There are house museums and then there are the Newport, Rhode Island mansions. No matter what you think of historic houses, house museums, and tours, it is impossible to be unimpressed by the Newport mansions. This is particularly true about The Breakers, the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt and family, the quintessential home of the Gilded Age.
Recently, a dear preservation friend and fellow UVM alum, Katie gave me a weekend tour of Newport, which included a visit to The Breakers. The tour was an audio tour, a new experience for me. Each guest is given a headset and small audio device. Signs guide you from room to room along with directions narrated on the recording. Each room has a separate audio track. All you have to do is press play when you are in a new room. You can listen and move about the room, and linger until you are ready to move. Supplemental tracks give more information to those interested. Katie and I did our best to press play at the same time. A few times we had to correct the track, but all we had to do was type in the track number.
You know what? The audio tour was excellent. It was clear, informative, interesting and included oral history excerpts. Often in historic preservation we talk about the lack of accurate sounds for historic houses – and audio tours solve that. I loved it. Granted, I could have been entertained with very little in The Breakers, but I am glad to have taken the audio tour.
The Breakers is breathtaking and almost left me speechless. The opulence is evident in every single inch of the mansion from floor to ceiling. They look impressive on the exterior yes, but the interior – my goodness, I cannot do it justice. The lifestyles are fascinating – what a unique period of time and social class in American history, one that will never happen again (the Gilded Age was prior to the income tax). Most of us cannot fathom such a life.
But how grateful we should be to the Newport Preservation Society for preserving and sharing these mansions and this history with us, and for providing us with the opportunity to imagine the life of the Gilded Age.
By all means, visit the Newport mansions when you are in Rhode Island. And do tell, what do you think of audio tours?
15 thoughts on “An Audio Tour at the Newport Mansions”
I’m ashamed to say that I have yet to visit although I’ve lived across the bay (a quick 20min) for over a year and a half! Will have to rectify that soon. Come again and contact me! It is beautiful in the summer.
Miriam, I most definitely will! I miss you!
I love the Newport Mansions. I’ve been meaning to go back with my teenagers, so they can see them. I think they’d find them breathtaking too. I’ve visited three times about 20 years ago (1x a year over a 3 year period). Once was my honeymoon. Thanks for sharing your experience visiting the Breakers with us.
I bet your teenagers will love these mansions. Oh, the beauty!
Newport is one of my favorite places in the world. It has history, beaches, and all the waitors and shop girls and people working tourist booths have Irish accents. Not to mention I had one of the best sandwiches of my life there. The mansions are amazing and truly fascinating. My favorite was the Astor Place, which has actors and keeps up the illusion that it’s 1904 (I think 04). It’s incredibly informative and gives an unbiased view of the good and the bad. I didn’t get a chance to go on Belcourt Castle’s ghost tour though. I was so looking forward to it.
There are so many to see. I think my best bet will be to buy a combination ticket and visit as many as I can in a weekend!
did you find any place in the Breakers where you could have had a private conversation or a quiet day by yourself?
I’m glad I went. I found it an amazing show (off) place, but not a place for living.
I know : it’s just the architect speaking
I don’t know how I would live in the Breakers, but perhaps if I were of the Gilded Age class. There are so many rooms, however, you could probably find a spot to spend time by yourself. Perhaps in the music room or the library.
perhaps the audio made it more personal? I wouldn’t mind being wrong.
Good thought. Maybe that’s it — your own personal tour, especially because you can linger as you want.
Reblogged this on pirtukgeh.
My wife and I would visit Newport every summer, from the first time in 1971 until our last visit 2013. For many of our vacations there , from the mid 70’s until the early 90’s we stayed in the cottages at the Inn at Castle Hill. Prior to the renovations and even in a renovated Cottage one year. We purchased a Time Share at the Wellington when a week at the newly renovated Beach Cottages became too costly. We lived in North Jersey so the trip to Newport, across the Tappan Zee and then up 95 only took about 4 1/2 hours. After we retired to Georgia the drive became a problem so we sold the Wellington Time Share. On our last visit we were disappointed to see Perrini’s restaurant was gone. We made it a point to eat there every year. Over the years , as an Antique Postcard Collector, I have managed to accumulate hundreds of Vintage Postcards of Newport. However, and this is where I’m hoping other Newport visitors can help me out, I have never seen an Antique postcard of the Cottages at Castle Hill. I have several different views of the Lighthouse and a old views of few of the Inn . but nothing of the Beach Cottages. I’d love to see some old photos of the Beach Cottages. I was told they were constructed in the early 1920’s but never verified that as fact. Also I was told that Artillery Guns were set on the coast along Brentons Point during WWII to protect against enemy submarines attempting to enter Narraganset Harbor and that a chain was pulled across the harbor entry for protection from submarines. I’ve never been able to verify this information though . Every year we would take the Harbor Tour on one of the tour boats, The Amazing Grace was one of them and the Tour Guide would come up with various bits of interesting information of which much was probably less than factual. Like the house on the rock in the center of the harbor and more. If anyone reading this wants to share old Newport RI stories or photos I would surely be happy to do so! Newport was the perfect New England vacation. We saw the America’s Cup trials, Tennis and Golf Tournaments, Kite flying at Brenton’s Point, movies being filmed, and so on. The Mansions, the restaurants, nightlife, and the private beach at Castle Hill the downtown history, Hammersmith Farms when it was open for tours, and on and on. Before it was as built up and as crowded as it has become.
Thank you for sharing your memories, Gregory. Maybe another reader will have some info to share.