The Preservation Society of Newport County has introduced the new Beneath The Breakers Tour, offering guests a never-before-seen look into the working side of the Vanderbilt family’s summer home and what it took to bring a great house like The Breakers (1895) to life. Based on research by Preservation Society staff and period documents, including daily journals that were kept by The Breakers’ chief engineer Lawrence Bauerband, the tour shares with visitors how the house changed with the times as domestic technology evolved through the Gilded Age and into the 20th Century.
The unveiling of the tour follows an 18-month, $1.2 million project to preserve and restore the historic underground boiler room of The Breakers, located under the front lawn of the 19th century mansion as a fireproofing measure. The original skylights had been covered over, and ground water was seeping through the roof and walls of the basketball court-sized underground chamber. The entire structure was excavated and waterproofed to prevent further deterioration, and the skylights were uncovered.
The new tour comes on the heels of a special milestone for The Preservation Society as it recently announced that the Newport Mansions gave more than one million tours in 2016, the first museum in New England outside of Boston to achieve that many admissions.
The Breakers, one of the finest examples of 19th Century American architecture, was built by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family in just about two years. With the help of nearly 30 contractors, the house had state-of-the-art technical systems so that the Vanderbilts could easily control their environment. Much of the information about the operation of the house comes from the detailed journal of Lawrence Bauerband, who was the in-house engineer of The Breakers from 1916-1917. He oversaw, maintained, and repaired the electrical systems, the plumbing, the elevator, any interior or exterior work done to the house, and much more.
Beneath The Breakers will take visitors through the following spaces of the house:
- The tour begins with an introduction and short video in the caretaker’s cottage just inside the front gate of The Breakers
- Visitors will then descend the stairs to the underground boiler room to see the massive boilers that powered all five floors of the mansion
- The tour will continue down a 360-foot long tunnel connecting the boiler room to the main house
- The tunnel takes the group into the basement, where visitors will get an up-close look at the cutting edge construction techniques, electrical and plumbing systems of more than a century ago, and their modern counterparts.
Admission to the Beneath The Breakers Tour is $20 for Preservation Society members, $25 for non-members. Children between 6 and 17 are admitted for $10. Tour space is limited and advance reservations are required. Guided tours will be offered every 30 minutes. For the detailed schedule, visit www.NewportMansions.org. This is an underground experience in a historic structure and visitors will pass through some enclosed spaces. This tour is not handicapped accessible; comfortable, flat shoes are recommended.
The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties–seven of them National Historic Landmarks–span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development. For more information visit www.NewportMansions.org or follow The Preservation Society of Newport County on Facebookand Instagram.
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