Kingscote, on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, was built in 1838 for Southern planter George Noble Jones. At that time, Newport, once a prosperous and bustling Colonial city, had become a resort town for wealthy Southerners escaping the summer heat of their home states. All that ended with the Civil War, and, in the following years, Kingscote was sold to William Henry King, who made his fortune in the China export business. At the time Murder at Kingscote takes place, in 1899, Mrs. Ella Rives King, a widow and William’s niece by marriage, lived there with her two adult children. She eventually bought the house outright from the other heirs.
Kingscote was one of the first mansions built on Bellevue Avenue, long before the Gilded Age swept through the city with its conspicuous consumption and social competition. As a result, this house cannot compete, size-wise, with the likes of The Breakers, Elms, Marble House, or Ochre Court. Those mansions were designed with Italian palazzos, Greek temples, and French châteaux in mind. Kingscote’s interior is cozy rather than cavernous, its furnishings tasteful and subdued, at least in comparison to the ostentation favored by many of society’s Four Hundred.
Designed in the Gothic Revival style that followed the Federal period, Kingscote could be described as part castle and part gingerbread cottage, with its gabled peaks, turrets, diamond-paned windows, and touches of fleur-de-lis and crenelated trim. Though not on the ocean side of Bellevue Avenue and lacking water views, the house would have enjoyed a pastoral setting quite in keeping with its storybook aspect. It would only be in the latter decades of the nineteenth century that the area around Kingscote would become built up, with newer houses and the Newport Casino—with its shops and restaurants—constructed close by.
But Kingscote’s true treasures lie within, especially in the dining room, added in 1880 by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, who famously designed so many Gilded Age masterpieces. While most of the rest of the house can be termed distinctly Victorian with Gothic elements, the dining room offers a mingling of styles that include a built-in American Colonial sideboard, a Japanese-inspired cork ceiling, and Elizabethan coffered paneling, all enhanced by touches of Italian, Moorish, and Aesthetic design. Natural light is also an important design feature in the room, with sunlight pouring in through windows made of tiny colorful, opalescent glass tiles fashioned by Louis Tiffany. The result of this blending of styles and light is both enchanting and welcoming.
Kingscote would continue to be the private home of the King family until 1972, when the last descendant turned the house over to the Preservation Society of Newport County. By that time, its next door neighbor, Stone Villa, home of James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, had been demolished, and a shopping center put in its place.
I toured Kingscote several years ago and returned in August of 2019, happy to record last-minute details to be included in Murder at Kingscote. Seeing these gems of the Gilded Age never grows old, and this house continues to welcome, enchant, and delight countless visitors each year with its intimate look at a particular way of life, the family who lived there, and the craftsmanship and artistry that make each of Newport’s Gilded Age houses an American treasure.
Alyssa Maxwell began a love affair with the city of Newport years ago. Time and again the Colonial neighborhoods and grand mansions drew her to return, and on one of those later visits, she met the man who would become her husband. Always a lover of history, Maxwell found that marrying into a large, generations-old Newport family opened up an exciting new world of historical discovery. Today, she and her husband reside in Florida, but part of her heart remains firmly in that small New England city of great historical significance. For more information, please visit AlyssaMaxwell.com.
The novels in Alyssa Maxwell’s delightful, sparkling Gilded Newport Mystery series are set at the end of the nineteenth century, when the illustrious Vanderbilt family dominated Newport, Rhode Island’s, high society. Emma Cross is a less-heeled relation to the Vanderbilts, but as a reporter for the Newport Observer, she is given access into the beautiful summer homes of the extremely wealthy for their glamorous events. Readers are first introduced to Emma in the first Gilded Newport Mystery, Murder at the Breakers, when she is invited to a grand ball at the Vanderbilts’ summer mansion and is required to report the event for the society page of the newspaper. But she observes much more than glitz when she witnesses a murder—and she resolves to find the real killer at any cost.
In each series installment, a different Newport mansion is the center stage for a new murder, and readers get to explore the beautiful homes such as Marble House, Beechwood, Rough Point, Chateau sur Mer, and Ochre Court alongside Emma as she uses her skills as a reporter and sleuth to search for clues that will lead her to the killer. In the seventh installment, Murder at Crossways, Emma attends the final fête of the Newport social season and discovers the party’s over for a visiting prince. In the eighth and newest Gilded Newport Mystery, Murder at Kingscote, Emma discovers that motorcars, the newest form of transportation, have also become the newest type of murder weapon.