One spot that encompasses the best of New England is Newport, Rhode Island.
View from King Park. Rochambeau statue looks towards Newport Bridge.
Newport was founded in 1639 and quickly became an important seaport in England’s American colonies. The city prospered thanks to the whaling industry through manufacturing sperm oil and candles. The city was also a center for slave trade. Ships loaded with rum, distilled around Rhode Island, would set sail from Newport to West Africa. The rum would be traded for slaves who were then brought back to America.
Old Colony Courthouse - Completed 1739.
During the American Revolutionary War, Newport briefly served as a base for British soldiers and loyalists. Later the French, who had joined the war on the side of the revolutionaries, stationed troops in the city. These troops would be instrumental in winning America’s independence.
The Red Parrot, built in 1889. Originally a meat packing house and now a restaurant. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After the war prospects for the town were bleak. Businesses shuttered and industrialization bypassed the area. However, this twist of fate may have been Newport’s saving grace. Many colonial era buildings remained standing in Newport and the quietness of the town (along with it’s seaside location) attracted summer visitors.
Clarke Cooke House.
During the Antebellum period (post the War of 1812 but prior to the beginning of the US Civil War) Newport began attracting writers, artists and other cultural influencers. This influx made Newport an appealing destination for well to do northern families. By the end of the 19th century Newport became a summer playground for the richest people in the country.
America’s Guilded Age saw wealthy families including the Vanderbilts (steamships and railroads), Berwinds (coal) Oelrichs (silver heiress) building elaborate mansions along Newport’s coast. Several of these “summer cottages” have been preserved and are available to tour today. The most famous is known as The Breakers.
Entrance Gate at The Breakers.
The Breakers was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Vanderbilt was the President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad. The mansion has 70 rooms and it’s design was inspired by the palaces of central Italy.
The Great Hall.
Looking up the main staircase.
The dining room is adorned with crystal Baccarat chandeliers.
The interior of The Breakers is decorated with marble, exotic woods and architectural elements imported from around the world.
Decorated for Christmas.
The view from the home towards the Atlantic Ocean.
The Breakers exterior.
This home remained in the Vanderbilt family for three generations. Today it, along with eight other Newport mansions, is owned by The Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is open for tours year round and is Rhode Island’s most visited attraction.
Heritage tourism is huge in Newport, but there are many other ways to enjoy the area. For outdoor lovers, there is ample opportunity to boat, hike and golf. There are also several farms open to seasonally pick-your-own produce. Other activities include shopping, museums, wine tastings and family friendly festivals.
Interesting Newport Facts and Stats
• Newport has over 300 intact wooden buildings dating from before America’s Revolutionary War.
• Newport was home to the America’s Cup (sailing trophy) from 1930-1983.
• Newport has been declared “worthy” of World Heritage designation due to the artistic qualities displayed in the city’s preserved mansions.
• The paperwork officially declaring Rhode Island to be America’s 13th state was signed in Newport.
• During the US Civil War, the US Naval Academy was temporarily relocated to Newport from Annapolis, Maryland.
• President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier were married in Newport.