In 1876, Maryland Congressman and former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor Thomas Swann began construction on a summer home in Newport, Rhode Island. Situated a mere stone’s throw up the cliffside from Easton Bay, the house was dubbed Swann Villa, and established as a place of refinement and quiet peace. At the end of 2010, Nancy and Bill Bagwill finalized their purchase of the very same building. They removed hundreds of paintings, dozens of pieces of antique furniture, and directed the demolition crew to begin their work in accordance with a detailed plan for the Cliffside Inn, a lodging of refinement and quiet peace.

Several occupants held the home in the intervening years. Some were noteworthy, some were just passing through. Regardless, each added to the history of the house, enriching its very spaces with life and meaning. The Bagwills are proud, even fascinated with the lineage that eventually begat the Cliffside Inn, and they have allowed it to speak, in moderation, from the very walls. The Cliffside Inn is a product of the hard work and vision of the Bagwills, but many of its attributes come from older sources, stretching back, through history and upheaval, to the formative years of America.

Nancy Bagwill has been a practicing attorney for some time. Though the inn is her primary preoccupation now, she still does work – mostly pro bono – with the American Bar Association on issues of women’s rights in Africa. Bill Bagwill worked previously in hospitality, but at a paradoxical distance from his current job. Bill worked on the corporate side of things, in real estate development for large hotel companies. In 2008 the financial crisis arrived, slowing hotel development. Nancy and Bill, then living in Atlanta, decided to look for an entrepreneurial project they could embark on together. They traveled around the Southeast looking at properties and learning all they could about the small-scale hospitality business.

One day Nancy found the building that would become the Cliffside Inn “quietly being marketed online,” as Bill tells it. “They were very careful not even to mention the name of the property,” he says. However, the veil was not impenetrable. “Online, it’s pretty easy to figure out,” Nancy says. Bill’s retired parents were already living in Newport, within a couple miles of the property, and this weighed in the project’s favor. However, there was a catch. “We came up and looked at it – and it was too good to be true,” Bill says with a laugh. “It was in pretty tough shape, but we recognized it as a diamond in the rough.”

Though the exteriors and interiors were a little dilapidated, the “bones” of the house had weathered its century-plus with stolid dignity. “We figured if it lasted that long, it was good basic structure,” Bill says. No one could argue with the location. With Easton’s beach and the northern terminus of the famed Newport Cliff Walk within a half-mile, and the rest of Newport and Middletown right there, guests would be within convenient distance of many sights worth seeing and activities worth doing…. READ MORE







The Cliffside Inn












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