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History Bytes

History Bytes: Coaching in Newport

This week Newport will host the triennial Weekend of Coaching with parades and demonstrations throughout the city. An important promoter of coaching was Fairman Rogers (1833-1900), whose book A Manual of Coaching (1900) helped turn a casual pastime into a serious sport.

Rogers, an engineer, inventor, educator and decorated veteran from Philadelphia, built “Fairholme” on Ruggles Avenue in 1874 with the help of his brother-in-law architect Frank Furness. After several alterations, “Fairholme” recently sold for $15 million.

Above: William Vanderbilt driving his road coach, Venture, in the Newport Horse Show at the Newport Casino, c.1926. People pictured include Mr. Vanderbilt, his daughter Emily, Miss Louise F. Waring, Mrs. Joseph La Rocque, Mr. Lewis Waring, and an unidentified assistant. Venture is in the Breakers Stable. Image from the NHS photo collection.

History Bytes: Early Seeds of the Gilded Age

In 1858, Ward McAllister leased Hudson River waterfront property to the Central Railroad of New Jersey for use as a railroad depot and steamship landing. As railroad president, and master of all New York transportation, Cornelius Vanderbilt, signed off on the deal.

Ward McAllister (1827-1895) was an attorney and later co-creator of “The 400” guest list with Caroline Astor, which defined New York society for the duration of the Gilded Age. “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) ferry boat captain and founder of the New York Central Railroad fortune, was grandfather of the Newport Vanderbilt cottage owners who enjoyed the social position conferred on them by McAllister and Astor forty years later.

Image: Signature of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt on New York City property lease in 1858. From the NHS collections.

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.

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