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Ochre Court is located on Ochre Point Avenue in Ochre Point. Ochre Point developed in the middle of the nineteenth century into an intensively fashionable setting for summer houses. Originally owned by Ogden Goelet, a Gilded Age banker and real estate developer, as his family's summer residence, it was the first of four Newport mansions by Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt drew inspiration for the fifty-room limestone palace overlooking reddish cliffs on the edge of the Atlantic from late Gothic French architecture. With high roofs, turrets, whimsical gargoyles, and tall chimneys, Ochre Court recalls the style of Francois I, a transitional era when established elements such as the Gothic pointed arch and heavy stained glass were lightened by newly-emerging Renaissance details that include rounded arches and delicate lacy ornamentation.
Inside, Hunt used details from French Renaissance chateaux and churches to create a Great Hall that soars upward for three stories and dramatically frames a seaward vista. Radiating from the space, impressive ground floor reception rooms such as a dining room, ballroom, library, and private upstairs family rooms were richly designed with imported antique fireplaces and lavish wall coverings. The ever-present Atlantic Ocean is framed by windows and terrace entrances, reflected in mirrored walls, and repeated in symbolic motifs. Hunt emphasized the Goetlet's social position and their patronage of learning and the arts with exuberant decoration both in the house and on the grounds in classical ceiling paintings, royal heraldic devices, carved emblems and statues, and a rainbow of antique stained glass.
The Goetlets were an established American dynasty that had grown from humble 18th century trade into vast 19th century investments. Ogden was not only a noted banker and real estate investor, but also one of the world's most renowned competitive yachtsmen. His wife, Mary Wilson Goelet, was one of the most important hostesses of her generation in a time when the operation of Ochre Court during a typical eight-week summer season required 27 house servants, eight coachmen and grooms, and twelve gardeners. Their daughter, May, married the eighth Duke of Roxburghe, taking with her an $8 million dowry, while their son, Robert, became a major force in the development of American railroads, hotels, and real estate. It was Robert's gift of Ochre Court to the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1947 that established Salve Regina College in Newport.
The estate grounds, designed by Olmsted Brothers, had formal perennial gardens and walkways shaded by several mature specimen trees that include the dramatic Copper Beach ("Fagus sylvatica aropunicea"), a European variety that reaches a height of 80-90 feet. Exquisite blossoms of the Far East Kousa Dogwood ("Cornus kousa") still transform the grounds in June with dense flower heads surrounded by creamy-white bracts. A lifestyle away from its Gilded Age splendor, the stately mansion housed the entire college for the first few years of Salve's existence. The original 58 women students lived on the third floor, attended classes on the second floor, studied, prayed, and dined on the first floor, and snacked and purchased books in the basement. Eight Sisters of Mercy who comprised the postwar faculty established their own modest living area in the servants' quarters. Today, although Salve Regina has grown to encompass over 75 acres and more than two dozen buildings, Ochre Court remains its heart.
Ochre Court has received many awards and public recognition for campus-wide preservation. These include:
2000: Save America's Treasures, by the White House Millennium Council and National Trust for Historic Preservation.
2000: Preservation Award for Stewardship, by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
1999: National Preservation Honor Award, by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
1997: The Antiquarian Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Historic Preservation, by The Preservation Society of Newport County.
1997: Resolution of Appreciation, by The Victorian Society in America.
Harrington, Richard B. Ochre Point-Cliffs Historic District [including Salve Regina University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/ National Park Service, 1975.
Moe, Richard. A Walking Tour of Salve Regina University. Pamphlet. [Newport, RI: Salve Regina University, n.d.].