The Belmont Chapel in Newport, RI’s Island Cemetery was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. August Belmont Sr. as a memorial to their daughter Jane Pauline Belmont (1856-1875). Designed in the Gothic style by George C. Mason & Son, and built by William Gosling in 1886. The building dimensions:
- Nave: 34′ long by 21′ wide
- Chancel: 16′ long by 11′ wide
- Bell Tower/Robing Room:
No wood is used in any part of the building except for the roof, domes, and staff heads holding the window sashes. The exterior is built of a rich, warm, reddish-brown sandstone from the Carlisle quarries of Springfield, MA. The stone was laid up rock faced and random squared. The porch and bell stage tower is of stone inside and out. The roof is covered with yellow pine and dark blue slate. The trusses, resting on stone corbels are of yellow pine as well. Copper is used for the gutters, leaders, finials, etc.
The floors are formed of brick arches spring between iron beams and leveled up with neufchatel asphalt and portland cement. They are lead in mosaic tiling, the body of one color, dark brown and the wide border of intricate design in many colors. The steps leading to the chancels are rubbed bluestone.
The walls are wainscoted with dark brown and red enameled brick to the height of four feet. Above the wainscot was plastered directly onto the brick and finished with a rough surface known as “carpet floated,” and will be delicately colored a light green. Throughout the chapel building a double wall has been built with an air chamber between, so that no damp air can find its way into the structure.
Stained Glass Windows:
There are fourteen windows in the chapel building. Five in the Nave, five in the Chancel and four in the Bell Tower. Some of the windows are backed by a yellow protective glass, which makes the effect much darker than would be the case were ordinary plate glass used.
The Chancel Windows, created by E.S. Oudinot of Paris, France include the large window behind the alter and the four small square windows on on either side wall of the chancel. E.S. Oudinot is also thought to have designed the window to the immediate right of the chapel nave entrance.
The three Nave Windows, designed by F. Gardin of Paris, France were made by L.O. Merson of the same city. Made specifically for the chapel they include the window above the front door and the two large windows on either side of the nave. The window to the left of the nave was made by Tiffany and Company. The Bell Tower has four windows, two facing the font of the building and two facing west over the side door.
Chapel description from an August 20, 1887 news article entitled:
The Belmont Chapel, Interesting Description of the Beautiful Altar and Elegant Furnishings
The Belmont Memorial Chapel is completed, so far as relates to the structure, but one after another beautiful feature has been added to the interior, and of these the most striking is the altar, recently placed in the chapel– an exquisite work of art that is the admiration of every one of who has been so fortunate as to see it. It is seven feet in length and is composed of Caen stone and different marbles with onyx columns, the later polished like gems. The center panel bears the sacred monogram, in each of the others there is a cross in relief, and over all are vines delicately carved and tenderly clinging to every point that offers support– cut by hands that realized how beautiful they are and how appropriately used for ornamentation. The corners of the altar are supported by life-size kneeling cherubs, whose flowing robes and graceful wings blend in and make a part of the structure, their hands clasped upon their breasts, and their eyes raised heavenward with a look of love and adoration.
On the super-alter of marble there is this inscription: This Chapel Erected to the Glory of God and in memory of Jane Pauline Belmont. Resting upon the super-altar there is a low cross, of the purest statuary marble, adorned with a wreath of flowers that cling around the word “Patience,” cut in relief upon the arms of the cross. This cross was taken from over the grave of Miss Belmont and upon its base is handsomely carved the following: Jane Pauline Belmont, Born April 11, 1856, Died October 15th 1875.
The whole is a study, and we are not surprised that many persons, hearing of it, have been attracted to the spot. Another recent feature is the chancel rail, of floriated and highly polished hammered brass, resting upon a sculptured base of Caen stone, over and around which ivies cling, cut by the same hands that so faithfully carried out the design for the altar. The benches in the nave are of oak, each bench having its own design.
On one the oak is introduced, on another , the fern, then the wild roses, the hawthorn, and so on; no two being alike. The designs of these beautiful features were furnished by Mr. George C. Mason, Jr. under whose supervision they have been brought to perfection. The altar and other stone work was executed by Mr. Robert D. Kelley of Philadelphia; the brass work by the Joseph Newmann co. also of Philadelphia, and the benches by Mr. Thomas S. Nason, of this city.
*The information above is a result of research conducted by Mr. Francis Girr of Newport who compiled details he obtained from several newspaper articles.
August (Schonberg) Belmont, Sr. was born to Jewish parents (Simon and Frederika Elsass Schonberg) on December 8, 1816 in Alzey, Hess. After he emigrated to the United States in 1837 he changed his surname to Belmont and converted to Christianity in 1849 when he married socialite Caroline Sidell Perry, daughter of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and niece of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Together they had six children including August Belmont, Jr. who was the founder of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), New York’s first subway line and built Belcourt Castle in Newport.
A self-made man, Belmont amassed his great wealth as a banker and financier. He first made his mark in the business world, when during the Panic of 1837, he preserved and restored the Rothchild’s U.S. interests. Among his many political achievements, Stephen A. Douglas named Belmont the chairman of the Democratic National Committee where he energetically supported the Union cause during the Civil War.
Belmont threw lavish balls and dinner parties, receiving mixed reviews from New York’s high society. He was an avid sportsman and the famed Belmont Stakes thoroughbred horse race is named in his honor. Edith Wharton reputedly modeled the character of Julius Beaufort in The Age of Innocence on Belmont.
In 1910, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward completed a bronze statue of a sitting Belmont. It was originally installed in front of the Belmont Chapel, but was later moved to Washington Square. In 1985, it was loaned by the City of Newport to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and was returned in 1995 to its current location, in front of Preservation Society of Newport County headquarters on the corner of Bellevue and Narragansett Avenues.
George Champlin Mason, Sr. (1820-1894) was born into a well-established Newport family and became a self- taught architect, opening his office in Newport in 1858. He added his son’s name to the business 1871. He was the city’s leading architect in the 1860s and 1870s though his work was primarily residential. Among his designs was August Belmont’s Summer House (begun 1860; destr.), Bythesea, a large and unprepossessing, hip-roofed clapboard structure with a cross-gabled pavilion accenting a symmetrical, three-bay entrance front.
The Island Cemetery and the Common Burying Ground are two separate cemeteries on Farewell and Warner Streets in Newport, Rhode Island. Together they contain more than 5,000 graves including a colonial era slave cemetery and Jewish graves. The pair of cemeteries were added to the National Register of Historic Places as a single listing in 1974.
Click here to download and view the 1974 application containing a wealth of information on the Island Cemetery and Belmont Chapel (starting on page 27.)
The Island Cemetery is a private cemetery started in the middle 19th century. Many members of Newport’s most prominent families have been buried there over the years including August Belmont, Sr., August Belmont, Jr., Richard Morris Hunt, Matthew C. Perry and Oliver Hazard Perry.