Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) was born on October 31, 1827, in Brattleboro, Vermont, the son of U.S. Congressman Jonathan Hunt (1787-1832) and Jane Maria Leavitt (1801-1877). After Jonathan Hunt died of cholera in 1832, he left his wife a sizeable estate which enabled her to provided their five children: Jane Maria (1822-1907), William Morris (1824-1879), Jonathan (1826-1874), Richard Morris, and Leavitt (1830-1907) with the best educational and social experiences. The Hunt family lived in New Haven, Connecticut, New York City, and Boston before traveling to Europe in 1843 and remaining there for nearly twelve years.
While in Europe, Richard Morris Hunt took an interest in architecture and became the first American to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1855, he returned to New York to establish his own architecture practice and soon became one of the prominent leaders in his profession by introducing the county to Beaux-Arts, Renaissance Revival, and High Victorian Gothic architecture. He also established the first American architectural school at his Tenth Street Studio Building and co-founded the American Institute of Architects.
Hunt was recognized for designing elaborate homes and interiors for wealthy patrons and by assisting in the creation of the face of New York with his designs of the façade and entrance to the Metropolitan Museum, the New York Tribune Building, the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, and various mansions along Fifth Avenue which have since been destroyed. Hunt became one of the most fashionable architects of the Gilded Age and is best known for his spacious Newport cottages. Hunt was responsible for the designs of the Griswold House (the Newport Art Museum), Ochre Court, Marble House, Belcourt Castle, and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island. He also designed the Biltmore House for the Vanderbilt family in Asheville, North Carolina, the largest private home in the United States.
Richard Morris Hunt married Catherine Clinton Howland (1830-1909), daughter of Joanna Esther Hone and Samuel Shaw Howland of New York on April 2, 1861, and the couple had five children: Richard Howland (1862-1931), Catherine Howland (b. 1868), Joseph Howland (1870-1924), Esther Morris (1875-1901), and Herbert Leavitt (1877-1960). Hunt died on July 31, 1895, at his summer residence in Newport and is buried at the Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery. His son, Richard Howland Hunt, took over Hunt’s architectural firm after his death, while Mrs. Hunt continued to live between their summer home in Newport and New York City until her own death in 1909.