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The Breakers Mansion: A Glimpse at Newport’s Gilded Age

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

Sightseeing in Newport, Rhode Island

Of all the magnificent mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, the grandest and most lavish certainly must be The Breakers. Considering that it was built as a summer cottage, it is hard to fathom that The Breakers as well as most of the other Gilded Age mansions of Newport, were only occupied for 6–8 weeks each summer.

Can you imagine owning a home as large and extravagant as this and only spending a handful of weeks there? But, considering that most of Newport’s mansions were owned by some of America’s wealthiest families, it makes sense that they owned more than one residence and moved between their homes as the seasons changed.

The Breakers from the Cliff Walk.

The Breakers from the Cliff Walk.

History of The Breakers

The Breakers was completed in 1895 and was the summer residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family. He initially purchased the property in 1885, but the mansion that was on the grounds burned in 1892. In planning for the new home, Vanderbilt went to great expense to make the new mansion as safe as possible to avoid another fire.

The use of steel trusses, imported marble, and the limited use of wood all contributed to one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture during Newport’s Gilded Age. The incredible craftsmanship, décor, and period furnishings will take visitors back in time to a glorious period of American history when the titans of the Industrial Revolution spared no expense for their summer cottages.

Gate to The Breakers

Gate to The Breakers

Getting to The Breakers and Parking

The Breakers is located on Ochre Point Avenue and has a prime waterfront location with magnificent views of Easton Bay. There is plenty of parking available, and the lot is located directly across the street from the main entrance. Parking is free of charge. There are also bicycle racks, and this is a great way to explore Newport. The Trolley is another good option for getting around Newport, and it does stop at The Breakers. We rode our bikes and found it to be an easy and enjoyable ride.

The Breakers Welcome Center

The Breakers Welcome Center

Taking the App Based Tour

Visiting The Breakers is relatively easy to do, and while guided tours were offered pre-pandemic, now all tours are done using the Newport Preservation Society app. This allows visitors to move at their own pace, and I can vouch that the app-based system works well.

You can download the app before your visit by going to the App Store and searching for Newport Mansions. You will see docents in the building as you take your tour, and they are available and eager to answer any questions you may have. Your app-based tour of The Breakers includes the first and second floors as well as the Kitchen and Butler’s Pantry. You will also have access to the grounds, which I highly recommend.

The gravel driveway leading to the front entrance of The Breakers

The gravel driveway leading to the front entrance of The Breakers

What to Expect on the Tour

As you walk through the front gate of The Breakers, you will find the new Welcome Center, ticket office, and garden cafe to your left. After securing your ticket, you can proceed up the gravel driveway to the grand entrance.

Everything about this mansion is impressive, and as you enter the first floor, you will be greeted by the magnificent Great Hall and Grand Staircase. This is just the start of a tour that will leave you wondering, exactly how much space did this family need to live comfortably?

The Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase

The First Floor

The app-based tour will take you around the first floor and then up to the second floor, where the family’s bedrooms were located. The Great Hall on the first floor was certainly designed with entertaining in mind, and the four massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are impressive. The room measures an incredible 50 feet wide by 50 feet long by 50 ft high. The ceiling is painted a sky blue with clouds, giving the impression of being outside. The large doors open to a vast patio overlooking the backyard that must have hosted many a social gathering.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

Other rooms on the first floor included in the tour are the magnificent Dining Room, Library, Music Room, Billiards Room, Breakfast Room, and the Kitchen with its shiny copper pots and pans dangling from above. As part of his attempt to keep The Breakers from having another devastating fire, Vanderbilt had the kitchen built on the first floor away from the main house instead of the customary basement location.

Adjacent to the kitchen is the Butler’s Pantry, which has a second-floor mezzanine and is stunning with the Vanderbilt’s fine China on display. The pantry has a large safe built into the wall that was used to store the family’s silver, which was no doubt worth a small fortune.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Second Floor

While The Breakers contains over thirty bedrooms, most of them were for the staff and were located on the third floor. Surprisingly, the second floor contained just enough bedrooms for the immediate family and a few guests. The Vanderbilt’s didn’t need a lot of guest bedrooms because most of their friends and acquaintances had their own mansions to go home to. The tour will take you through the bedrooms of Mr. Vanderbilt, his wife Alice, daughter Gertrude, daughter Gladys (Countess Szechenyi), and a guest room.

Mrs. Vanderbilts Bedroom

Mrs. Vanderbilts Bedroom

The second-floor balcony, or upper loggia as it’s referred to, opens to the scenic expanse of the backyard and Easton’s Bay. As you tour the second floor, be sure to enjoy the great views of the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase. From this vantage point, you really get a sense of the magnitude of the Great Hall.

View from the second floor balcony

View from the second floor balcony

The Great Hall from the second floor

The Great Hall from the second floor

Gardens and Backyard

When you are done touring the inside of The Breakers, venture outside and spend some time exploring the gardens and the backyard. A staff of 20 maintained the grounds, and they certainly must have kept busy to keep the property in meticulous shape. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, setting and if the surf is up, you may be able to hear the waves breaking on the rocks below, hence the name, The Breakers.

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

Most of Newport’s mansions have huge backyards that front the water and maintaining the grounds and gardens was an expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. The property of The Breakers encompasses 14 finely-manicured acres and has recently undergone a revival project that will be completed in phases over 5-years. It’s certainly not hard to imagine the grand parties that must have taken place here every summer.

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI

Money-Saving Tip

If you’re planning to tour more than just one of the mansions, ask about the multi-mansion ticket or consider purchasing a one-year dual membership to the Newport Preservation Society, which will get you and a guest into all their properties for a year.

The Breakers Visitor Information

Hours:

  • Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5 pm.
  • Starting November 1, the last admission is at 4 pm.

Admission Ticket:

  • Adults: $26
  • Youth: $8
  • Duo Ticker: $34 (admission to any 2 properties)
  • Duo Youth: $10
  • Summer Passport $42 (admission to any 3 properties, valid through November)
  • Youth Passport $12
  • Dual Membership $80 (entry into all the properties of the NPS for 2 adults for 1 year)
The Dining Room

The Dining Room

When to Visit

Hopefully, you enjoyed this brief tour of Newport’s most opulent mansion, and you get to explore it for yourself. When planning your visit to Newport, remember that it will be packed with tourists during the peak summer months. Consider a visit in early to mid-spring or in the fall when temperatures are more comfortable, the crowds are smaller, and accommodations are less expensive. Another wonderful time to visit The Breakers is during the Christmas Holiday when they decorate the mansion for the season.

There is a lot to discover in Newport in addition to the mansions, and it has many excellent restaurants. It’s a wonderful place for an extended weekend visit or longer, and there is plenty to see and do to keep you busy.

References

https://www.newportmansions.org/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Breakers

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 07, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada. The Breakers is spectacular. It’s hard to believe that one family needed so much space for a summer cottage. Glad you enjoyed the tour.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 06, 2021:

An interesting and informative article about the Breakers Mansion.

This sounds spectacular, and your photos provide a good virtual tour of this magnificent place.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful information.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 06, 2021:

Thank you Linda. The app-based tour was great and we were able to maintain a safe distance from others and go at our own pace It really worked out well.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 06, 2021:

An app-based tour sounds like a great idea, especially at this time. Thank you for sharing the facts and photos, Bill. I always enjoy your travel and exploration articles.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 06, 2021:

Thank you Heidi. It is difficult to comprehend that level of wealth and lifestyle. A relaxing Labor Day to you also.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 06, 2021:

I have heard of this place. It truly is over the top living, right? I can't imagine living in 70 rooms. Thanks for the virtual tour, and if I ever get out the way, I'll put this on my must-see list! Have a relaxing Labor Day Weekend!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 06, 2021:

Thanks John. Yes, they certainly lived a life that most of us will never know. There are a number of mansions in Newport that are open for tours, very interesting period of American history.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 05, 2021:

The Breakers would have been very opulent living that I can only dream about. Thank you for the interesting tour and wonderful photos, Bill.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 05, 2021:

Thank you Pam. It is hard to imagine living in such a large and lavish place. It was a fascinating tour and seeing how the ultra wealthy lived was so interesting. Glad you enjoyed it, have a great day.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 05, 2021:

I cannot imagine living in a mansion that I could get lost in!

However, it is stunning. Your pictures are gorgeous, and this would be such a beautiful place to visit. This is a magnificent mansion and I would like to take a tour. Thanks for the pictures and this information, Bill.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 05, 2021:

Thanks Peggy. It certainly is a magnificent place. It is hard to comprehend someone needing that much space. But, I suppose when money is of no concern the sky is the limit. There are many other comparable mansions in Newport, the wealthy were drawn to this area in the late 19th century, but The Breakers is considered the cream of the crop.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 05, 2021:

Thanks Bill. It’s a life I will never know also. But, it is fascinating to visit these places and thankfully they were preserved for us to see. Ever since Downton Abbey we have wanted to visit Highclere in England, maybe someday. Have a great day.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 05, 2021:

It's hard to comprehend that kind of wealth. Then I think about the fact that there are hundreds of such places in England. It's mind-boggling, you know? It's a world I will never know, nor will I understand. Thanks for the tour of the other universe, and Happy Sunday to you, buddy!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 05, 2021:

What a gorgeous mansion with magnificent grounds and setting! Thanks for showing us your photos and telling us about the admission charges. I may never see it in person, but your descriptions gave a great sense of what it would be like to do so.

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