Filed Under Newport

Chateau-sur-Mer

Fête Champêtre at Chateau-sur-Mer:
Setting the Tone for the Gilded Age

In the summer of 1857, preceding the trend-setting Astors and Belmonts, and epitomizing the transition to a more private and exclusive Newport, William Wetmore (former China-trade magnate) threw a big party for his good friend, the financier, George Peabody. Over 2,500 people attended the afternoon "Fête Champêtre" (garden party) at Chateau-sur-Mer. Attendees ate, danced, and drank hundreds of magnums of champagne. The Newport Mercury reported, "it was unquestionably the event of the summer." It could be argued that this event also helped set the tone for the extravagant Gilded Age entertainments to come. As notable Newport resident and Pulitzer-prize winning author Maud Howe Elliott (daughter of Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) once remarked, "Some of these gorgeous fetes have cost a sum that would support and educate a professor's family for a lifetime."

A curious offshoot of the Germania Musical Society, who were actually broken up by this time, provided the music. A program card with the order of dances coupled with a New York Times article verify that the music was indeed "furnished" and conducted by a former Germania member, William Schultze. Schultze was the Germania's first violinist, but was probably never an officially elected conductor, although he may have served in a leading role in the interim before Carl Bergmann. At the event, the Germania's former manager F.B. Helmsmuller served as Master of Ceremonies.

The Times reported that a "pavillion" was built by a carpenter from Boston using over 30,000 feet of lumber, "for the purpose of a dancing saloon in the rear of the house." The reporter added with effect: "This superb pavillion was a hundred feet square; it was covered with canvas, and the floor was admirably laid for dancing." The article mistakenly referred to the ensemble as the (official) Germania Musical Society, but at the very least, several former members were most likely involved.

Compositions included many by the famous Strauss and former Germania members, including "Annie Polka Redowa" by Schultze himself, and some of Bergmann's dance tunes. It was reported that the party went past schedule as, "dancing was kept up with great glee until nearly eight o'clock, when the gay and festive scene was deserted, and the dash of the waves at the base of the rocky cliff succeeded the music of the fete."

Images

Stone Engraving of Chateau-sur-Mer With its completion in 1852, Chateau-sur-Mer was recognized as a breakthrough in High Victorian architecture. It was considered the most luxurious residence in Newport for decades after and helped set the tone for the extravagance of Gilded Age Newport. Date: c. 1857
Chateau-sur-Mer, Post Hunt Renovations George Peabody Wetmore, who had a distinguished political career as Governor of Rhode Island and a United States Senator, married Edith Keteltas in 1869. In the 1870s, architect Richard Morris Hunt remodeled the house in the Second Empire French style, while the young couple went on an extended European vacation. Date: c. 1890
Fête Champêtre - Programme and Order of Dances The actual program card and order of dances for William Wetmore's Fête Champêtre, one of Newport's most brilliant and legendary nineteenth-century entertainments. Former members of the Germania Musical Society provided the music for the occasion. Date: 1857

Location

474 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI 02840

Metadata

Brian Knoth, PhD, “Chateau-sur-Mer,” Rhode Tour, accessed December 2, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/338.