A gentle autumn mist had fallen over Newport by the time I arrived after Labor Day. A few blue hydrangeas were hanging on to their rich colors, but most of them had faded into a muted harvest hue. The lush greenness at The Breakers hadn’t dimmed as I meandered the freshly reconstructed Serpentine Path with Jim Donahue, the Curator of Historic Landscapes and Horticulture for The Preservation Society of Newport County.
The path dates back to the 1870s when simultaneously talking and walking with parasol in hand was as glamorous as a ballroom waltz. Unfortunately the quarter-mile-long path had been lost to time and the 1938 hurricane until 2015 when the task of rebuilding the path began.
The Society has raised two and a half million dollars to not only recreate the path but ensure its historical integrity, and offer even better views of the “cottage,” as Cornelius Vanderbilt II dubbed his summer mansion, which has been operated by The Society as a historic landmark since the 1970s.
The property’s original landscape gardener Ernest Bowditch left behind little to no documentation, so Donahue and his team have relied on photographs and visitor’s journals to repave the path and use the same trees and plantings. The completion of the project this fall is perfectly timed to accommodate even greater interest in The Gilded Age, thanks to the HBO series which is gearing up to film season two on the property in the coming months.
The Serpentine Path is designed to give the traveler a sense of idle luxury — you can’t see the end point, you just marvel at the beauty, stop to admire a European Beech, or pause at a bench. It’s wonderful to know that you are walking the same path as the “cottage’s” illustrious residents and visitors — admiring the vistas as they would have seen them.
The path will once again get a modern take this holiday season when it will be illuminated with Christmas cheer starting in November.
Meanwhile at Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, volunteers were tending to the fresh blooms of dahlias, bursting in a riot of colors.
Nearby at the sunflower farm an army of yellow heads dotted the New England late summer landscape.
Friends at the OceanCliff Hotel set us up on a sailboat cruise of Narragansett Bay where Hammersmith Farm, the 1953 wedding reception site of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier, glistened on the shore.
Although Newport is the ultimate summer vacation, I’ll go there anytime.