Saturday, 6 March 2010

The mansions of Newport, Rhode Island


**NOTE: Photos in this blog are of "The Breakers."

This month Desert Breeze released "Destiny's Designs" by Regina Andrews and while I haven't read the book, the description really resonated with me. The main character, Lisa Machon, runs an interior design firm in Newport, Rhode Island. And Newport, Rhode Island has held a special place in my heart since high school.

I grew up in Manchester, NH and one of the most challenging classes I ever took was called "American Studies" as a Junior. It was a two period class that combined American Literature and History. It was not for the faint of heart. Mrs. Hussey and Mr. Lord where very demanding and at the time, I was challenged academiclly (sp?) like I never had been before.

In April of 1986 (I hate to date myself!) when we entered 20th Century America, and the Gilded Age, they took us on a trip to Newport, Rhode Island. It was an experience that still resonates with me today.

Newport is the home to many of the vacation homes built by the turn of the century millionares like the Vanderbuilts, The Astors, and the Whartons just to name a few. One of the mansions we went to was Rosecliff where the 1974 movie, "The Great Gatsby" was filmed. We also visited the Breakers, my favorite manision. It is a five story mansion that overlooks the sea. It has a great hall, and a working elevator. Can you believe it? A working elevator! At the turn of the century. It had plumbing, a modern kitchen, and central heating!

The Breakers belonged to the Vanderbilt family and was a symbol of their social and financial preeminence at turn of the century. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad. 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.

Most of the mansions are owned by the Newport Preservation Society, but they capture a photograph of life of what life was like for the rich at the turn of the 20th Century.


Since my initial visit, I went back often in the 1990's. I took my husband there shortly after we were married. It was a very romantic time for me.

The Breakers is just one manision in Newport and throughout the month, I'll sharing tidbits of the other mansions on Saturdays. Hope you enjoy!


Reference for this blog:


  1. I love old houses. These pictures are beautiful. Your information about them is fascinating. Elevators and indoor plumbing at the turn of the century, wow. The Breakers kitchen is huge. I'd like to cook there but I sure wouldn't want to do the dishes.

  2. I agree, Barri. I'd like to cook there, but the thought of doing the dishes send shivers down my shine.