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Day 58 (10.29.07) - Gardens & Mansions & Bridges, Oh My!

We visited the Newport, Rhode Island area today, never did make it to Portsmouth!

sunny 50 °F

Summary: Sites Visited, "Green Animals Topiary Garden", the Breakers (summer home of the Vanderbilts), and drove across the Pell and Jamestown Bridges (both very long & high) - in an RV!

Logistics: Miles Driven - 55
Weather - Clear, Sunny and Cold (but no wind, which would have made driving over those bridges awfully scary)
Camped at Charlestown Beachway City Park, Rhode Island.

Details: The campground we stayed in last night was very close to something called the "Green Animals Topiary Garden". I wasn't particularly interested in this, but Mom was, so I figured I might as well give it a try also. We got there shortly after they opened, and given the time of year, pretty much had the place to ourselves (except for some of the people who work there). The lady at the gift shop recommended we tour the gardens first, so we did this. She also saw my camera and offered to take a picture of the both of us (how nice, I didn't even have to pull out the tripod for this!) You can see it was pretty cold, as we both bundled up pretty good.


Topiary is the ancient art of training and pruning plants into geometric designs or animal shapes. The gardens are on a seven acre estate purchased by Thomas Brayton in 1875 for use as a summer home. In 1905, he hired a Portuguese gardener, Joseph Careiro to start the garden. There are about 80 pieces of topiary, including 21 animals, in the garden, as well as roses, crab apples, dahlia's and other plants. Some of these were still in bloom! We both took a lot of pictures, I tried to upload only the best?


There was a giant tree in the front yard that Mom thought my brother, Art, would like to climb. We were told it was a Copper Beech tree. If you look closely, you can see Mom taking a picture of the tree also, she is in the lower left - that's how big the tree trunk is!


What the tourist brochure didn't mention is that it's not just the gardens that are open to tour. The main house used as Thomas Brayton's summer home is also open. Mr. Brayton's daughter Alice inherited the house and lived in it until her death in 1972. When she died, she donated the house and garden to the Preservation Society of Newport County. Since it remained in her possession until she died, it still has the original furniture and art work - which makes it much more interesting to tour of course. Upstairs is a toy and doll house display, which was also quite interesting. While we couldn't take pictures inside, these give you some idea what the house looks like at least.


I went back to the gift shop before we left to make sure I took home an appropriate quantity of souvenirs and we got to talking a bit more with some of the ladies that work at the house and garden.


From left to right:

Mary, who is 90, is Joseph Carreiro's daughter and was born in his house also on the property. She has lived there all her life, with her husband and raised her three sons there.

Anita works with the Preservation Society of Newport and showed us the Brayton House. She is holding Bruce the cat, who was quite friendly but about twice as big as my cat.

Mom, who is on the trip with me. She was enjoying the sun and company of these women so much I don't think she would have minded if I just left her there (until they told her she couldn't live in the house with the doll museum, of course).

Linda, who runs the gift shop. Linda's husband is in the military. She loves to travel also and has stayed in KOA cabins during previous trips between duty stations (rather than hotels - which I could relate to).

So if you ever have a chance to visit the topiary gardens near Newport, RI - keep in mind, it's not just the gardens, but also a really cool old house, toy museum, and some very nice people and one cat!

However since I'm not planning to move to Rhode Island and I would like Mom to stop complaining about the cold, I finally pulled her away and we moved on to the next stop. The gardens are part of a package tour run by the Preservation Society. Given that we were trying not to spend 8 months in Rhode Island, I only purchased tickets for two sites - the gardens and the Breakers - the largest of the mansions open for touring. Newport seems to be as famous for it's Mansions as anything else.


This was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II as a summer residence between 1893 and 1895 after his first summer home on this site burned down. The house takes up one acre of land on a 13 acre parcel, contains 70 rooms with about 138,000 square feet. There are 23 bathrooms, some have bathtubes carved from a solid piece of marble. The rooms are all very ornate, one could say over the top even. But no photos are allowed inside so I could only get some exterior shots:


These two are full views of the side and the front (or back?) facing the ocean. It just seemed like a thumbnail didn't do them justice.


Although I couldn't take pictures inside, you can get a little more information and pictures of both the Topiary Garden and the Breakers at the Preservation Society's web site:


While there are several other mansions available to tour, and each one is different, we felt one was enough for us so decided to move on. Before leaving town, we did stop at a beach - perhaps not the best one around (or so I've heard), but I think it's a decent view of a Newport, RI beach?


We also stopped by a place called "Prescott Farms". This represents farming from the 1700 - 1800's, but the buildings were closed when we were there and we could only tour the grounds.


The sign on the red house says "In this house the British General Prescott was taken prisoner on the night of July 9, 1777 by Lieutenant-Colonel Barton of the Rhode Island Line"

Since there wasn't much more we could do at the Prescott Farm, we decided to head over the bridge west from Newport. There are a lot more interesting things in Newport (sailing, forts, the oldest operating tavern in the US, shopping, restaraunts, a very old library...) - but we are pretty far behind our original schedule already, so I decided to move on. We also decided to skip Providence, RI for the same reasons. Ah, the compromises one has to make!

The Pell Bridge out of Newport is a toll bridge ($2.00), very long, and curves up pretty high over the water. I was busy driving, so didn't get a picture of it - but you can see it here:


Fortunately, it wasn't windy today so I managed to get across it (it was pretty scary as it was). At the end of the Pell Bridge is a small island, then a second bridge on the other side to the mainland. Off to the side was another lighthouse/channel marker that looked kind of cute. We couldn't pull over, of course, and the railing was too high to avoid, so Mom got out the camera and took the best shot she could - not too bad considering the conditions.


Can you believe this is our second day in Rhode Island and we haven't been to a visitors center yet? There was one in Newport, but I was trying to hurry so didn't stop there. I saw one after we got off the bridge and started heading south, so decided I'd better find out what we'd been missing. It turns out there are several things behind us that look of interest (Lighthouses, an Aldridge mansion in Warwick and the Museum of Primative Culture in Wackfield). Rhode Island is small, so we might go back tomorrow, but I'm not sure.

At least we found out that there was still a State Park open for camping along the southern coast, so we headed to Charlestown Beach SP. It is very cold here tonight, but surpisingly full - it turns out that yesterday there was quite a fish run that had come through here - people were practically picking up fish with their bare hands! So they called all their buddies and came back today, but I watched people fishing for over 30 mintues and didn't see anyone catch anything. I guess fishing is like that. However, it was nice to see the fathers and sons out doing something together - and an occasional mother & son. And the sunset was just to die for:


Posted by jl98584 16:53 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Wow! You sure you didn't Photoshop that?! Nice sunset shot.

by TexasRTJ

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