The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 3: The Breakers

Several years ago I toured some of the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island – the place where anyone who was anyone had a summer “cottage” in the waning years of the 1800s. The very wealthy heirs of New York Central railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, were of course, no exception. William Kissam Vanderbilt had a mansion in Newport called Marble House, and his elder brother Cornelius II had The Breakers. While Marble House is remarkably lavish, it lacks the typical Vanderbilt aesthetic that one would find elsewhere – mostly because the home was designed for and by William’s wife Alva. The Breakers, on the other hand, has many of the obvious symbols representing both transportation and the Vanderbilts – the caduceus, acorns, and oak leaves.

Sketch of the gates for The Breakers
Sketch by architect Richard Morris Hunt of the gates for The Breakers

Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought the property on which the Breakers sits in 1885. The house on the property was wooden, and burned down in 1892. After that fire, Vanderbilt commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a new summer home. Designed to resemble the palaces of Italy, the home had a total of 70 rooms and five floors. The Breakers is certainly one of the most extravagant homes in Newport, a symbol of the Gilded Age, and a representation of the fortunes amassed by the railroad barons of the United States.

The Breakers
The Breakers
1895 photos of The Breakers from the Library of Congress.

Despite my visit several years ago, I never managed to post the photos, for some reason. So here are some photos from The Breakers. If you missed parts one and two in the series, you can also find them here:

The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 2: Hyde Park
The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 1: Marble House

  
 
  
   
  
 
  
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
Rhode Island Mansion, The Breakers

For the next three weeks, this blog will be on a temporary hiatus as I am traveling in eastern Europe. I will likely be checking in on social media, so be sure to follow I Ride the Harlem Line on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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On the Hunt for Grand Central’s Acorns

Sometimes I get questions from people about what I would do if I actually worked as a graphic designer for Metro-North. You know what I would do? I would hide acorns. Everywhere. (Hey, at least it beats some company stealing photographs from some website for an Employee “Professionalism” guide – there’s a joke in here, somewhere)


Maniculed Mileposts AND acorns. Because I CAN! (and yes, I know that Metro-North themselves don’t do the timetables)

Honestly, though, hiding acorns would be pretty funny. If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you may be familiar with the concept of hidden Mickeys. Mickey silhouettes are frequently hidden throughout the parks in places where you’d least expect them. Believe it or not, Grand Central has a particular item hidden in plain sight throughout – the acorn. I’ve mentioned it before, but the acorn was a symbol adopted by the Vanderbilt family, in lieu of a crest. As the saying goes, “from an acorn a mighty oak shall grow” – which appropriately reflects the successes of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

While the whole acorn thing is public knowledge, I don’t know how many people have made it into a game of finding as many acorns as possible. If Howard Permut has his way, you’d never wait more than 15 minutes for a train, but if you ever happened to get stuck in the Terminal with kids (or dingdongs with cameras), you can always spend the time hunting for acorns…

   
   
   
   
   
 
   
  

Although William Kissam Vanderbilt played a significant role in the aesthetic of Grand Central Terminal (and pushed the “Vanderbilt look” with the assistance of his architect cousin Whitney Warren), he played practically no role in the design of his Rhode Island mansion, Marble House. However, Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s mansion in Rhode Island, on the other hand, shares much of the same Vanderbilt aesthetic as the Terminal. In fact, you can also play the “Acorn Game” at his home, The Breakers.

  

I swear, one of these days I’m actually going to post all the photos I took at The Breakers last year… until then, have fun searching for acorns the next time you’re in Grand Central!

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