The Breakers Mansion in Newport gets a Gilded Age sprucing up with new landscaping that replicates the original design that had become neglected. (Preservation Society of Newport County)
NEWPORT, R.I. (WJAR) — The Breakers Mansion in Newport just unveiled a new addition to its Gilded Age property: new landscaping that replicates the original that had been neglected over time.
Then, came the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 that wiped out what was left on the surrounding property.
When The Breakers was built then finished in 1895, under the direction of Cornelius Vanderbilt II as a summer cottage for his wealthy family on Ochre Point in Newport, just as important was the surrounding property, right at the lip of the Atlantic Ocean.
Landscape Architect Ernest Bowditch “made it an interesting place to take a walk,” said Trudy Coxe of the Preservation Society of Newport County, that runs The Breakers and a dozen or so other mansions as non-profits, open to the public.
Bowditch’s had 13 acres for his palate. The Vanderbilt’s wanted their privacy, yet something subtle: back to nature.
“It really was a pleasure-ground for the family,” said Jim Donahue, who is the Curator of Historic Landscapes for the Preservation Society of Newport County. “Away from the crowds. In that day, they were hounded by the public, and there were press that wanted to see them, so they needed a private place to walk.”
Bowditch started with a quarter mile serpentine path, lined by ornamental shrubs and trees, with gardens, controlled views, and “outdoor rooms,” “secret places where people could stop and rest and gaze at the garden itself, or gaze out at the Atlantic Ocean,” added Coxe.
When matriarch Alice died in 1934, outliving her husband by 35 years, The Breakers was losing its luster, the landscaping overgrown. Then, came the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.
“There was so much damage caused by that storm, that it never was restored to what it was previously,” added Donahue.
A few of the original trees like one large European Beach near the entrance beside the arcing driveway, are still on the property, but most of the rest of the trees were wiped out in the that hurricane.
By the time the Preservation Society of Newport County gained ownership in 1972, the priority was the mansion, like replacing the expensive roof.Now 50 years later, through $1.2 million in donations, a near perfect re-creation of the original landscaping is finished, the final piece of the puzzle.”We tried to recapture the spirit, that’s what we’ve been able to bring back. It completely transforms the look and the feel of this property,” added Coxe.