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The Story of Taylor Swift’s Holiday House — Home to “the Last Great American Dynasty”

In a song featured on her 2020 album, Folklore, Taylor Swift pays tribute to her house in Rhode Island — and the eccentric socialite that once owned it.

singer Taylor Swift's house in Rhode Island

Taylor Swift’s 2020 album, Folklore, came as a surprise to everyone — including the artist’s celebrity friends, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, who had cautiously guarded the name of their third daughter since she was born, only to have Swift’s album reveal the name in a track named after her.

But imagine our surprise when we heard that one of the songs on the album is a reference to the Grammy winner’s house in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

And since celebrity homes are in our blood, especially when they come with their own backstory, we just had to do our due diligence and look up Taylor Swift’s house (and the story behind it), and boy, is it a good one. Think worthy-of-a-Taylor-Swift-song good!

Taylor Swift’s house in Rhode Island

Holiday House, Taylor Swift's mansion in Rhode Island
Holiday House, Taylor Swift’s mansion in Rhode Island. Image credit: Pricey Pads

Back in 2013, Taylor Swift paid a whopping $17.75 million for the 8-bedroom mansion — along with 700 feet of shoreline on Watch Hill, in Rhode Island.

The property spans 5.23 acres and is said to be “the highest point of direct waterfront land on the entire eastern seaboard.” It’s also the most expensive privately-owned home in all of Rhode Island.

Known as the Holiday House, Taylor Swift’s house was built in 1930 and comes with 8 bedrooms and just as many fireplaces. The reception rooms include a 36-foot long parlor, a 45-foot long sun room, and an octagon-shaped formal dining room with built-in china cabinets.

Taylor Swift’s house in Rhode Island. Image credit: Trulia

It doesn’t get any more humble when we move on to the bedrooms: There are four bedrooms on the second floor with en-suite bathrooms, and an expansive master suite with two bathrooms.

The master’s suite contains a sitting room with a wet bar as well as a widow’s walk terrace — which is a term used to describe a railed rooftop platform with an inner cupola or turret frequently found in 19th-century North American coastal houses. The name is said to come from the wives of mariners, who would watch for their spouses’ return, often in vain as the ocean took their lives, leaving the women widows.

View from Taylor Swift’s balcony. Image credit: Trulia

Featuring many entertainment spaces (not to mention plenty of room for private beach parties), the house’s pool is probably most known among T-Swift fans — as the artist frequently entertained her famous friends here, with pictures from her A-list pool parties ending on social media feeds of celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Ruby Rose, or Cara Delevigne.

It should come as no surprise that Swift has a special relationship with her Rhode Island mansion; just last year, during an appearance on Ellen, the singer said that the property is her favorite place to spend holidays in.

What she failed to mention at the time though, is how much she related to the woman who famously owned the house before her.

Taylor Swift’s Holiday House was once owned by Rebekah Harkness

The mansion was once owned by Rebekah Harkness, a high profile socialite who famously married into the Standard Oil fortune.

In her day, Harkness was as much of a media darling as Swift is now, and often the target of unfavorable headlines and press coverage. But equally unapologetic as Swift.

Also known as Betty Harkness, the woman Swift references as being part of The Last Great American Dynasty was a wealthy woman from St. Louis, who founded multiple dance companies.

Betty Harkness, the previous owner of Taylor Swift's house in Rhode Island
Betty Harkness, the previous owner of Taylor Swift’s house in Rhode Island. Image credit: Wikipedia

Harkness married four times during her lifetime, but it was her second marriage to Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness in 1947 that turned her into one of the wealthiest women in America.

According to Rhode Island Monthly, the couple bought the coastal property soon after wedding, and they became known for their (as Swift points out herself) “tasteful if a little loud” soirees.

Society, however, was quick to cast out the socialite-turned-widow who already had a reputation for being a bit eccentric. And so, Harkness, in turn, turned her back on them.

Her alleged offenses were grand and many: she took in a pet raccoon, allowed her dancers to practice at all hours on the front lawn, and brought her closest friends (which popular media back then called “the bitch squad”) to her house for lavish parties. Sound familiar?

After Harkness’ husband died in 1954, historians say that the socialite “got more and more eccentric”. Swift’s song highlights some of the most outrageous antics the heiress was known for, which included filling up her pool with Dom Pérignon, dyeing one of her pets green, and having a relationship with Salvador Dali (himself known as one of the most eccentric artists in modern history).

Rebekah gave up on the Rhode Island set forever

Flew in all her B*tch Pack friends from the city

Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names

And losing on card game bets with DalÍ

Taylor Swift, ‘The Last Great American Dynasty”

Taylor Swift picks up Harkness’ role

While Swift’s song is clearly about the gilded-age heiress, it’s undeniable that the lyrics draw a subtle comparison between herself and Rebekah Harkness in the song.

Swift likens her own star-studded parties to the bevy of famous composers and dancers that once frequented the Holiday House in Harkness’ days.

Photo from Taylor Swift’s famous July 4th party, held at Holiday House. Image credit: Cara Delevigne / Instagram

Also similar to Taylor Swift, Rebekah Harkness was often the target of harsh criticism from the tabloids and people in the area alike, and is no stranger to unfavorable headlines.

Just as unapologetic as the heiress herself, Taylor Swift picks up where the other one left off and assumes her role as part of the last great American dynasty living in the Rhode Island mansion:

Fifty years is a long time

Holiday House sat quietly on that beach

Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits

And then it was bought by me

Who knows, if I never showed up, what could’ve been

There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen

I had a marvelous time ruining everything

Taylor Swift, ‘The Last Great American Dynasty”

Featured image credit: Pricey Pads //  Taylor Swift headshot – © Glenn Francis

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Written by Georgie Mihaila

With a decade-long career in the real estate industry, Georgie started penning articles in 2011 as an associate editor for Multi-Housing News & Commercial Property News. She later transitioned to digital marketing for major real estate websites like PropertyShark, RENTCafé and Point2Homes, led the marketing division of fintech start-up NestReady, and served as marketing director for the world's biggest inspirational media brand, Goalcast. She then returned to her first passion, real estate writing, and founded Fancy Pants Homes, where she covers luxury real estate news, celebrity homes, and properties with an impact on popular culture.

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