History Bytes: Fern Cliff

March 2, 2021

Image of Fern Cliff, Newport and Its Cottages, George Champlin Mason Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1875). Newport Historical Society.

When people reference the summer cottages of the Gilded Age, the extravagant stone mansions on Bellevue Avenue likely come to mind. However, those opulent homes built on their ocean view lots were not the first summer cottages in the area or even on the lots they commanded. Marble House on Bellevue Avenue is no exception.

Prior to Richard Morris Hunt’s masterpiece, Marble House, the site was occupied by Ferncliff, the summer home of Aquilla G. Stout and his wife Anne Morris Stout a descendant of Lewis Morris signer of the Declaration of Independence. The couple purchased the property from their Newport neighbor, Daniel Parish of Beechwood, in 1852 for $5,366. Ferncliff was constructed soon after.

After the death of Aquilla Stout, his heirs sold “Ferncliff” to Alva E. Vanderbilt (Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt) of Oakdale, Long Island for a staggering sum of $200,000: adjusted for inflation, this would amount to $5.7M today. She immediately commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to help her design a new Louis XVI style dwelling to replace Fern Cliff. Marble House was completed in 1892 located between two earlier period summer cottages, the Astors’ Beechwood and Beaulieu.