Beechwood (Astor mansion)

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Astors Beechwood Mansion (2966829057).jpg
General information
Town or cityNewport, Rhode Island
CountryUnited States
Coordinates41°27′48″N 71°18′18″W / 41.4634°N 71.3051°W / 41.4634; -71.3051Coordinates: 41°27′48″N 71°18′18″W / 41.4634°N 71.3051°W / 41.4634; -71.3051
Construction started1851
Cost$2,000,000 (renovations)
Technical details
Size16,400 square feet (1,520 m2)
Design and construction

Beechwood is a Gilded Age estate located on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island.


Beechwood was built in 1851 for New York merchant Daniel Parrish by architects Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux. In 1855 it was destroyed by fire. In 1857, it was rebuilt by Andrew Jackson Downing for Daniel Parrish. In 1880, it was purchased by William Backhouse Astor, Jr. for $190,941.50. He had married Caroline Webster Schermerhorn in 1853, who would later be known as "The Mrs. Astor".[1]

Between 1888-1890, Mrs. Astor hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to do many renovations, including the addition of a ballroom to fit the famous "Four Hundred". Beechwood became the show place for many of Mrs. Astor's dinner parties. Beechwood also boasts a library, dining room and a music room with wallpaper imported from Paris. When Mrs. Astor died she left it to her son John Jacob Astor IV, who married his second wife Madeleine in its ballroom.

After John's death on the Titanic in 1912, it passed to his son Vincent, by his first wife Ava. In 1940, Countess Allene T. deKotzebue purchased Beechwood from Vincent Astor. Between 1940 and 1980 it was owned in succession by: James Cameron Clark, Gurnee Dyer, William W. Carey, John Page-Blair and Richard Merrill.

In 1981 it was purchased by Paul M. Madden, from Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, who was a recent graduate of The National Film and Television School of England. He undertook extensive renovation, including a new main entrance onto Bellevue Avenue.

Together with the University of Rhode Island History and Drama Departments, he started the Beechwood Theatre Company, which conducted live theatrical tours to over a million mansion visitors.[2] In 1981, Paul Madden re-opened the renovated mansion with 20 costumed actors who were trained to remain in-character as they played all the roles of a Victorian mansion, including butlers, footmen, maids and doormen.[3] The tour featured actors portraying the daily lives of those who inhabited, ran, and cared for the estate. While run as a tourist attraction, the estate was marketed as Astors' Beechwood Mansion.

During off-season months (February to May), servants of the Astor family provided tours of the estate as if they were still living in 1891. Visitors were considered to be "applicants" for a summer job on Mrs. Astor's staff, and "applied" for any job they wished. Positions included: gardener, footman, butler, chef, housemaid, and many others. During the summer months while the Astor family was living in the mansion, Astor family members gave tours to guests. Everyone living and working in the mansion acted as though it was 1891 and acted in character throughout the tour.[4]

The tour included two sides of the house: first, the family's side where the Astors lived, and second, the servants' side, which included kitchens and servants' quarters, as well as an area for the children to live. Children of the family lived with the servants until the age of 17, when they were considered adults and fully prepared for social functions. Children of the family were quickly wed at the age of 18, or as soon as possible after reaching 18.

In the 1980s, Paul Madden hosted many of Newport's best social events at Beechwood, including a recreation of Mrs. Astor's "400 Ball" with Honorary Chairman Mary Jaqueline Astor,[5] a dinner dance for Vice President and Mrs. George Bush on August 14, 1981, a dinner in honor of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent for the British America's Cup Team, and a dinner dance for the Duke of Marlborough for the English Speaking Union. The British America's Cup Challenge Ball in 1983 was held in honor of HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and was the most lavish event of that America's Cup with a dinner served for one thousand guests and entertainment that included The Regimental Band of Her Majesty's Irish Guards and Peter Duchin's Band[6]

In January 2010 the Beechwood Theatre Company was reorganized under the umbrella of the 501(c)(3) non-profit Beechwood Foundation as the Marley Bridges Theatre Company,[7] and the property was sold for $10.5 million to Oracle Corporation founder Larry Ellison.[8] Ellison, who was in Newport during the summer of 2009 for training with his BMW/Oracle Racing, is linked to a deed filed at City Hall that documents the $10.5 million sale of the 39-room estate.[9]

As of 2012, Ellison plans to convert the mansion's first floor into Beechwood Art Museum, displaying his collection of 18th and 19th century art.[10] As of 2018, Ellison has not completed his renovations and it appears work has stopped on the mansion.

In popular culture[edit]

Beechwood was featured in a season two episode of Ghost Hunters in which the TAPS team investigated claims of paranormal activity.[11][12]


  1. ^ "The Astor's Beechwood" BY Susan Rocheleau 1982
  2. ^ "The Astor's Beechwood" BY Susan Rocheleau 1982
  3. ^ The Providence Journal May 29, 1981
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2009-04-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ People Magazine July 26, 1982
  6. ^ People Magazine August 1, 1983
  7. ^ "The Marley Bridges Theatre Company". Newport Murder Mystery. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  8. ^ "Astors Beechwood mansion in Newport may be sold for $10.5 million". The Providence Journal. 2010-01-01. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  9. ^ "Deed links Oracle founder to Astors' Beechwood sale". The Providence Journal. 2010-01-07. Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  10. ^ "Beechwood's owner has museum plan". Newport Daily News. 2012-01-05. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  11. ^ "Ghost Hunters (TV series)". SciFi Channel. Season 2. Episode 208. 2005-09-14.
  12. ^ Hawes, Jason; Wilson, Grant; Friedman, Michael Jan (2007). "The Haunted Mansion May 2005". Ghost Hunting: True Stories of Unexplained Phenomena from The Atlantic Paranormal Society. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 184–188. ISBN 978-1-4165-4113-4. LCCN 2007016062.