A generous legacy at Rough Point
NEWPORT, R.I. -- Most Newport mansions come with an interesting tale about their owners , and Rough Point has one of the best.
Doris Duke, who owned Rough Point, the mansion at the extreme southeast corner of Bellevue Avenue, was an animal lover who kept two camels on the front lawn of her summer home. But Duke was more than a friend to animals. She lived a fascinating life and left a generous legacy to the city where she spent most of her summers.
The only daughter of James Buchanan Duke , founder of American Tobacco Co. and benefactor of Duke University, Doris Duke was called the "Million Dollar Baby" after her father died in 1925, leaving her his summer home and $80 million. Later dubbed "The Richest Woman in the World," she spent much of her life traveling the globe and amassing notable collections of Islamic and Southeast Asian art.
Personally glamorous, she had an eye for beauty in art, antiques, furnishings, and jewels. She designed much of her jewelry herself, in collaboration with the most noted jewelers of the day, such as Van Cleef & Arpels and David Webb . A hundred of her pieces , including diamond and sapphire earrings and ruby and diamond necklaces, were worth $15 million at the time of her death.
Duke was married twice, first to James H.R. Cromwell . The two honeymooned for a year, collecting art and antiques, before they settled in Honolulu in a house of their own design inspired by the Islamic architecture they had seen in their travels. They had a daughter, Arden, who lived for only one day, and three years later they divorced. Duke married again briefly in 1947 to Porfirio Rubirosa , a notorious playboy from the Dominican Republic. In the late 1950s she moved back to Newport and turned her attention to refurnishing Rough Point. She filled it with fine art and furniture, including paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyck, and Renoir , and rare examples of
What makes her 115-room mansion stand out from most Bellevue Avenue homes is that Duke left all of her treasures in Rough Point, exactly as they were when she lived there. This includes her extravagant table settings, her piano (she was an average player, it was said), and her amazing Charles X bedroom furniture, inset with ormolu mother-of-pearl chips.
The Gilded Age did not tax its rich (the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, establishing the income tax, was not passed until 1913), so its wealthy scions were able to indulge themselves when they built their mansions.
Duke's inheritance was taxed by the time she received it, but she invested wisely. When she died in 1993, her estate was worth well more than $1 billion .
She donated generously to preservationist and environmentalist causes , and was an active supporter of medical research and child welfare. When she was 21 she established a foundation called Independent Aid , which eventually became the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation . Besides medical research, the foundation supports the environment, the performing arts, and the prevention of child abuse.
The foundation estimates that Duke gave more than $400 million to various causes during her lifetime, often anonymously. In 2003, as stipulated in her will, Duke's dazzling jewelry collection was displayed at Rough Point for a month or two, after which it was sold to benefit the foundation's work.
Rough Point, an oceanfront English manor-style structure, was originally built for Frederick W. Vanderbilt, seventh child of William H. Vanderbilt and grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The massive grounds, on a low, rocky promontory, were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted , who also designed Central Park in New York and Boston's Emerald Necklace .
Duke was interested in land and public space . Concerned that the 18th- and 19th-century homes of Aquidneck Island were in serious disrepair, she founded the Newport Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit institution to preserv e , interpret , and maintain landscape and objects reflecting the area's architectur e .
With the restoration foundation, Duke created Queen Anne Square , a public park near Trinity Church. The foundation has restored or preserved 83 buildings; Duke chose one , the Samuel Whitehorne House , as a museum to display 18th-century Newport and Rhode Island furniture.
Duke bequeathed Rough Point to the restoration foundation, and it was turned into a museum, opening to the public in July 2000.
Along with Rough Point, Whitehorne House will be open during the holidays . Rough Point reopens for regular tours next April.
Julie Hatfield, a freelance writer in Duxbury, can be reached at email@example.com.
(Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in yesterday's Travel section about Rough Point, the home of Doris Duke in Newport, R.I., gave an incorrect phone number for the Newport Restoration Foundation. The organization's phone number is 401-849-7300.)