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History Bytes: Summer Vacation Getaway

After a long winter in New York City, Col. Washington and Emily Roebling needed a break. In 1882 they rented “Blue Rocks,” the Lloyd Mayer house (later known as “Stella Maris”) at 91 Washington Street, and looked forward to a restful summer with a view of the harbor. Unfortunately, work and family life caught up to them in little Newport.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City. circa 1915. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-74616

Col. Washington Augustus Roebling (1837-1926) was a Civil War engineer and succeeded his father as the designer and chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, a modern miracle of design and function. Shortly after arriving in Newport, Roebling was strongly criticized by the Mayor of New York and Mayor of Brooklyn, Seth Low, for prolonged delays in the bridge project. Low, (vacationing at “Sunset Ridge” near Castle Hill), and Gov. Edwin D. Morgan, (vacationing on Narragansett Avenue), called for Roebling’s resignation and replacement. Emily Roebling dismissed the action as political in nature and successfully lobbied to keep her husband’s job. Emily was also a driving force in the completion of the bridge in the face of her husband’ declining health due to complications from caisson disease, also known as “the bends.”

Throughout the bridge controversy, Emily had to address the death of her father, Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren, on 8 August 1882. Warren headed the U.S. Engineering Office on Thames Street and was the subject of an on-going court of inquiry regarding his conduct at the Battle of Five Forks during the Civil War. He was cleared of all charges three months later.

In 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge was completed and Emily was honored in her husband’s absence. They returned to “Blue Rocks” later that summer.

Image (top): “Blue Rocks,” the Lloyd Minturn Mayer house, later known as “Stella Maris,” on Washington Street. Photo credit, Bert Lippincott III