Renfrew Park: Summer Sanctuary for Elite Families

8 Renfrew Park, Middletown | Listed by Matt Hadfield

Renfrew Park: Summer Sanctuary for Elite Families

Situated on six acres of land just east of Easton’s Beach, Renfrew Park stands out as one of the earliest and most fashionable summer cottage colonies in Middletown, Rhode Island. The Victorian-style beach cottage at 8 Renfrew Park is a remarkable piece of architectural history intertwined with the story of Middletown’s evolution into a summer destination. Prominent New England families, including the Braytons, Bowens, and Shove families were among the occupants of these cottages. In 1903, Cottage No. 6 was rented to F. A. Dunbar, a well-known sculptor from Toronto. Truman Beckwith of Providence spent many summers at this summer colony, enjoying stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. Renfrew Park residents were in good company. 

Architectural Legacy

H. Langford Warren, a distinguished Boston architect and the first Dean of Architecture at Harvard University, was commissioned by a Boston syndicate to design the cottages. With a portfolio that included notable projects such as Shorby Hills in Jamestown, RI, and Beverly Farms, situated just north of Boston, Warren brought his distinctive vision to Renfrew Park. Interestingly, the architectural style of Renfrew Park’s residences bore a striking resemblance to those found in Beverly Farms, a connection that would later resonate across the country when Beverly Hills, CA took its name from Warren’s project in Massachusetts.

Cutting-Edge Cottages

The cottages with the land and improvements, including furniture and garages, cost $135,000 – the equivalent of about $4.5 million today. Each cottage had an electric lighting system at a time when most Americans still lit their homes with gas lights. The cottages were promoted as being “delightfully situated by the sea, handsomely furnished, and fitted with every modern improvement, [and] located at the east end of the celebrated beach where there is a private bath house for each cottage.” 

Each cottage came fully furnished with elegant furniture and artwork, as well as top-of-the-line hair mattresses. An ample supply of china, glassware, and the latest kitchen utensils were provided for dining needs. Tenants were required to bring their own silverware, table linens, and bedding. Basements featured a toilet, laundry facilities, and storage for wood and cold items. On the first floor, amenities included open fireplaces, a large hall, a parlor, a dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, and dish closets. 

Ample Open Space

An intriguing feature of Renfrew Park is its unusually expansive central greenspace. It appears that the original plans included tennis courts and a clubhouse, though they were never realized. It’s possible the initial owners favored maintaining the open space or encountered design disagreements. Regardless, the green will remain undeveloped, offering residents the rare luxury of abundant open space just steps from their homes.

Historic Crossroads

Another unique element of the summer colony is the placement of the stables and carriage house. The original carriage house constructed for Renfrew Park’s residents remains standing on Allston Ave. During the development of Renfrew Park, automobiles were gaining popularity, particularly among the affluent individuals residing in the cottages. However, horse-drawn carriages were still in use. To spare Renfrew Park homeowners from bad odors, the stables and carriage house were strategically placed nearby, just outside the development. This challenge was not unique to Renfrew Park; it affected other planned communities of the era, including the Esplanade and the neighboring Land Trust Cottages.

Echoes of the Gilded Age

Renfrew Park came into existence during an exciting time in Newport and Middletown’s history. The Gilded Age was in full swing, characterized by unprecedented wealth, opulence, and cultural flourishing. Newport, already a prestigious resort destination for America’s elite, experienced a surge in development as affluent families sought to build grand summer retreats along its picturesque coastline. Meanwhile, Middletown, neighboring Newport, shared in the excitement, witnessing the establishment of new summer colonies and the transformation of its landscape with the construction of lavish estates and elegant cottages, such as No. 8 Renfrew Park. The era’s optimism and prosperity were palpable, with each passing year bringing new opportunities for growth, innovation, and societal advancement. As the century turned, Newport and Middletown stood as vibrant hubs of luxury and leisure, attracting distinguished figures, from industrialists to artists, who sought to indulge in the extravagance and beauty of these coastal havens.

8 Renfrew Park stands as a testament to a bygone era of opulence and elegance, where the elite sought respite and luxury in the tranquil surroundings of this historic enclave. 

Featured Listing | 8 Renfrew Park, Middletown

Currently listed for sale by Matt Hadfield.