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Touring The Mansions of Newport, Rhode Island: The Breakers

When my husband and I visited Newport, Rhode Island in October 2021, three of the most popular mansions were open: Marble House, The Breakers, and The Elms. I will write about each of them in separate blogs. 

The Breakers

Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899) built The Breakers in 1895. He was the grandson of Cornelius (“Commodore”) Vanderbilt (1794-1877), who made his fortune in shipping and railroads.  Originally, The Breakers was a wooden home that Cornelius Vanderbilt II purchased as a summer home for his family. After it burned down in a fire in 1892, he commissioned a second Breakers to be built by architect Richard Morris Hunt–the same architect who, along with Alva Vanderbilt, designed Marble House (see Marble House blog).

The Breakers, photo by Bill Gough
Another View of The Breakers

“A Stage to Receive the World”

Of all the “summer cottages” in Newport, The Breakers is the largest. Named after waves breaking on the cliffs below, The Breakers was designed to mimic an Italian Renaissance Villa. It contains seventy rooms and twenty bathrooms. The Vanderbilt’s were cognizant of their place in the world; they knew that they represented the pinnacle of opportunity and success in the US at that time. They therefore designed The Breakers as a “stage to receive the world.” (Quote from the Newport Mansions App)

Looking Down onto the Great Hall
Looking up from within The Great Hall, photo by Bill Gough

Newport Mansions App

Before I continue with this blog, I want to encourage everyone who might do a Newport Mansion’s Tour to download the Newport Mansions App. I listened to every bit of it while I toured and am re-listening in order to write this blog. It is informative, entertaining, and the audio voice and quality are very good. The app was made available by the Preservation Society of Newport County. It can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The Dining Room

The dining room is decorated with crystal, alabaster, and gold. And the beautiful chandelier’s–in fact every light fixture–were ahead of their time: they ran on electricity! However, Cornelius Vanderbilt II also had all the house lights piped for gas, because electricity was so unreliable.

The Dining Room
A Window Treatment in the Dining Room. That is Real Gold all around the Window.

The Morning Room

The Morning Room was a room for the ladies of the house. Mrs. Vanderbilt likely conducted some of her household and society business here.

The wall panels of the Morning Room were built from platinum. Photo by Bill Gough
Portrait of Daughter Gladys Vanderbilt who inherited the Breakers in 1934. In 1948, she began leasing The Breakers to the Preservation Society of Newport County for $1.00 a year.

The Music Room

Every member of the family played a musical instrument; Mr. Vanderbilt played the violin and Mrs. Vanderbilt played the piano. Balls and weddings occurred in this room.

The Music Room, photo by Bill Gough
The Music Room, photo by Bill Gough

The Library

The family had afternoon tea in the library. They played cards in an alcove off the library.

Peering into the Library
I would love to play cards here!
Every room and piece of furniture is filled with detail, like this grandfather clock.

The Kitchen

Cornelius Vanderbilt II had the kitchen built in another wing, because he did not want to risk fire breaking out and burning down the house. A famous chef, Rudolph Stanish, got his start as a “kitchen boy” at The Breakers in the 1930’s. You can read his story here.

The Kitchen, photo by Bill Gough
No Burners–The Entire Cast-Iron Surface Heats Up.

Visiting The Mansions

Currently, only The Breakers is open. Marble House will open for weekends only, starting FEB. 5TH. It will be open daily starting FEB. 19TH.
 The Elms and Green Animals Topiary Garden will open daily in APRIL. 
Rosecliff will open by the END OF MAY. They will also host an exhibit of Gilded Age objects starting May 27th, 2022.

All visitors must show proof of vaccination, including the booster. For the record, I STRENUOUSLY OBJECT TO THIS. Hopefully the restriction will be lifted this year so that EVERYONE can visit the Newport mansions.

Upper Loggia, used as an open-air living room, photo by Bill Gough

For more information, see the Newport Mansions’ website. And if you missed it, here is my blog on Marble House, as well as my blog on where to stay, eat, and walk in Newport.

Stay tuned for another blog on The Elms. Hope you enjoyed this blog, and please remember to share it with others. Thanks!

 

3 Comments

  1. Jeannine Jeannine

    Thank you, Karen, for this condensed pictorial tour of The Breakers. The intricate details, planned and executed in each room, are really amazing. Gold and platinum as decor accents!!! Wow! Thank you for telling us about the Newport Mansions App as well. 👍

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      You are so welcome Jeannine! The mansions are so beautiful but can be a bit much (to put it mildly), so if you go I recommend spacing out your tours! 😁

      • Jeannine Jeannine

        I have toured one or two of the Newport mansions in my lifetime. One, I recall, featured a subtle acorn motif throughout as part of the family emblem. It symbolized “strength.” And the lady of the mansion’s bedroom was gorgeous with fabric in place of wallpaper. All that wealth tends to overwhelm me, so small doses is very good advice!

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