When we put Newport on the agenda, I envisioned a large commercial port with a modern touristy city. And in truth, I pictured myself being ready to leave after a full day. What I discovered was vastly different; Newport's desire to preserve history was evident everywhere and one day was definitely not enough.
A bit of history
Newport was founded in 1639 when many of the Anne Hutchinson settlers broke away from their Portsmouth settlement. These same brave people were also the only settlers that welcomed Jewish immigrants fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. From this, Newport grew to be the largest of the original four settlements. Today, the Newport Jeshuat Israel congregation is the second-oldest Jewish congregation in the US, and they meet in the Touro Synagogue, which is North America's the oldest synagogue.
In the late 1700s, nearly 90% of slave-trading voyages launched from Rhode Island, with Newport being a leading port. In my post of Bristol, RI, I will share about the De Wolf family, the largest slave-trading family in all of North America as well as Newports role in changing this horrific time in history. There is so much more to Newport's story, but that is for another time.
What made Newport so special?
When you compare the Newport population of 29,000 to the 2,000 average (Tad's math) of the other seaside towns we visited you would expect it to lose its New England charm. Not so! Buildings with bronze plaques dating structures from the 1600 to 1700's flanked the narrow streets adorned in hanging flower baskets. Newport is big buckets of small-town charm! It reminded me a lot of old-town Annapolis; friendly, walkable, and lovely early morning and late night presence.
Newport is also the home of St. Mary's church where John and Jacqueline Kennedy were married.
But, what made Newport really special was sharing it with friends!
Our friends from Bainbridge, Darren and Sonja flew out to spend five days with us. Both of them had been to Newport many times and Darren lived here while attending graduate school at the US Naval War College. Seeing Newport through their eyes was such fun!
They arrived a bit later in the day and Darren invited us to Clarkes Cooke House for dinner, which was an awesome treat! The lower level is a pub-like atmosphere and was actually featured in Architectural Digest. The upstairs where we ate was an upscale white tablecloth dining experience. Lovely!
Check out the "established" date.... that's 34 years before we became a nation!
We started the next day with a drive down Bellevue Avenue for breathtaking views of the summer "cottages" built by America's wealthiest in the late 19th century. An era known as the Gilded Age brought the likes of the Vanderbilts and Rothchilds to the seaside town of Newport to spend summers away from the hustle of New York. If you've ever watched Downton Abbey, when the family arrives to the long driveway lined by staff in black bowtie and white aprons, you have a clear picture of the history of these homes.
These "cottages" which I will appropriately refer to as mansions, with their enormous pretense and lavish interiors fell into desperate times when many fortunes were lost and the Gilded Age came to a close. Luckily, the Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the homes and opened them to the public. Below is "The Breakers", home of the Vanderbilts. Designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt, this stunning Italian Renaissance 70-room mansion with a gross area of 125,339 square feet was beyond stunning.
Other mansions and tours offered by the Preservation Society of Newport County are Marble House, The Elms, Rosecliff, Chateau-sur-Mer, Kingscote, Isaac Bell House, Green Animals Topiary Garden, Hunter House, and Chepstow. There is also the breathtaking Cliff Walk, which is a scenic 3.5-mile walkway that borders the back lawn of the Newport mansions. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and were not able to do the walk (Sonja did a morning run there however), but it's a new line on my bucket list!
Next on our tour (thank you, Darren!) was the Navy War College. Being raised an Army brat and married to an Air Force officer for 25 years, military installations always feel like home. It was cool to hear about Darren's time at the college and see his old stomping grounds. My favorite part of this tour was lunch at the Officer's Club that overlooked the sea and the Claiborne Pell bridge. The lunch was delicious, and our big personality waiter made it extra fun. In fact, did you know that Ken's salad dressings are the best and apparently, the ONLY dressing you should ever want or use? Yeah, I didn't know either, but Serg, the waiter swears it so!
Newport does their fireworks on July 2nd, which we enjoyed from the deck of the marina. The sunset was breathtaking, the company fun, and the fireworks... a blast! Yep, pun intended.
After the fireworks, we enjoyed a late night dinner at Buskers, an Irish gastropub. Can you say Guinness and burgers! The century-old building with heavy rafters and beer paraphernalia was the perfect way to end the day.
We docked at the Newport Yachting Center Marina, located in the heart of town. The marina is nice and the staff were great! We enjoyed walking into town for coffee each morning and found ourselves searching for Empire coffee places during the day. Sorry, Starbucks, when in Rome....
Next stop, Bristol, RI, - home of the oldest and best 4th of July in the US. We'll see!
Newport Yachting Center Marina
Radio: VHF 9
Fuel: Diesel and Gas
Power: 110v/30A 220v/50A, and 100 amp - lots of mega yachts here!
Pump Out: yes
Fresh Water: yes
Wifi: Yes, but like most marinas, it drops a lot
Other amenities: Showers, daily laundry pick up, ice, dockside patio and deck, complimentary pool passes at nearby Marriott, and yoga on Saturdays
Only drawback: New construction going on at this time and there is also an event center and the loud music does not end until 11pm. If you're a night owl, this is the place for you!