Newport’s Chinese Tea House

Chinese tea house

Text by Barbara Gulley

Photography Courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County

A Gilded Age treasure steeped in an extravagant past with a fresh take on afternoon tea

As guests sip tea at the Chinese Tea House, which sits on the far edge of the onetime summer residence of Alva Vanderbilt in Newport, Rhode Island, they can take in spectacular views of the neighboring homes as well as enjoy an expansive ocean vista. While touring the Gilded Age mansions of the area, the extravagant “cottages” built in the latter half of the 19th century by American’s old and new money, one can experience afternoon tea on the grounds of Marble House and channel one’s inner Vanderbilt.

Alva Vanderbilt received Marble House as a 39th birthday present from her husband, William K. Vanderbilt, a grandson and an heir of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who started the family fortune in shipping and railroads. As part of the less-prestigious nouveau rich—incredibly wealthy but little social status— Alva Vanderbilt set her sights on becoming part of New York’s elite. With unyielding drive and the Vanderbilt money at her disposal, Alva achieved her goal of being part of high society. But, she didn’t stop there. Alva put her determined ways to helping with progressive issues of the day, such as supporting women’s right to vote. In her newly constructed Chinese Tea House on the grounds of Marble House, she held rallies for the suffrage movement, even commissioning a special china set to be used at such events where “Votes for Women” was boldly scribed on serving pieces.


Read the full article in our March/April 2023 issue.

TeaTime March/April 2023 Cover


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