2015-12-23 / Front Page

Step Back in Time on the Candlelight Tour

By Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA


Owners of the homes on the House Tour are gracious hosts. Some decorate as if welcoming those touring as guests coming for dinner, like at the Gibbs-Tillinghast house, 142 Mill St. At the Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, 72 Washington St., the towering staircase will amaze visitors. Owner Anne Ramsey Cuvelier is seen here at the second floor landing. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Owners of the homes on the House Tour are gracious hosts. Some decorate as if welcoming those touring as guests coming for dinner, like at the Gibbs-Tillinghast house, 142 Mill St. At the Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, 72 Washington St., the towering staircase will amaze visitors. Owner Anne Ramsey Cuvelier is seen here at the second floor landing. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Three years ago, Newporter Kiki Mitchell was asked to open up her small gem of a house on Historic Hill for the Christmas in Newport Candlelight House Tour. Although it hadn’t occurred to her before, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. “My home was built in 1770 and lends itself to simple, natural Christmas decorating,” she says. “I enjoyed sharing its history with folks and giving them the opportunity to experience what it might have felt like to visit me at Christmastime in the 1770s.”

For the 45th year, as part of the Christmas in Newport celebrations, the annual Candlelight Tour of Historic Private Homes will feature similar beloved residences— on the Point, Historic Hill and in the iconic Kay-Catherine neighborhoods. The tours are on Saturday, Dec. 26 and Sunday, Dec. 27, from 4 – 7 p.m. The charge is $3 per house, payable at the door. Light refreshments will be available. Interior photography, high heels are prohibited (booties will be supplied when appropriate). And please, no children under 10.

House Tour Chair Nancy Crockett sees the Candlelight Tour as a wonderful opportunity for visitors to step inside the doorways of architecturally significant Newport homes—to make it past the foyer, as it were, and discuss each house with its inhabitants. From décor and personal statements that reflect the owner’s architectural and historical interests, “people enjoy seeing what owners are doing,” she says. “The owners love opening up their homes, and talking about their homes.” These are houses valued for their architectural significance, so it is interesting to see how creative each “host” can be without affecting the integrity of the original design.


Gibbs-Tillinghast main staircase decorated with an army of nutcrackers. Gibbs-Tillinghast main staircase decorated with an army of nutcrackers. There are two houses open for the evening of Saturday, Dec. 26. The Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, located at 72 Washington St. in the Point section of the city, was built in 1870 in the Second Empire style that was popular at that time. The interior is marked by beautiful wood paneling and elaborate stencil work. Originally built for New Yorker M.H. Sanford as a summer home, in 1896 the house was purchased by William King Covell III. The house has remained in the possession of that family ever since and is now owned and operated as a bedand breakfast by Covell’s greatgranddaughter Anne Ramsey Cuvelier, who has been busy decorating and preparing for the tour. “We are very happy to participate in this local event,” says Cuvelier. “It’s always a pleasure to welcome people into our home.”

Also opening its doors on Saturday is the Mrs. H.W. Briggs House, located at 31 Rhode Island Ave. Designed in 1887 by the Newport builder J.D. Johnston and marked by a wraparound porch, it is an example of the Queen Anne style that was popular at that time and in that neighborhood—although other elements of Colonial Revival are also present. It is noted to be one of the first instances of a Newport home heated with hot water radiators—a cutting edge idea in the 1880s.

On Sunday, Dec. 27, two other homes will open their doors. The Honorable Henry Harrison Fay House, located at 63 Ayrault St., was designed and built c. 1870. It is an interesting combination of the styles of the time, from the Italianate cubical massing and pyramidal roof to the Greek revival frieze board, as well as some Colonial Revival fenestration and detailing. So many styles were at work during this period of expansion of the Kay-Catherine neighborhood

(where the house is located) it is not surprising that some structures would combine elements of many of them into a single design.

The second home on the Sunday tour is the Gibbs-Tillinghast house at 142 Mill St., which was originally designed c. 1758. This was a grand Colonial-era mansion in its time, and although its provenance is debated, it contains many elements reminiscent of other buildings being designed during that era by the noted American architect Peter Harrison, who designed such nearby structures as the original wing of the Redwood Library and Athenæum, which was located directly across Bellevue Avenue from the house. This structure has had additions in both the 19th and 20th centuries, and therefore embodies both the preservation of the old and the construction of the new that typifies the historic growth of Newport (and its houses) over time. Notably, the Gibbs-Tillinghast house currently hosts a collection of architectural models and historic dollhouses worthy of attention in their own right.

Gibbs-Tillinghast owners Jan and Carrie Slee, who have opened up their home in previous years, agreed this year that it was time once again to be hosts, making it, according to Jan Slee, their fourth time. The grand portal of their home faces Touro Park.

Also open for the tour on Sunday will be the Edward King House, at 35 King St. Now the home of the Newport Senior Center, the house was designed by Richard Upjohn in 1845 and built 1845-1847 for wealthy China Trade businessman Edward King. The Italian Villa style residence was considered Newport’s grandest and largest at the time; the interior retains most of its original architectural and decorative designs, and is a beautiful backdrop for the holiday decorations.

Based on previous years, Crockett says that they are expecting between 300 – 400 people to tour the five houses on Saturday and Sunday evenings. “It’s a big responsibility,” she says. The owners can’t be everywhere at once, so the small army of volunteers who staff each house are encouraged to be as knowledgeable as possible.

Newport is a city of beautiful homes from the Colonial, Victorian, Gilded Age and even modern period, but the majority of these are privately owned and so are normally visible only from the exterior. When an opportunity exists to get inside and see the preserved interiors with the owners sharing their firsthand experiences, it is an opportunity not to be missed!

— With additional reporting by Betsy Sherman Walker

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