The large estates built during the Gilded Age serve as a living memorial to a time when America’s wealthiest families, like the Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers, utilized them to display their enormous wealth to the public.And the Vanderbilt family was the best at it.
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a 19th-century industrialist and railroad mogul, was the source of the Vanderbilts’ wealth, which made them one of the richest families in the country.
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), a self-made man, worked alongside his father as a young boy, driving a ship that transported freight from Staten Island to Manhattan. He made a fortune working with steamships as he got older and used that money to invest in railroads all around the country.
He began by purchasing the New York & Harlem Railroad in 1863; soon after, he purchased so many of them that he is frequently credited with having successfully consolidated the railroad industry in the Eastern and Midwestern United States on his own.
Beyond that, the Vanderbilt family heritage is extensive.
With his successors continuing in his footsteps in business and philanthropy, Cornelius contributed millions in the construction of Grand Central Station in New York City and made the renowned donation of $1 million to Central University (which later became Vanderbilt University).
Gloria Vanderbilt rose to prominence as an artist, designer, actress, and author while Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney used her inheritance to found the Whitney Museum of American Art. William Henry Vanderbilt III once served as governor of Rhode Island.With Anderson Cooper, a distinguished journalist, author, and TV host, Cornelius’s great, great, great-grandson, the Vanderbilt light is still shining bright in the public eye.
However, the Gilded Age palaces built by the Vanderbilt family, which are magnificent historic homes sprawled across tens of acres of land, are their greatest enduring legacy.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY, the Marble House in Newport, RI, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, NY, and the family’s renowned summer residence, the Breakers in Newport, RI, are among them. The Biltmore Estate is also known as America’s largest home and Richie Rich’s house in the 1990s movie.
The Breakers mansion, a grand Beaux-Arts masterpiece with 70 rooms and a sprawling 13-acre garden, is truly a house unlike any other.And we’re here to take you on a tour of the past of this national historic site.
The Breakers mansion’s history
When the first Breakers building was finished back in 1878, Newport, Rhode Island, considered it to be the jewel of the city.The original residence, a Queen Anne-style cottage, was created by Peabody & Stearns for tobacco mogul Pierre Lorillard IV.It was constructed on Ochre Point Avenue along the Cliff Walk, on a vast estate with breathtaking ocean views.
In the greatest real estate deal ever completed in the region at the time, Cornelius Vanderbilt II paid $400,000 for the magnificent mansion in the fall of 1885.In order to rebuild the building, Vanderbilt rehired Peabody and Stearns and invested an additional $500,000 in improvements. That indicates that the railroad mogul spent what would be $26 million in today’s terms to build his Newport mansion.
Sadly, this investment was soon to be lost since a fire that erupted in the kitchen in 1892 severely devastated the home.
But Vanderbilt wasn’t about to lose the property, so he quickly started a reconstruction project that would completely rebuild The Breakers from the ground up.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II quickly assembled a crew to reconstruct the property after an unplanned fire destroyed his lovely Newport holiday home.To reconstruct the Breakers at 44 Ochre Point Avenue, he turned to renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt, who previously designed the Biltmore Estate.
The Breakers’ second, considerably larger iteration was finished in 1895, and once more, it was without a doubt the most magnificent and stunning home in Newport.Jules Allard and Sons and Ogden Codman created the opulent interiors in the manner of French chateaux like The Versailles.
The design team brought in the complex details, rare woods, and mosaics from all over the world, along with materials and objects from Italy, France, and Africa.
The brand-new estate, situated on a huge 14-acre coastal property, offered 62,482 square feet of living space spread across 70 rooms. The lavish Gilded Age palace is spread out over five storeys, making it simple to lose sight of all the rooms.
There were employee restrooms and a laundry facility on the basement level.
The first level is comprised of a lobby, a ladies’ and a gentleman’s reception room, a large great hall, an arcade, a library, a music room, a morning room, a lower loggia, a billiards room, a dining room, a breakfast room, a pantry, and a kitchen.The Countess Szechenyi’s bedroom, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s separate bedrooms, their daughter Gertrude’s bedroom, a guest room, and an upper loggia were all located on the second level of the Breakers.
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Additional staff quarters and an Ogden Codman-created sitting room in the Louis XVI-inspired style were located on the third story. The Breakers also had an attic floor, to finish.
Pretty unassuming, no? The family heirs of the Vanderbilts ultimately ran into difficulty in the 2000s as a result of their desire for grandeur.
Breaking with convention: What happened to the Vanderbilt estate after the Commodore’s passing
When Cornelius Vanderbilt II passed away in 1899 at the age of 55, he bequeathed his wife, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, The Breakers.
Her youngest child, Countess Gladys Szechenyi, received the Newport summer “cottage” after she passed away.You’re probably thinking, “Not bad for Gladys,” aren’t you? Well, reconsider.A property of this size required a lot of maintenance, and Gladys quickly became overwhelmed. For a pittance of $1 a year, she leased the land to The Preservation Society of Newport County in 1948.
In 1972, the society paid Countess Sylvia Szápáry, the daughter of Gladys, $360,000 for the land.
Sylvia was given life tenure as part of the agreement, and she remained a resident of The Breakers until her passing in 1998. The Society then granted her family permission to stay on the third level of the building, which has remained off limits to the general public.
The Breakers was the most popular attraction in the region for a number of years while the rest of the estate was conserved and made accessible to guests as a sort of Gilded Age museum.
For many years, the Vanderbilts and The Preservation Society coexisted together as if nothing had changed.
All of that changed when The Society proposed building a new welcome center directly on the garden, an idea the Vanderbilts vehemently rejected.
The Breakers installs a Welcome Center and no longer accepts Vanderbilt students.
The Newport Zoning Board authorized the new welcome center in 2015 despite opposition from historians, local associations, and Vanderbilt family members.
The family attempted to have the case heard by the Supreme Court, but they were unsuccessful, and the project continued.
Countess Gladys Szechenyi’s heirs, Gladys and Paul Szápáry, were ordered to leave their 12,500 square foot apartment on the third story of the Breakers home, which sparked controversy in 2018.
The Mansion’s obsolete plumbing, electrical, and ventilation systems, according to a statement from the Society, were no longer safe for domestic usage and were putting the entire building in danger.
Even though this was a joint statement from The Preservation Society and the Vanderbilts, several industry professionals stepped in to claim that this action was purely retaliation for the family’s objection to the welcome center.
Not merely the family had expressed reservations about the new building’s inappropriate placement on The Breakers’ historic grounds.
The Society had originally planned to hold the project on property they owned directly across the street, but they ultimately chose to stay in the estate garden.The Preservation Society continued working on the project, and the 3,750 square foot, $5.5 million welcome center debuted in June 2018.The center has ticket booths, interactive screens that display the estate’s history, restrooms, and a cafe.
We won’t take sides in this dispute. Perhaps updating century-old properties like The Breakers to meet contemporary standards isn’t all awful. The largest palaces and chateaux in the world have all done this.
Visitors will quickly discover that the gilded cage was considerably more fascinating when it still contained the birds, according to Jamie Wade Comstock, a cousin of Paul and Gladys Szápáry.
Questions You May Ask
The Breakers home in Newport, Rhode Island, whose owner?
The Preservation Society of Newport County presently owns the former Vanderbilt vacation residence after purchasing it in 1972 for about $360,000.
Who resided in The Breakers in Newport, RI?
The house was bought by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in the autumn of 1885, and for over a century it was the summer residence of his family. Gladys and Paul Szápáry, who left in 2018, were the final Vanderbilt ancestors to live there.
Is the Vanderbilt Mansion still occupied?
Although the expansive estate and the Gilded Age palace that serves as its focal point are open to guests, nobody now resides there.
Do you have access to the Vanderbilt summer home?
Absolutely. The famous Vanderbilt summer “cottage” is now open to tourists who want to see the Breakers mansion. Both a general admission tour and a family tour are available, and it is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm.
The Breakers mansion is how big?
The Breakers estate, which sits on a sizable 13-acre plot of land, boasts an amazing total of 70 opulently decorated rooms spread across 60,000+ square feet of living area.
When was it constructed?
The Breakers’ history began in 1878, when tobacco mogul Pierre Lorillard IV had it constructed. Soon after, Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought it and had to rebuilt it from scratch because the home had burned down in an 1892 fire.
What is the property’s address?
In Newport, Rhode Island, at 44 Ochre Point Avenue, lies the Gilded Age home.
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