The Breakers is the grandest of Newport's summer "cottages" and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family's social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad, which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.
The Commodore's grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, became Chairman and President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885, and purchased a wooden house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. In 1893, he commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace the earlier wood-framed house which was destroyed by fire the previous year. Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures, Austro-American sculptor Karl Bitter designed relief sculpture, and Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters.
The Vanderbilts had seven children. Their youngest daughter, Gladys, who married Count Laszlo Szechenyi of Hungary, inherited the house on her mother's death in 1934. An ardent supporter of The Preservation Society of Newport County, she opened The Breakers in 1948 to raise funds for the Society. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the house from her heirs. Today, the house is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Breakers Stable & Carriage House
The Breakers Stable & Carriage House is located approximately a half-mile west of the house, on Coggeshall Avenue. Completed in 1895, it is 100 feet deep and 150 feet wide, U-shaped with a carriage house in the center.
The stable functioned as follows. There were two ways carriages were requested: Mrs. Vanderbilt sent a day-book down every morning at 8 a.m. with a list of the carriages that would be used that day, and people in the house could call down their requests on the telephone. When a carriage was requested, the horses were brought out, hitched, and left the building from the north door. All of the returning carriages entered through the south door. The carriages were unhitched, washed off, and wheeled into the carriage house. The horses were taken to the back, un-harnessed and washed down in two rooms with cement floors. The harness was cleaned and placed in the tack room. The horses went to the stable, which consists of 26 tie stalls and 2 box stalls.
The carriage house and stable were run by the head coachman. There were 12 grooms and stable boys working under his supervision, and they lived directly overhead on the north side. There was a large hayloft and grain room over the stable itself and the head coachman had a five-room apartment. To the rear, on the south side, there was a large kitchen, dining room and living room for the grooms and stable boys. Unfortunately, the second floor was destroyed by fire in 1970.
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who was a leader in the sport of coaching, had Brewster Company of New York, the finest of the coach companies, build him the Venture. He took the Venture, his coachman, grooms, and stable boys along with twelve teams to England each year, where he had a stage coach line that ran from Brighton to London. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they came up to London from Brighton; every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they went back down to Brighton. The run was about 50 miles and they stopped every 10 miles to change teams. They also stopped for lunch and for tea. The entire run took from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to complete. The Venture is among the coaches now on display in the carriage room.
In 1915, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was on the steamship Lusitania when it was sunk off the coast of Ireland at the start of World War I. As the ship went down, he gave his life jacket to a woman who could not swim, and as a result, he lost his life.
Also on display in the Stable is an exhibit on the New York Central Railroad.
Please note: The Breakers, Marble House, The Elms and Rosecliff are partially wheelchair accessible. For detailed information about access for visitors with special needs, please call (401) 847-1000.
Check the operating schedule.