Shortly after Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for his liberal religious beliefs, Anne Hutchinson suffered the same fate in Boston. On his recommendation Hutchinson and her followers purchased Aquidneck Island from the local Indians and settled at the northern end of the island in an area known as Pocasett in 1636. Her little band too experienced a rift and in 1639 a group led by William Coddington and Nicholas Easton moved south to form Newport.
Blessed with one of the deepest natural harbors in the country Newport was an established shipbuilding center within a decade. Over the next hundred years more than 150 wharves would be constructed and the bustling seaport was handling as much trade in rum, candles, fish, silver and, yes, slaves, as the leading American ports of Boston and New York and Charleston.
During the American Revolution the British wasted no time securing Newport and its fine natural harbors. When hostilities erupted, Captain James Wallace controlled Narragansett Bay with a small force that remained in place until driven away in April 1776 by fire from shore batteries. General Henry Clinton would not leave for three years and in that time som e400 houses - almost half the town - were destroyed for firewood and other uses.
The Newport harbor was essentially closed for the entire Revolution, and the seaport never regained its prominence as a shipping center. The population cascaded from 11,000 in 1775to barely half that a year later. The population scarcely rose again by 1870. The factories and warehouses that were built elsewhere during the Industrial Revolution proved to be a blessing for Newport. In the 1840s when wealthy Southern planters sought relief from humid Lowcountry summers they found retreats in a place progress had passed by - Newport. For the next century America’s wealthiest families beat a summer path to Newport and in their wake came artists and theologians and writers and architects. The Newport “cottage” was the symbol of America’s Gilded Age.
Our walking tour will begin on the fringes of this opulence and work down to the historic waterfront where the sea has shaped Newport for the better part of 400 years...
186-202 Bellevue Avenue
This was one of the earliest commissions for the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White who would become one of the legendary firms in American architecture. Charles McKim drew up the plans for the exterior and Stanford White executed the interior of what would be recognized as America’s first country club. The Casino’s club rooms, grass tennis courts, theater and stores catered to the social elite who summered in Newport. Today the Casino is regarded as one of the pioneering and finest examples of Victorian Shingle Style architecture in America. In spite of its pedigree the Casino was in imminent danger of demolition by the 1950s with Newport’s glory days as a Gilded Age resort behind it. It was rescued by the United States Lawn Tennis Association which held its first championship at the Casino in 1881. The tournament, today the U.S. Open, was staged at the Casino until 1914 when the annual Horse Show and Tennis Week was among the biggest events of the Newport social season. The Casino became the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and inside retains many of its original design elements. The Newport Casino is the centerpiece of one of the most spectacular commercial blocks in America. To its right, on the corner of Memorial Boulevard, is the Travers Block designed by prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Stick Style in the 1850s and to the immediate left is the Kings Block, developed by the King family who made their fortune in the China trade and reinvested the money in Newport real estate as the seaside community evolved into America’s poshest summer resort. Diagonally across the street is their estate, Kingscote. At the end of the block the colorful glazed terra cotta Audrain Building was developed in the Italian Renaissance style by Bruce Price, an architect of choice for many of Newport’s elite.
WALK DOWN WILLIAM STREET, ACROSS FROM THE NEWPORT CASINO.
John Davis House
68 William Street
This neighborhood was home to a tight-knit community of free blacks in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the homes built here have long been demolished. John Davis bought this lot in 1804 and is believed to have built this simple two-story, side gable house, a single room deep. The Davis property also included the lot next door on which today stands the Coggeshall House that originally stood in Westport, Massachusetts and was built around 1710. The Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) purchased the house in 1977, disassembled it, and relocated it to the William Street site.
AT THE END OF WILLIAM STREET, TURN LEFT ON SPRING STREET. WALK PAST THE NEWPORT LIBRARY AND TURN RIGHT ON YOUNG STREET. GO TO THE BOTTOM AT THE HILL TO THAMES STREET. TURN RIGHT.
Samuel Whitehorne House
416 Thames Street
Samuel Whitehorne made a lot of money distilling rum and trading slaves. He padded his coffers with interests in a bank, an iron foundry and shipping. With most of Newport in post-Revolutionary War shambles, Whitehorne was one of the few merchants prospering and he built a grand Federal-style mansion overlooking the harbor to show it. Unfortunately, after two of his ships were lost at sea, he went bankrupt and the house was sold at auction a year before his death in 1844. The house was converted to shops and apartments and badly deteriorated when it was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1969. A restoration, including the re-establishment of the classical entry portico and a formal garden, has brought the house back to its original glory.
Francis Malbone House
392 Thames Street
Colonel Francis Malbone made one of Newport’s largest shipping fortunes in the days before the Revolutionary War. And apparently not all the goods flowed through the custom house - subterranean passages found in the cellar of this house built in 1758 have been traced to a subway leading to the pier where Colonel Malbone moored his fleet. The well-proportioned Georgian mansion was designed by Peter Harrison, one of colonial Newport’s most prominent architects.
Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church
Thames and Brewer streets
In 1896 a quartet of Greeks arrived in Newport from the Aegean Sea island of Skiathos, drawn by Newport’s small, but thriving fishing industry. Many fellow Greeks followed and services within the Greek Orthodox Church became necessary. After meeting in various borrowed spaces, the community purchased an early 19th century clapboard building in 1924. In the 1940s a brick veneer was applied to the building’s exterior, the entrance was moved from Brewer Street to Thames Street, and twin towers were added, making the church visible from every point in nearby Newport harbor.
The Newport Armory
365 Thames Street
The Newport Armory was designed by Edwin Wilbur and built in 1894. Among other things, it was noteworthy as the site of the media center for the historic 1983 America’s Cup. Armory Wharf, including Ann Street Pier, is the only publicly owned property on Newport Harbor on this stretch of Thames Street between Perrotti Park and King Park.
Perry Mill Wharf
337 Thames Street at the foot of Memorial Boulevard
Large stone mills were built on the Newport waterfront to house the growing whaling and textile industries in the 1830s. Alexander MacGregor a Scottish immigrant and stonemason who built Fort Adams built this massive structure of random ashlar in 1835 to be a textile mill. The Industrial revolution never truly ignited in Newport and General Electric took over the commodious space in 1943 for light manufacturing. In 1984 the mill was renovated as a shopping and hotel complex.
BEAR LEFT ON AMERIC’S CUP AVENUE.
north side of Perry Mill Wharf
Local artist Kay Worden created this whimsical sculpture in 1983. The feet can often be seen wearing a pair of socks.
Seamen’s Church Institute of Newport
18 Market Square
The institute was founded in 1919 to serve all sea farers including fisherman, sailors, naval personnel, and yachtsmen. The completely furnished and equipped three-story Georgian revival building was built by Edith and Maude Wetmore, daughters of Governor and Senator George Peabody Wetmore. The building, open to the public, contains an ornately painted chapel and a six-foot square mural of Narragansett Bay, painted by William H. Drury.
20 America’s Cup Avenue
Cardines Field is believed to be one of the oldest ballparks in the country. Construction of the stadium can be dated to 1908 - the backstop is original - but references to games played here can be found as early as 1893. Regardless, it survives in the tradition of stone-and-wooden bleacher ballparks from the early days of professional baseball. It continues to host both amateur and professional games
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY. TURN RIGHT ON THAMES STREET.
Newport History Museum
127 Thames Street
Peter Harrison began his career as a merchant and shipowner before shifting his skills to architecture, designing many of Newport’s best 18th century buildings. For the town market place in 1762 he reproduced the Old Somerset House in London using brick instead of stone. The exterior of the front of the building, three stories high displays pilasters, decorative capitals and arcade columns topped with fine dentil work and peaked and arched pediments above each window. The decorations on the side of the building are doubled in width. The Brick Market had many uses besides an open air farm produce market. In the 1790s the building was used for a hardware/novelty store and on the second floor was a theater and a printing office. By 1842 the town hall was located here. In 1928 the exterior was completely restored. And two years later, the interior. Today it houses the Museum of Newport History.
TURN LEFT ON TOURO STREET INTO WASHINGTON SQUARE.
Commodore Perry statue
Oliver Hazard Perry was raised in Newport and commanded a fleet of gunboats in the town when he was still in his early 20s. During the War of 1812 he built a fleet of ships that he led to victory in the critical Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. After the war he returned to his home on Washington Square. In 1819 Perry died while on a diplomatic mission in South America; he was only 32 years old. Local artist William Greene Turner sculpted a full-size model of Commodore Perry that was dedicated in 1885.
29 Touro Street
This Georgian-style house was built in 1750 for Peter Buliod with wooden siding scored to look like expensive rusticated stone. Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, bought this house in 1818. He died the following year but his family remained in the house until 1865.
Jane Pickens Theater
49 Touro Street
This building began life as the Greek Revival Zion Episcopal Church in 1834, designed by Bristol architect Russell Warren. It became a Catholic parish in 1885 but after the congregation moved in 1912 the building was converted into a theater by stripping away its classical colonnade and bricking in the front section to beef up its seating capacity. In 1974 it was named for Jane Pickens, a popular singer on Broadway, radio and television who became a Newport fixture after marriages to two prominent New York businessmen.
CROSS OVER TO THE NORTH SIDE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE.
U.S. Navy YMCA
50 Washington Square
This Beaux Arts building was constructed as a YMCA for the enlisted men of the U.S. Naval base, a gift in 1911 of Mrs. Thomas J. Emery. Look for polychromatic terra cotta decorations around the top of the building. The YMCA moved onto the base in 1973 and the building was converted into low income housing and a social service facility.
Newport Colony House
northeast end of Washington Square
The Colony House served as one of five rotating state houses for the Rhode Island General Assembly until 1901 and today is the fourth oldest surviving state house in the United States. From this brick assembly house, constructed in 1739, came the news of the most important changes of the 18th century. The official death of George II and the ascendancy of George III was read here, and so was the Declaration of Independence on July 20, 1776. Rhode Island became the final state to accept the new republic’s Constitution in the Old Colony House in 1790. In March of 1781 General Washington greeted French lieutenant general Count de Rochambeau here in 1781. A portrait of Washington by native son Gilbert Stuart is in the collection of the Newport Colony House.
Newport County Courthouse
head of Washington Square
Two noted houses were moved off this site so this courthouse could be constructed in 1927. The Boston firm of Appleton & Stearns designed the building in a Colonial Revival style to harmonize with the Colony House next door, 200 years its senior.
Joshua Wilbour House
51 Touro Street
Joshua Wilbour, a housewright, built this fine Federal house in 1800 at a time when Newport’s depressed economy made such stylish homes as rare as a windless day on the Narragansett Bay. The house has served as the headquarters for the Newport Restoration Foundation since its founding by Doris Duke in 1968. Miss Duke, considered the richest woman in the world at the time spearheaded the purchase, restoration and maintenance of 86 early houses in Newport and Portsmouth. Many of these houses can be seen on the cross streets between Spring Street and Thames Street, which is where the tour is heading. Many of these historic houses are not original to the site, some having been moved from other parts of town, some coming from as far away as New Jersey. Often the houses endured serious changes and renovations through the years. Look for tell-tale signs on these houses that have been restored to period appearance as you walk down Spring Street or explore the cross streets down to Thames Street.
TURN RIGHT ON SPRING STREET.
141 Spring Street
Trinity Church is the oldest Episcopal parish in rhode Island was founded around 1698; its first meetinghouse was built in 1700. The present church building was constructed in 1725-26, designed by local builder Richard Munday, who based his designs on those that he had seen that Sir Christopher Wren had used in London churches in the late 17th century. The church’s design is very similar to that of Old North Church in Boston. Trinity, however, was built entirely of wood. It is believed to be the only church building with its three-tiered wineglass pulpit remaining in its original position in the center of the aisle, in front of the altar. The building was enlarged in 1764, but otherwise retains its original character with box pews.
TURN RIGHT ON MILL STREET AND WALK DOWN THE HILL.
Fire Station No. 1
25 Mill Street
The City of Newport built this firehouse in 1885 for Old Torrent No. 1, considered one of America’s first organized fire companies. The Fire Station was home to Newport’s first horse drawn steam engine. In 1913 the city called for the replacement of steamers with gas-powered equipment. The early model trucks were not yet able to handle the steep incline of Mill Street and it spelled the end of the firehouse. Fire Station No. 1 was closed on September 3, 1915. The last fire department horses were sold one week later, followed by an auction of the steamer and the building itself. A restoration was completed in the 1990s.
TURN LEFT ON THAMES STREET.
250 Thames Street
This brick building with brownstone quoins and window trim was constructed by D. W. Sheehan in 1894. Its stand out feature a century later is its decorated wooden parapet. The Italianate-style gabled building next door dates to 1854.
286 Thames Street at southeast corner of Green Street
Times were good for the National Bank of Rhode Island in 1892 when it constructed this Richardsonian Romanesque-flavored vault with prominent gables and an arched corner entrance crafted of sandstone blocks. Alas the bank would be liquidated a mere eight years later, never fully recovering from the Panic of 1893. Afterwards the building did duty for the Rhode Island Hospital Trust among others and, most recently, a blue club.
320 Thames Street
This Beaux Arts federal building of stone and brick features highly decorated rounded windows above a rusticated base. The facade is further enhanced with oval medallions and a balustrade across the roofline.
TURN LEFT ON MEMORIAL BOULEVARD.
St. Mary’s Church
southeast corner of Spring Street and Memorial Boulevard
St. Mary’s parish was founded on April 8, 1828 and is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Providence. The present stone Gothic church was designed by Architect Patrick C. Keeley of Brooklyn, New York and dedicated on July 25, 1852. A century later on September 12, 1953 Jacqueline Lee Bouvier wed John Fitzgerald Kennedy in this church. St. Mary’s was designated a National Historic Shrine in 1968.
TURN RIGHT ON BELLEVUE AVENUE TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.