On the Bay

What Lies Beneath the Breakers

A new tour by the Preservation Society of Newport County takes you below the Vanderbilts' famous mansion

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Take a trip underground to transport back in time. The Preservation Society of Newport County’s newest tour, “Beneath the Breakers,” gives guests a chance to explore the inner workings of the luxurious and cutting-edge Vanderbilt mansion.

The tour, which started in early January, takes visitors under the mansion to the boiler room, the central spot that powered the five floors of the Vanderbilts’ summer home. Visitors then walk through a 360-foot tunnel that connects to the basement, a spot the Preservation Society uses to display construction techniques and systems along with their modern counterparts.

Abigail Stewart, the Preservation Society’s education and interpretive programs specialist, highlights that “a lot of the technology from the 1890s stayed in the house,” including motors from the elevator system, iceboxes and the laundry technology. The tour provides a unique opportunity to see a “visual timeline of changes [the mansion] underwent.”

The 18-month restoration of the Vanderbilt mansion allowed preservationists to explore the documents of Lawrence Bauerband, the chief engineer of the house in 1916–17 who wrote daily about his tasks. These documents, Abigail says, provide a “personal connection from someone that was working there” that helps bring the past to life.

For members of the Preservation Society, the project helped with their larger goal of piecing together what 19th-century life in the Gilded Age looked like. As Abigail puts it, “These tours are living documents.” 44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport. 401-847-1000