New England

Rhode Island

The Breakers
Tuesday, October 5, 1999

If the Gilded Age were to be summed up by a single house, it would be The Breakers.

Measuring 250 ft. by 150 ft., containing 70 rooms, the four story limestone palace is as much a monument to its time as it was a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family.

Exactly how the house came to be so large is uncertain.

Photos by Pat Tyler


Could it be that Cornelius scrapped the plans to replace the original Breakers—that had burned to the ground in 1892—for a much larger building modeled after the Renaissance palaces of Turin and Genoa because his brother George had something very grand under construction in Ashville, North Carolina?

Work on The Breakers began in 1893 and was completed in just over two years. That was a remarkable feat considering the workmen did not have the benefit of modern tools and machinery. Corps of workers, numbering in the hundreds, took part in the building, laying the walls up stone by stone. Whoile rooms were designed and built is shops of European craftsmen, then shipped to Newport for assembly.

For months, as the house went up, Newport society eagerly anticipated the opening of The Breakers. The house, it was rumored, contained tons of are treasures gathered in Italy and France.

When the housewarming, combined with a coming- out party for 20-year-old Gertrude Vanderbilt, was held August 14, 1895 the reality of The Breakers outshone the rumors.

When younger brother, George welcomed family and friends to Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina, on Christmas Eve in 1895, his holiday celebration marked the formal opening of the most ambitious home ever conceived in America.


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This page last modified August 31, 2000.