DC to Dark Shadows—the tale of a Gilded Age mansion on the move

October 29, 2017

 

On June 2, 1966, an American Gothic soap opera premiered on television and quickly became a fan favorite. The goings-on in the Collins family—full of vampires and werewolves—made for dramatic, if not campy, entertainment. Dark Shadows ran for 5 successful seasons, spawned a 1971 movie House of Dark Shadows, a short-lived remake in the 1990s, and another movie in 2012 starring Johnny Depp and Michele Pfeiffer. The fictional Collins family of Collinsport, Maine, resided in the opulent family home, ostensibly first constructed in the 17th century, known as Collinwood.

 

The actual home used for exterior shots for the 1960s TV series is located in Newport, Rhode Island, home of some of the most opulent “summer cottages” of the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age in the United States generally referred to the post-Civil War period from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century, when vast industrial fortunes led to lavish lifestyles for those relatively few families. Newport, Rhode Island came to be seen as the most fashionable resort for many wealthy industrialists, with such “summer cottages” as The BreakersMarble HouseRosecliff, The Elms, and others. Eventually, as Henry Flagler extended the railroad down the Atlantic coast of Florida, St. Augustine became a winter destination with the opening in 1888 of the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), before the winter resorts farther south at Palm Beach, Miami Beach, and the Florida Keys became popular.

 

The house known as “Collinwood” in the TV series actually had its start in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. Dupont Circle was largely undeveloped until shortly after the US Civil War when it suddenly became the most fashionable neighborhood in DC.  Many of the mansions built there from 1880 to 1920 are still standing, used as foreign embassies or headquarters of civic institutions and non-profit organizations. But one of the most elaborate mansions was moved from DC to Newport in the 1920s.

 

Funded by a whisky fortune, Edson Bradley built a French Gothic mansion just south of Dupont Circle in 1907. In 1923 he had the house dismantled and moved in its entirety to Newport where it was reassembled on an oceanfront plot of land on Ruggles Avenue, just around the corner from the Vanderbilt’s cottage The Breakers. Completed in 1925 at a cost of $2,000,000, the relocated SeaView Terrace was the last Gilded Age mansion constructed in Newport—the Great Depression began with the stock market crash only 4 years later.

 

Descendants could not afford to maintain the home, and in 1949 it was sold for $8,000! The house then went through a variety of uses, including a boarding school, the fictional home (exterior only) of the Collins family in Dark Shadows, and a dormitory for Salve Regina University. Today, the home is back in private hands. (The 1999 photo above by Jim McCullars is shared here under CC BY 2.5).

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