Although there are plenty of roads to Newport it actually sits on an island. Colonists driven from Boston for their beliefs purchased Aquidneck Island and settled there in 1636. In 1639 Newport was founded and with its sheltered harbour it soon grew into a seaport to rival Boston and New York. British occupation during the Revolutionary War started a decline and the ending of the slave trade increased the decline, so in the late 19th century Newport re-invented itself as a leisure centre. The sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay and easy access to the Atlantic Ocean made it an ideal location for yachting. From 1930 to 1983 it was the base for the New York Yacht Club’s defence of the America’s Cup.
Trinity Church is widely regarded as a masterpiece. It was built in 1725 by colonial builder Richard Munday. It is famed for its three-tier wineglass pulpit, the only one to be found in America. The organ dating from 1733 was tested by George Frideric Handel before it was shipped from England. It was a battle in the 1840s to save the church from demolition that started the awareness of Newport’s heritage that has preserved so much of its history. We first saw Trinity Church during our 1985 visit on a miserable wet day when Newport was still recovering from being hit by the remnants of Hurricane Gloria. When we returned in 2005 we had a sunny day with blue sky which made this tall, slender white church look really magnificent.
Sunset over Claiborne Pell Bridge
The Claiborne Pell Bridge provides a connection from Newport to the west across Narragansett Bay. It lands on Coanicut Island in the middle of the bay, which is in turn connected to the mainland by the Verrazzano/Jamestown Bridge. Opened in 1969 the Pell Bridge has a main span of 488 metres (1600 feet). Originally known as the Newport Bridge, in 1997 is was renamed in honour of retiring US Senator Claiborne Pell. This picture of the sunset over the bridge was taken from the Newport Hyatt on Goat Island.
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Train at Newport, Old Colony & Newport line
Newport’s location on an island with a sheltered harbour was its strength in the days when the fastest mode of transport was by sea. When railroads spread across America the island location became a disadvantage as the main line went through Providence, hastening its growth and its adoption as sole state capital. A branch line was built to Fall River in 1854 and by 1864 it had been extended to Newport. Today the southern section of the line has been preserved as the Old Colony & Newport Railway. Diesel engines haul a pair of historic coaches along track that runs from Newport through the Naval Base then along the shore of Narragansett Bay.
White Horse Tavern
Newport was only 34 years old when in 1673 the White Horse Tavern was built. In the early days it was not just a tavern, but was also the meeting place for the colony’s general assembly and the city council as well as acting as the courthouse. In the early 20th century it became a boarding house, but was later restored and it opened as a restaurant in 1950s. It still operates as a restaurant, but when we looked at the menu we were unimpressed. A more distinctive menu that reflects the history of the building would be much more attractive
Old Colony House
Newport has many historic buildings, some dating from the 17th century. Old Colony House is a mere youngster built in 1739 but even so it is the fourth oldest statehouse still standing in the USA. From colonial days to 1854 the capital of Rhode Island rotated around five cities, then until 1900 Newport and Providence were twin capitals. Old Colony House was the hub of colonial Newport and, when capital, also of Rhode Island. It was from here on July 20, 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was read here to the people of Newport. George Washington met with French commander Count Rochambeau here in 1781, cementing the alliance that helped the Americans achieve victory at Yorktown.
Downtown Newport from Fort Adams
Although not bereft of modern buildings, Newport has remained a low rise city where the church spires still stand proud. Trinity Church is clearly visible on the right of this view from Fort Adams. Seaports had to be defended and in Colonial times there was fort on Goat Island, just visible on the left. After the 1812 War with Britain, the US Government reviewed coastal defences, and one conclusion was that Narragansett Bay was ill defended. Work commenced in 1824 to build Fort Adams on a rocky point overlooking both Newport and the eastern entrance to the bay. It took nearly 30 years to complete. Click on Tab 2 for a picture of Fort Adams.