In 1925, a 13-year-old girl who built sandcastles on Newport beaches and who barely tolerated sitting still in fancy dresses, inherited $80 million. In the course of her life, she grew that fortune to over a billion dollars, traveled the world and amassed countless art treasures, and became the benefactor of artists, medical researchers and charities that support the environment and work to prevent child abuse. In a way, Doris Duke never stopped being that 13-year-old girl.
Rough Point, Doris Duke's mansion in Newport was one of her two constant residences. She lived in the 39,000 square foot Bellevue Avenue mansion from May to December of most years along with her dogs and camels. Camels? Yes, they came as part of a bargain for an airplane she wanted to buy. While the dogs were allowed to roam throughout Rough Point's 105 rooms and jump on her 300-year-old sofas, the camels were restricted to the back yard overlooking the water. Only once were they allowed inside, using the solarium as shelter from a hurricane. The dogs, often disorderly, broke china that Doris herself chose to repair. The solitary nature of the project and the complex puzzles and challenge appealed to her. She took classes on repairing ceramics throughout her life and some of the pieces she repaired are still proudly displayed in Rough Point. In her life, she married and divorced twice, and her only child died soon after birth, perhaps explaining why she named her camels "Princess" and "Baby". so denied the legacy of a family, she turned her wealth toward preserving the past and bettering the world. She worked at restoring and preserving houses. Though she didn't wield hammer and nails herself, she founded the Newport restoration Foundation in 1968 with the purpose of saving more than 84 colonial buildings in Newport's "Point" and "Historic Hill" sections, making this area one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes. Her will stipulated that the Rough Point mansion be dedicated as a museum. Inside Rough Point, which was originally built for Fredrick W. Vanderbilt in 1887, visitors can see her art treasures -- largely tapestries, ceramics, an portrait art, but also including antique furniture and jewelry. Huge Persian and Indian carpets cover the floors, chandeliers of rough-cut natural crystal hang above, and everywhere there are hung paintings by masters like Gainsborough, Van Dyck, and Renoir. Perhaps one of the most interesting things is that among her opulence there is a simplicity. Her bedroom's furniture is covered with cunningly crafted mother-of-pearl, but the white eyelet drapes on her four poster bed came from J.C.Penny's. she had homes around the world, but spent most of her time in the two she grew up in. She loved jazz music and frequently made anominous gifts to starving musicians. And while the ballroom of Rough Point is bigger than most single-family houses, she entertained just one or two couples at a time, primarily at dinner. During her life, Doris kept high fences and barbed wire around her estate. She even built a bridge to move the Cliff Walk farther from the house. That sense of intimacy and seclusion is maintained now that Rough Point is a museum.
a new climate-control gallery displays rotating exhibits, the firsts of which was a collection of her family's jewelry -- diamonds and rubies and emeralds from exotic places. Plan on visiting the home of an heiress, where among the priceless art treasures sits little trophies Doris won while making sandcastles on Newport beaches.
The hour-long tours of Rough Point run Tuesday through Saturday, every 20 minutes from 9:45 to 3:45 (last tour) You can purchase your tickets with us, prior to your stay at Ivy Lodge or at the door of Rough Point on a space -- available basis. This article was written by Paul Pence with material from the Newport Restoration Foundation and Nancy Leonardo. Visit the Newport Restoration Foundation at http://www.newportrestoration.org
About.com's New England Writer, Kimbery Beckius, did a video back in 2005 about Doris Duke and her estate, click here to see the video.