The English are known for their opulent country manors, but many wealthy Americans built mansions in the United States. The Breakers, summer home to the Vanderbilts, is one of the largest and most well-known.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt II purchased a property in Newport, Rhode Island in 1885 for $450,000. The home would serve as a summer “cottage” for the Vanderbilt family.
- In 1893, the house burnt down. Vanderbilt hired Richard Morris Hunt to create a 125,339 square foot Italian villa in its place. The new home was built between 1893 and 1895.
- The Breakers, as the home is called, takes up an entire acre of the property’s 14 acre estate. It has five floors plus a very large stable and carriage house.
- On the first floor of the home are the Great Hall, receiving rooms for both women and men, a library, music room, morning room, kitchen, dining room, pantry, and other rooms.
- The dining room is 2,400 square feet—the size of many entire homes. The table seats 34 people. The cast iron stove in the kitchen is 21 feet long.
- Above each door in the Great Hall leading to other parts of the house are limestone figures of people (real and fictional) who have contributed to the world. Dante symbolizes literature, Galileo is for science, and Apollo represents the arts.
- On the second floor are the family’s bedrooms. Alice, Cornelius’s wife, had four closets and changed her clothes seven times each day.
- On the third floor, are 30 bedrooms for staff. The attic has additional rooms for staff and storage.
- Cornelius died in 1899 of a stroke. He left the house to his wife, who left it to their youngest daughter, Gladys.
Her daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary, sold it to the Preservation Society of Newport in 1972 for $365,000. The society agreed that the countess could live there for the rest of her life. Today, the home is open to the public, except for the third floor, which the family still lives in.
- Carriage House: a building that holds carriages
- Staff: employees
Questions and Answers
Question: Where did the Vanderbilt family get their wealth?
Answer: Cornelius’s grandfather (1794-1877) began the family’s fortune with steamships and later the New York Central Railroad, which was very important in the country’s industrial development.
Watch a video of the Breakers.
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