astor26.jpg (86467 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Newport Mansions, Brooklyn



Richard Morris Hunt


580 Bellevue Avenue Newport, RI 02840  Phone: 401-846-3772


1857, renovated 1890






  Special thanks to
Caroline Schermerhorn married William Backhouse Astor in 1853. She brought long lines of established social background to the Astor fortune and became the undisputed queen of American society. Caroline Astor insisted upon being called "The Mrs. Astor" by family and friends.

With the help of a southern gentleman, Mr. Ward McAllister, she devised the famous "400," a list of 213 families and individuals whose lineage could be traced back at least three generations.

Beechwood was built in 1851 for a New York City merchant named Daniel Parrish; the architects were Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux. William Backhouse Astor, Jr., purchased the mansion in 1881, and it became the social center for New York Society for twenty-five years of the Gilded Age. William B., as his wife called him, was the grandson of John Jacob Astor, the German immigrant who made himself the richest man in America by investing in fur trading and real estate. As recent as 1999, he was listed as the fourth-wealthiest American ever (Microsoft's Bill Gates is fifth). 

The Astors hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to create an atmosphere at Beechwood that would be worthy of America's finest citizens. The family invested two million dollars in the renovations. Caroline Astor presided over countless social activities during the eight weeks each year she visited Beechwood. The highlight of every summer season was Mrs. Astor's Summer Ball. Mrs. Astor retired from social life in 1906. She lived quietly until her death in 1908.

After his mother's death, John Jacob Astor IV divorced his first wife Ava Lowell Willing. In 1911 he married a much younger woman, Madeleine Talmadge Force. Their ceremony was held in the ballroom at Beechwood. After the service the couple headed to Europe to escape the gossip surrounding their union. Unfortunately, they were returning to New York on the RMS Titanic when the ship met its fate. Madeleine, who was five months pregnant, survived, but her husband, Titanic's wealthiest passenger, did not. 
Astors’ Beechwood 
A trip back in time 

By Noreen O'Neil 

When my bed & breakfast guests arrive at Murray House, one of my favorite places to send them is Mrs. Astor’s Beechwood. When they return, they’re full of the praise for the delightful afternoon they spent being entertained by the actors of the Beechwood Theatre group. They loved being taken back in time, a time never to be experienced again. A time when palatial mansions (summer cottages for those in the know) in Newport were de rigour for the rich and famous. If you’ve never been to Astor’s Beechwood, put it on your list of things to do. It’s quite and experience, and one you will thoroughly enjoy. 

Beechwood was originally built in 1851 for a New York City Merchant, Daniel Parrish. The house was named Beechwood because all over the property you’ll find beautiful Beechwood trees. In 1880 William Backhouse Astor Jr., grandson of German immigrant and entrepreneur John Jacob Astor, purchased Beechwood. The modest home of 22,000 + sq ft. was to be used as the Astor’s summer residence. They would spend eight weeks a year here. 

In 1981 the Astors’ Beechwood Mansion was opened to the public as Rhode Island’s only Living History experience. Members of the Beechwood Theatre Company depict life during the Victorian era, specifically the year 1891. The actors portray the friends, family and domestic staff of the Astors. 

As you approach the house, you may get a glimpse of a housemaid or a footman greeting visitors or perhaps a handsome couple playing a rousing game of croquet. At Beechwood, you will enjoy a 45-minute interactive tour in which you are swept back to a grander more genteel time. You will feel as if you are actually a guest of the Astors. 

Buy Rhode Island Art Prints At 
Starting mid-May, Beechwood opens for daily tours. Upon your arrival you will be treated as if you are personal friends of the Astors. The premise of the tour/performance might be that the Mrs. Astor has invited you to supper or perhaps her grand ball. Whatever the occasion, be prepared to leave 2003 and head back to the year 1891. 

In addition to regular summer tours, Beechwood offers two spectacular evening events, which need to be booked separately: The Astor Ball and Murder at Bal Masque. The Astor Ball is a re-creation of a Victorian Ball. As you stroll up the driveway you will see the house all lit up in its evening splendor. The Astors’ friends and family greet you as if you are a member of high society and you have come for an evening of 1890s song and dance. During the evening you will be invited to tour the home, brush up on Victorian Etiquette and share in gentle conversation. You will be swept into a flurry of music and dancing. The Astor Ball is Tuesday evenings July through September. Reservations are recommended. 

Murder at Bal Masque is for the person that has a taste for mystery. It is a tension-filled, interactive murder mystery based on an unsolved mystery of yesteryear. Four master detectives help you play whodunit. Guests tour the home looking for clues, interrogate family members and solve the mystery. This ever-popular event does require reservations. Murder Mysteries are Thursday evenings June through October. 

Summer is not the only time of year in which you’ll find something special. Holiday Time at Beechwood is like none else. Early November through Mid December, Beechwood celebrates Christmas. During this wonderful season, the fully decorated home comes alive with holiday magic. You are invited to celebrate Victorian Christmas traditions, brush up on your waltz, play parlor games, and learn the art of flirtation. The family will entertain you with holiday songs so festive you’ll find yourself humming along as you take a turn around the ballroom floor. 

For a truly special treat, come to an Astors’ Victorian Christmas Feast. As you walk through the front door, you step back in time to St. Nicholas Day 1891. You are a dear friend coming to join the Astor family for a magnificent celebration. This three-hour event features a four-course dinner, a tour of the festively decorated home, breathtaking singing, and Victorian dancing. Reservations are required. Please call for specific dates of the feast. Their website is at and phone is 401-846-3772. 

No matter the time of year, Beechwood always has something fun and exciting to offer. When you need a break from your daily routine or just want to do something different take a trip to Beechwood and take a trip back to the past. 


Noreen O'Neil is the innkeeper at 1 Murray House B&B in Newport. Over the past 10 years, as a B&B owner, Noreen has collected many stories, some glad, some bad and some totally infuriating and a lot of them funny and inspiring. You can call her at 401 846 3337 or go to her website at  

With special thanks to Noreen O'Neil.