James J. Van Alen

James J. Van Alen (1846-1923) was a sportsman, politician, and member of an old-monied New York railroad family. Van Alen solidified his status as a member of upper-class society by marrying Emily Astor, daughter of society matron Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and William Backhouse Astor Jr.

Like many upper-class Americans, Van Alen was fond of English culture and architecture. In 1882, he hired English architect Charles Eamer Kempe to design Wakehurst (1884-1887), a stone Tudor mansion modeled after Wakehurst Place, an English country estate in Sussex, England. The mansion stood at Ochre Point in Newport, Rhode Island.

Newport architect Dudley Newton oversaw construction of Wakehurst. Rooms were designed and constructed in England, then imported to Newport. The rooms featured English tapestries, antiques, and accessories. Landscape architect Ernest Bowditch, a student of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the grounds.

Van Alen was known as a charming host who enjoyed speaking in Tudor English. An avid yachtsman, Van Alen joined fellow Newporters Edith Wharton and her husband Edward R. (Teddy) Wharton on a four-month Mediterranean cruise aboard The Vanadis in 1888.

Wakehurst is now part of the campus of Salve Regina University.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, ©2001-2003