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.