A Celebration of Garden Parties

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 12:32pm -- mfarias

This weekend the Redwood Library is holding its Annual Garden Party to celebrate the end of summer. Of course, while it promises to be a beautiful day, no garden party in Newport could ever be quite as elaborate as the Masque of the Blue Garden, held on August 15, 1913 by Harriet James and her husband Arthur Curtiss James at their home on Beacon Hill.

 

 The wild dance in the water pool before the guests, undated. 
The Masque of the Blue Garden Scrapbook, Redwood Library.

 

Arthur Curtiss James (1867-1941) came from a family of wealth; his grandfather was one of the founders of Phelps, Dodge & Co., an American mining company founded in 1834. As a man of business himself, James held a stake in the mining company while also pursuing his interest in railroads, becoming a major investor with controlling interest in the main railroad lines across the country. Prior to the Great Depression, he was one of the wealthiest men in America thanks to his efforts. In 1890, James married Harriet Eddy Parsons and in 1909 they began building their home in Newport, which was known as Beacon Hill House and designed by architects Howells & Stokes of New York City.

 

 Beacon Hill House (Photo Credit: The Gilded Age Era)

 

Before construction on the house even began, Mr. & Mrs. James hired Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. in 1908 to plan the estate. Surrounding the proposed site of the mansion would be individual garden rooms, the most famous of which would become known as the Blue Garden. Plans for the Blue Garden were developed and implemented from 1911-1913. The garden featured a cruciform shape with a semi-circular apse to each side and low walls keeping its form all around. Inside the walls were beds of flowers and plants, which all featured shades of the garden’s signature color. The elevated pergolas and the long pool brought in marble columns and Persian tiles, furthering the elegance and opulence of the garden, which was hidden from outside view by walls of trees and shrubs.

 

 Harriet James as "Lady Sapphira."
The Masque of the Blue Garden Scrapbook, Redwood Library.

 

When the garden was completed in 1913, Mr. & Mrs. James used their vast wealth to throw a spectacular party that came to be known as the Masque of the Blue Garden. Three hundred guests were invited to enter the garden beneath a large arbor draped in dark blue fabric. The hosts themselves were dressed as 16th century Italian royalty. Mrs. James was particularly resplendent in a blue dress adorned with sapphires, diamonds, and amethysts. Her costume led many guests to address her through the night as “Lady Sapphira.”

 

 

Photos of Dancers from August 15, 1913.
The Masque of the Blue Garden Scrapbook, Redwood Library.

 

Beyond the beauty of the scenery, guests were treated to performances by dancers, actors, and musicians who were dressed as various nymphs, sprites, and goddesses, giving the party a Grecian atmosphere. The World Magazine called it “Newport’s loveliest fete,” and the many letters of thanks and adoration that Mrs. James received after, testify to the experience:

“Dear Mrs. James, I feel that I must write and congratulate you on the wonderful success of your entertainment. I have never seen anything in Newport so artistic and so beautiful.”

“Dear Mrs. James, While the spell is still upon me, laid by the waving of your fairy wand, let me try to say to you what delight was mine last night in your enchanted garden.”

 

Thank You Note from Charlotte Well, 1913.
The Masque of the Blue Garden Scrapbook, Redwood Library.

 

Beacon Hill House was destroyed by a fire in 1967 and a few years later the remaining acreage was parceled and sold to housing developers.  Happily, an extensive restoration project was begun in 2012 and the renewed Blue Garden was reopened in 2014 and is available to visitors by appointment. So while the Masque of the Blue Garden is today just a memory, the site has been reinvigorated and the spirit of their event will hopefully live on each year as the Redwood Library continues to close out the summer celebrating at its Annual Garden Party. We hope to see you all there!

 

 

 

The Annual Garden Party at the The Redwood will be held on Sunday, August 27th from 5:00 - 7:00 pm on our front lawn with music by the Lois Vaughan Jazz Trio. This event is a favorite with our members and features delicious hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and music in a beautiful setting. For tickets, click here: Annual Garden Party Tickets

 

For more information on the Blue Garden, click here: The Blue Garden

The Masque of the Blue Garden scrapbook, a gift of Hayward F. Manice, is available for viewing and research with a reference appointment (reference@redwoodlibrary.org).