the NHS collection reveal the family’s apparent menagerie of animals included dogs, exotic birds, chickens, a monkey and even a pig. Most notably, Mabel Norman (later Mabel Norman Cerio), a member of the Audubon Society, allocated $135,000 in her will towards the formation of a nature sanctuary, “for the propagation, preservation, and protection of birds.” The Norman Bird Sanctuary (NBS), which operates today on the family’s former Paradise Farm property, is a valued part of the local natural landscape and popular retreat for locals and visitors alike. May 30th marks Mabel’s birthday, which the NBS often commemorates with a party.

Above, clockwise from top left, Exotic bird on the grounds of Belair; Mrs. Abby Kinsley Norman with chickens at Belair; monkey on miniature house at Belair; dogs, possibly on porch at Belair; pig on a leash, unidentified location; rustic hen house at Belair.

History Bytes: Cornerstone Ceremony

As the Newport Historical Society’s Resource Center Renovation project progresses, we reflect on the 1915 cornerstone that was laid 100 years ago on 25 May 1915. On that day, the NHS held its annual meeting in the Senate Chamber of the Colony House and adjourned to the Touro Street headquarters to officially set in place the new cornerstone, which was filled with local mementos. President Daniel B. Fearing, Vice President Rev. Roderick Terry and Librarian (Executive Director) Edith May Tilley presided over the festivities.

Above: A photograph taken during the cornerstone ceremony on 25 May 1915 with Newport Historical Society officers. Librarian Edith May Tilley, standing to the right of the cornerstone, holds the Society’s feline mascot William Ellery. The Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House can be seen in the background.