Newport Art Museum and Art Association (John Griswold Mansion)

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The original family may still be there, in visitation.

Being extremely successful doesn’t guarantee a happy home life.


The John N.A. Griswold Mansion, now the home of The Newport Art Museum and Art Association, has been classified by the National Registry of Historic Places as being a fine example of a Late Victorian, done in the Stick/Eastlake style. John Griswold hired the highly talented architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to build his 2 1/2 story dream mansion in 1864, when Hunt was in his mid-thirties. Historically, Hunt was a popular choice among the well-to-do people of Newport, to build their summer cottages.

John Griswold was a citizen of Newport, making his fortune through the “China Trade.” His family’s mansion was to be more than a summer cottage; it was built to be his family’s all-year round home, and needed to impress, yet be practical. Many large parties were held here by Mr. and Mrs. Griswold for their friends, and business associates, as well as for their only son, who grew up in this mansion.


Richard Morris Hunt worked hard to follow the requests of his clients, and did a beautiful job designing and building this huge mansion, in the Stick/Eastlake style. “The geometric ornaments, spindles, low relief carvings, and incised lines were designed to be affordable and easy to clean; nevertheless, many of the designs which resulted are artistically complex”.

The steep, complex slate roof is something that grabs the visitor at first sight. It is “comprised of a central mansard with multiple intersecting gables and dormers and covered with red, dark gray and light gray slate set in a diamond pattern.”

Looking at the outside decor of the mansion, is equally stunning. “Exterior sheathing consists of clapboard walls ornamented with contrasting simulated half-timbering.”

Not to be missed are three red brick chimneys with decorative concrete panels and concrete caps. More lovely touches include “deep overhanging eaves, balconies and overhanging gables, supported on heavy braces often ornamented with pendants.”

Peeking inside is equally thrilling. Paul Baker, who wrote extensively about Richard Morris Hunt’s building masterpieces, had this to say about The Griswold Mansion. “The openness of plan invites one to wander from one room to another. The many bays in the several principal rooms, as well as the octagonal shape of the dining room and library and the broken octagonal shape of the hall, give a sense of discovery in each area, and with the rich paneling and the varied timbered members the interior spaces provide a fascinating play of light and shadow. In a rather informal manner, Hunt had adapted well the Beaux-Arts lesson of the importance of relationships and the flow of interior spaces to a dwelling.”

Continuing on, the National Park Service describes more about the interior, so well designed and carefully executed by Richard Morris Hunt. “Exterior theme of applied timber is carried into the stair hall which also has exposed wooden trusses under the balconies, paneled beams and stringers. The main feature of the stair hall, a broad dog-leg stair, leads up to the second floor, and access to the third floor is gained by a stair in the east corridor on the second floor. At the base of the main stair, a carved griffin stands guard at the main newel post from which rises a tall wooden lantern topped by a round globe. At the rest of the stair and third floor balcony, square paneled newels with 3/4-round corners are topped by heavy finials. At the upper stories they have heavy carved pendants.”

John Griswold lived in this mansion from 1864, until his death, in 1909. The Griswolds’ glorious mansion stood vacant for several years, until the Newport Art Museum purchased the property, in 1915. After some renovations, like converting the East Wing into a gallery, The Newport Art Museum and Art Association opened in 1916.

The Newport Art Museum and Art Association has long been a pillar of art education and expression in Newport to such a high degree that it is among “only 5% of American museums to have achieved full accreditation by the American Association of Museums, the highest national recognition of a museum’s commitment to accountability and public service, professional museum standards, and excellence in education and stewardship.”

The Newport Art Museum has on display special exhibitions drawn from it’s permanent collection, and from the holdings of other museums and private collections; from classic to modern. These exhibitions expose the community of Newport to a wide variety of themes and styles, that well-represents the art world.

The Newport Art Museum and Art Association also looks for ways to encourage and give exposure to local and regional talent by planning opportunities for these local and regional artists “to exhibit their works in the “Newport Annual, Members’ Juried Exhibition,” one of several events planned throughout the year.

The Griswold family would be very honored and pleased that their mansion has been used for so many years to promote art, in so many ways; though parts of the mansion and stable are now art galleries, and the first floor bedroom is now the gift shop; sharing a beloved abode with the living can be annoying. The good news for them is that their former mansion has limited hours that it is open to the public, leaving the rest of the time to the entities of the Griswold family who may be residing or visiting here to enjoy their memories of happier times in their beloved mansion.



Sometimes entities return to visit or stay in their favorite spot in this world, where they had many happy times and great memories, especially if they had some unhappy events and consequences in their lives that they had to endure, as they lived out their years before passing into the spirit world.

It is possible that all three members of the John N.A. Family are still there, in visitation. Being extremely successful in business, and living a rich, lavish lifestyle doesn’t guarantee a happy home life.

Marital woes led Mr. and Mrs. Griswold to divorce in the early 1890s, and their only son killed himself in 1902, on Christmas day.

John Griswold died around 1909, with no heirs, perhaps from the consequences of suffering a broken heart from the loss of his son, that added to the stress and sorrow already suffered from the break-up of his marriage.

The ex Mrs. Griswold died only months after John Griswold passed away, perhaps from grief of losing him twice; (first time in divorce, second time in death.)

People who kill themselves often don’t find the escape they were looking for, and find that they still have the same sadness or distress. Killing oneself to get back at a loved one is not very satisfying, and can be a cause of regret.

The son may find some peace by remembering the good times he had at Griswold Mansion.



The experiences of paranormal activity have been reported since the Art Museum opened in 1916. It has long been community knowledge that The Newport Art Museum had spirits residing/living there in the building.

Unseen Presences Experienced

During the last renovation in 2007, the staff member who was all by herself, had the task of locking up and turning off the lights.

As she locked up downstairs, she heard music and saw light coming from the rooms at the top of the stairs. She went up the staircase, but when she arrived at the top of the staircase, it became quiet, and the lights turned off.

As she was leaving the mansion, she once again heard the music and saw the light. She called up to the second floor, “Have a good night and please don’t set off the alarms.”




While not enough experiences/or hard evidence have been revealed to say that the Griswolds are still in residence via visitation, no cleansing of the mansion has been done, and nothing has changed concerning the spirits’ individual regrets and sorrows of this world. They could still need to remember happier times in a mansion they loved, and still enjoy being entertained as well by all the activities and events planned at the Art Museum.

It was reported that for awhile, during the 2007 construction, the Griswolds probably took a holiday, as many living homeowners do in this world, when construction is taking place in their homes. But the construction ended years ago, and chances are that they probably have moved back in, enjoying the exhibits, having the pride of hosting an Art Museum for the community, and remembering their happy years together that they spent in this mansion.

No findings from paranormal investigations, if allowed at all, have been reported publicly. The Newport Art Museum already knows who is keeping them company, and the paranormal activity is so benign that they don’t want to agitate these potential spirits, or cause an increase in the activity. They also don’t want to draw attention to these spirits, attracting annoying “ghost hunters,” and take away from all their earnest efforts to be a premiere art museum and educational center.

Many people, though, have experienced paranormal activity for years; probably at the benign level; music, light, perhaps footsteps, items moving. As the Newport Art Museum closes at 4:00 pm, probably most of the paranormal activity may happen at night, when the living aren’t there.




424 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, Rhode Island

The Newport Art Museum and Art Association building, originally known as the John Griswold Mansion, is located near the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Old Beach Road, next door to The Redwood Library. The huge, handsome mansion sits back from the street, with a huge, grassy yard in front.


  • Ghosts of Newport: Spirits, Scoundrels, Legends And Lore
    by John T. Brennan
    Haunted America
  • American “Stick style” architectural style page on Wikipedia * “Eastlake Movement” architectural and household design reform movement — Wikipedia

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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