The Breakers

Newport City, Newport County, RI

Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact

Photo: The Breakers, circa 1895, located at 44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport. Richard Morris Hunt, architect. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994. Photographed by wikipedia username: Itub, own work, 2005, [cc-3.0], accessed April, 2023.

The Breakers is located at 44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, RI 02840.


The Breakers [†], built between 1893 and 1895, is located on Ochre Point in Newport, and is sited on a 13-acre estate bordering cliffs that overlook the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The house occupies a commanding position on the outermost projection of Ochre Point and is the greatest representative of the collection of 19th-century summer houses located here. Inspired by the 16th-century palaces of the merchant princes of Genoa, The Breakers is in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa faced in Indiana limestone. The 250 foot by 150 foot dimensions of the mansion are aligned symmetrically around a central Great Hall. In its Italian equivalent, the Great Hall at The Breakers would have been an open air courtyard, but because of the difference in climate, this space was covered in its Newport interpretation. The house contains five levels: three floors of main rooms, a basement, and an attic. The elaborately decorated facades and interiors appear now as they did upon completion in 1895, as documented by the photographs of its construction in 1895 and those of its interior in 1904. The original furniture and fixtures, interior plasterwork, gilding and decorative painting remain untouched from when Cornelius Vanderbilt II occupied The Breakers.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899) insisted that The Breakers be made as fireproof as possible. Thus the structure of the building contains no wooden parts; steel trusses support the masonry and exterior Indiana limestone blocks. The finished floors are of marble, tile, terrazzo, and mosaic. The heating plant is beneath the caretaker's cottage, approximately 120 yards from the main house, and is joined to the basement of the house by a wide tunnel. Several hundred tons of coal could be stored at once in the underground boiler room. There are approximately 70 rooms in the house, 33 of which are devoted to the domestic staff that was required to maintain the house. These staff quarters are located primarily over the north wing of the building on the third floor.


members of the Vanderbilt family were the "merchant princes" of American life through their prominence in the world of finance, as patrons of the arts, and as vanguards of international society. Indeed, ?if the Gilded Age were to be summed up by a single house, that house would have to be The Breakers."1 In the year of its completion in 1895, The Breakers was the largest, most opulent house in a summer resort considered the social capital of America. The house was the product of two great men, Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899) and Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895). These men served pivotal roles in determining the course of American industry and architecture during the years of tremendous growth in the last half of the 19th century. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a key figure in American railroads, philanthropy, and fashionable society. The Breakers is a visual symbol of the Vanderbilts' preeminence in American life.

The Breakers is also the fullest expression of Beaux-Arts architecture in American domestic design by one of the founding fathers of architecture in America, Richard Morris Hunt. The Breakers is one of the few surviving works of Hunt that has not been demolished in the last century and is therefore valuable for its rarity as well as its architectural excellence. The Breakers was Hunt's final work, and is the singular house that has withstood the vagaries of time to be remembered as the monument that was the architect's greatest achievement. Richard Morris Hunt created a work of architecture that is the ideal of Beaux-Arts design and the aesthetic standards that were propagated by the artistic and cultural milieu that constituted the American Renaissance Movement. The Breakers made Hunt the "dean of American architecture" as well as defines the era in American life which Hunt helped to shape. The Breakers encapsulates the social and architectural forces that defined American society in the Gilded Age.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II conceived of the house as a visual symbol of his family's status in American society. He purchased the 13-acre plot of land from Pierre Lorillard in 1885, including the wooden house built in 1877 by the firm of Peabody and Stearns, which was devastated by a fire in 1892. In 1893, Cornelius commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to build the grandest house in New England, The Breakers. After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt, The Breakers was occupied by their youngest daughter, Gladys, who had become Countess Laszlo Szechenyi through her marriage to the Hungarian Count in 1908. The Countess maintained the mansion as her summer house for many years, opening it to the public in 1948 and leasing it to The Preservation Society of Newport County for a token sum of one dollar a year. After the Countess' death (1965), The Breakers was sold by her heirs to the Preservation Society in 1972. Countess Anthony Szapary, daughter of Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi, retains the third floor apartments of The Breakers as her residence during the summer months.

The design and construction of The Breakers is a reflection of the technology and vast wealth created by the American Industrial Revolution. The social hierarchy that supported the leisured ?grand manner" of life in Newport's summer colony was supported by the great fortunes of American finance, commerce, and industrial expansion.

Today the legacies of Mr. Vanderbilt and Hunt remain as they were when first rendered in 1895, carefully preserved in their original potency and for the public's edification. The house, intended originally to impress the elite social circles of Newport, now serves as a conduit to the general public in its ability to transport the nation as a whole into the world of the American Renaissance, and to envelop that person in the ideas that shaped our country in that era.

† Mr.John Tschirch, Director of Education, Mr. Maxim Antinori, Assistant, The Preservation Society of Newport County, edited by Ms. M. Carolyn Pitts, Architectural Historian, National Park Service, Washington Office, The Breakers, nomination document, 1994, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact
Privacy | Disclaimer

Copyright © 1997-2024, The Gombach Group