HISTORY

Dreams of Yesterday, Dreams for Today

Unique among the mansions of Newport, “Belcourt”, a Louis XIII style hunting lodge, was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, “the Dean of American architects”. The sixty-room summer cottage cost 3 million dollars in 1894, a figure of approximately seventy-five million dollars in 2007. Three hundred skilled European craftsmen were employed in Belcourt’s creation between 1891 and 1894.

In the original plan the mansion had one bedroom with bathroom, no guest rooms and no kitchen. There were sleeping quarters for thirty full-time servants. The entire first floor was devoted to a fine carriage collection and a stable with 30 luxurious stalls accommodating prized coaching horses.  

Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont

Belcourt’s first owner was the elegant bachelor Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, youngest son of August Belmont, the Rothschild Banking representative in America. Oliver graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, following in the footsteps of his illustrious forbears Commodores Matthew Calbraith Perry and Oliver Hazard Perry.  He was an accomplished whip, a collector of medieval manuscripts, stained glass and armor.  He belonged to the most prestigious clubs in New York and Newport, was Grand Master of St. John Lodge of Masons and served one term as a U.S. Congressman from New York In 1890 Oliver Belmont inherited 60 million dollars.


Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont

The hostess for Belcourt’s opening ball in 1895 was Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt, wife of Oliver’s best friend and business partner, William Kissam Vanderbilt. In that same year, Alva organized the marriage of her daughter Consuelo Vanderbilt to the ninth Duke of Marlborough, and divorced Vanderbilt. In January 1896 Alva Vanderbilt became Mrs. Oliver Belmont, taking up summer residence as lady of the castle, favoring Belcourt over Marble House, her 11-million-dollar thirty-ninth birthday gift from Mr. Vanderbilt.

After Oliver Belmont died in 1908, Mrs. Belmont became a generous patron
of the arts, and donated large sums to hospitals. She organized the Political Equality Association and the National Women's Party convention in 1915. Her long and vigorous personal involvement- and monetary support - in the women's suffrage movement, both in England and America, was instrumental in getting the Federal statutes changed to allow women equal rights with men in government and business.

During her lifetime she built, designed and owned many mansions - at one point she owned nine. She retired to France, with a house in Paris, and her favorite chateau, a historic Castle given by King Charles VII of France to Jacques Coeur ca. 1425, where she died on January 26, 1933, age 80.

Alva Belmont is buried with Oliver in the Mausoleum at Woodlawn in the Bronx. Belcourt was bequeathed in her will to Oliver's grand Nephew, August Belmont IV, age 19. The Honorable Perry Belmont ,the last surviving of Oliver’s brothers, soon took ownership. At the age of 90 in 1940 he sold Belcourt out of the Belmont Family.


The Tinney Family

As Newport's Gilded Age Society waned the new generation tore down many great estates. Belcourt exchanged hands several times between 1940 and 1956 when the Tinney family discovered the grand home. After a year living on the ocean and having restored the 1899 former Gerry Estate, the Tinney family purchased the derelict property in November, 1956.

In 1956 the Tinney Family included Harold B. Tinney (1901-1989) , his wife Ruth Emily Betzer Tinney (1906 -1995), Nellie Ruth Fuller (1881 – 1972) and Donald Harold Tinney (1934 – 2006). The Tinney Family renamed “Belcourt” as Belcourt Castle and opened a museum in 1957.
 

Donald Harold Tinney

Inspired by Donald Tinney’s dream as a child to own a castle, the Tinney Family personally restored Belcourt Castle, furnished their mansion with a collection of arts and antiques from over 30 countries, including 13th century European stained glass, 10th to 20th century furniture from around the world, 17th to 20th century paintings, Renaissance armor, and a gold coronation coach. Donald’s view of preservation was visionary at a time when important historic structures were being torn down.

His work reveals the vision of a true Renaissance man living in modern times, who looked to the past to see the future. Some of these “Dreams” were realized; some were not; and some may be completed by future artists.


Harle Hope Hanson Tinney

Harle Hope Tinney, née Harle Hope Hanson, was born on April 15, 1941 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her father was Frederick Charles Hanson, a prominent eye surgeon and a decorated U.S. Navy Reserve medical officer, whose military service included a tour of duty on Guadalcanal in World War II. Her mother, Grace Alma Williamson, was a talented violinist.

As a child, she summered with her parents and sister in Middletown, an affluent community adjoining Newport. An accomplished cellist, she made her performance debut with her mother and sister, an accomplished pianist, in 1959 in Newport.

While a student at Brown University, Mrs. Tinney worked as a summer tour guide at Belcourt Castle where she met Donald Tinney. They wed at Belcourt in 1960.

Since Mr. Tinney died in 2006, Mrs. Tinney continues to devote herself to see that Belcourt Castle stands not frozen in time, but living and growing as interactive inspiration to present and future preservationists.

Today, celebrating more than 50 years in the Tinney Family, Belcourt Castle is home to an extensive collection of art and antiques from over 30 countries spanning diverse cultures and centuries. The collection includes 13th century European stained glass, 10th to 20th century furniture from around the world, 17th to 20th century paintings, Renaissance armor, and a gold coronation coach.

 

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