Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont

Oliver Hazard Perry BelmontOliver Hazard Perry Belmont (1858-1908) was a publisher and politician, and a member of Newport's upper class.

Belmont was born in 1858 to a wealthy New York family. His father, August Belmont, was a financier and diplomat who served as American minister to the Netherlands and consul to Austria. Belmont's mother was Caroline Perry, daughter of naval hero Commodore Matthew Perry. The Belmonts were leaders in New York and Newport society.

Oliver Belmont was educated in private schools. He declined to follow in his father's footsteps and learn the banking trade. Instead, he enrolled in the United States Naval Academy. After a brief and checkered naval career, he resigned in 1882.

Destined for a life of leisure, Belmont became a frequent visitor to gentleman's clubs in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. He was married briefly to Newporter Sarah Swan Whiting, who bore him a daughter, Natica Rives.

Belmont and fellow Newporter William K. Vanderbilt were friends. Belmont occasionally accompanied Vanderbilt and his wife Alva Vanderbilt on cruises aboard the Vanderbilt's yacht Alva. Alva later divorced William K. Vanderbilt and married Oliver Belmont—an unusual move for a society matron, for divorce was considered "taboo."

Belmont commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a 52-room Louis XIII-style manor, Belcourt Castle, at the end of Bellevue Avenue. The first floor had several luxurious stables for Belmont's horses.

Upon visiting Belcourt Castle, Newporter Julia Ward Howe exclaimed, "Oh! To lodge horses so, and be content that men and women should lodge in sheds and cellars." Alva Vanderbilt later remodeled the first floor of Belcourt Castle, replacing the indoor stables with reception rooms, a hall, and a library.

The Belmonts entertained guests at Belcourt Castle. They held the first auto race on the grounds in 1899.

In later years, the Belmonts took an interest in social issues. Alva Vanderbilt became a suffragist. Belmont published a newspaper called The Verdict, which exposed corruption in business.

Belmont was a New York congressman from 1901 to 1903. He died in 1908.

Belcourt Castle is privately owned but open to the public as a museum.

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001