Sunday, November 1, 2009

A bite of New England - The Breakers

It's Sunday again and time for my New England tidbit. This one is a bit personal for me - The Breakers.

The Breakers is a manison in Newport, Rhode Island that was built at the turn of the century by the Vanderbilt's. I discovered The Breakers in 1985 when my American Studies class went there on a field trip. American Studies was an honor level class that combined American lit & English. The Breakers, of course, embody American history.

What do I remember from that field trip? Two things - I was finally gaining acceptance from my classmates. I was never much of a popular kid, and I pretty much stuck to myself, but I found myself making friends with the kids in my class - finally - and I was happy about that. I had someone to sit with on the bus and someone to eat lunch with. I was happy. Simple things, I know, but back then...

The day was overcast, I remember that. It didn't rain. It was April, I believe, but I could be wrong. The Breakers was HUGE. It was square and majestic, and it embodied everything I thought high society was all about. On that first trip, the Breakers left three impressions with me - The Great Hall was magificient - tall, deep, wide, it belonged in a movie. The view from the 2nd floor overlooking the ocean was amazing and it only deepened my love of the sea. The last thing - the Breakers was my favorite Newport mansion. It had an elevator - an elevator at the end of the 1800's. I was impressed. It's a testiment to it's time.

I've been to The Breakers since, but not recently. I took my husband in the early 1990's, because I wanted to show him a place that was beautiful to me. My friends, Idgy & Alyssa went along with my sister and cuzzin' Emmie. What I liked about this trip was the freedom we had to explore. One of my favorite pictures is that of me and Idgy imitating fish statues in the gardens. hehe.

Just a little history:

The Breakers was completed in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, but he only lived to enjoy it for 4 years - dying in 1899 of a cerebral hemorrhage caused from a second stroke in 1899 at the age of 55. He left the manison to his wife, Alice.

The previous manison on the property owned by Pierre Lorillard IV burned down in 1892 and Vanderbuilt bought it from him, using the most modern fireproofing at the time.

Vanderbilt's youngest daughter, Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886-1965), leased the high-maintenance property to the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 a year in 1948. The Society bought the Breakers outright in 1972 for $365,000 from Countess Sylvia Szapary, the daughter of Gladys.

Today, an agreement with the Society allows the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public.

Countess Sylvia died in 1998, but her children still summer there to this day.

Interesting facts: Although the mansion is owned by the Society, the original furnishings displayed throughout the house are still owned by the family.

It is now the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island with approximately 300,000 visitors annually and is open year-round for tours.

Controversially, in April 2009 the museum stopped offering personalized tours by tour guides due to a decision by management. Patrons now receive standard audio headsets.

The Designer:

The Breakers is also a definitive expression of Beaux-Arts architecture in American domestic design by one of the country's founding fathers of architecture, 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. The Breakers made Hunt the "dean of American architecture" as well as helping define the era in American life which Hunt helped to shape.

Info for this blog entry was taken from Wikipedia at:

If you ever get a chance to visit The Breakers in Rhode Island, I highly recommend it.