Newport is best known for its splendid mansions, located mainly along Bellevue Avenue, Ocean Drive, and Harrison Avenue; the area is known as Historic Hill, a living museum of history and architecture. Kingscote, one of the more modest structures, was built in 1839 in the Gothic Revival style. It features a mahogany and cherry dining room illuminated by natural light shining through a wall of Tiffany glass. The most opulent structure is Breakers, built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt in the style of a sixteenth-century Italian palace. The firm of Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape. Perhaps the most extravagant of the mansions is Marble House, commissioned by William Vanderbilt for his wife. The house cost $2 million to build and $9 million to furnish; it was awarded to Mrs. Vanderbilt in a divorce settlement. Other mansions include the Astors' Beechwood, where the Gilded Age is recreated through live theatrical performances, and Belcourt Castle, a French castle built in 1894 for Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont and his wife, the former Mrs. William Vanderbilt.
Cliff Walk, a three-mile path winding along the coast, offers views of the mansions and of Rhode Island Sound. In 2000, Rough Point on Bellevue Avenue, the summer home of the late heiress Doris Duke, was opened to the public and allows viewers to see one of the finest private art collections in the area. Newport boasts more pre-1830 buildings still standing than any city in the country. Many are open to the public, such as Colony House—built of English bricks, the structure was a rarity in 1739 and was the scene of a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a Newport visit by George Washington. Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the country, was built in 1763. Hunter House, considered one of the most beautiful eighteenth-century mansions in the country, displays porcelain, silver, paintings, and furniture.
A quiet history of Newport can be traced at the Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery, affectionately known as "God's Little Acre." Headstones dating back to the 1600s reveal the ebb and flow of life in the colonies, with some particularly poignant remembrances for African American slaves. Some of the gravestones were hand-carved with great artistry by slave Zingo Stevens, and there are Europeans laid to rest among the African Americans who contributed to the creation of Newport.
In cooler weather, Newport and its fauna can be experienced from the sea, on the weekly Seal Safaris and Newport Harbor Seal Watches. However, anytime of year is a good time to view Newport from the ocean; motorized and sailboat charter tours are offered throughout the year or can be arranged.
Both President Eisenhower and President Kennedy maintained a Summer White House in Newport; the Eisenhower House, used by the president from 1958 to 1960, is located within the bounds of Fort Adams State Park. Fort Adams itself deserves a visit; the fortification was created between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, undergoing frequent revisions as theories of coastal defense revised over time. The Museum of Yachting features a small crafts collection, the America's Cup Gallery, and a Single-Handed Hall of Fame. Science and technology are the focus of the Thames Science Center, while the art and science of tennis are celebrated at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum at the Newport Casino. For a real taste of the local flavor, a visit to the Newport Vineyard provides samples of homegrown wines aged in French oak barrels. The vineyard is about 10 minutes outside of Newport along Route 138.
Sightseeing Information: The Newport Convention and Visitors Bureau, 23 America's Cup Avenue, Newport, RI 02840-3050; telephone (401)849-8048; toll-free (800)976-5122. Newport Historical Society, 82 Touro St., Newport, RI 02840; telephone (401)846-0813; fax (401)846-1853
Arts and Culture
The Fireside Theatre in Newport stages a minimum of five plays during its year-round performance season, mounting productions that range from comedies to drama. The Beechwood Theatre Company puts on historical vignettes that transport visitors to the Astors' Beechwood Mansion back to its heyday. Dinner and a theatrical production can be experienced year-round at the Newport Playhouse and Cabaret, a family-owned dinner theater that has been entertaining
The Swanhurst Chorus has been entertaining Newport since 1928; the ensemble performs several major pieces each season, including a sing-along to Handel's Messiah. The Newport Baroque Orchestra specializes in seventeenth and eighteenth century music using period instruments; the orchestra also sponsors the Newport Children's Choir and the Newport Youth Symphony Orchestra. The Island Moving Company puts on contemporary ballet performances in Newport while also providing outreach to local schools and corporations.
The works of famous Newport cabinetmakers are displayed at Samuel Whitehorne House and at the headquarters of the Newport Historical Society, which also features permanent and changing exhibits on various aspects of Newport's past. The society's marine museum, also at this location, depicts the history of the Merchant Marine. The history of American and foreign militia and of naval warfare can be studied at the Military Museum and at the Naval War College Museum. The Museum of Newport History, in the renovated Brick Market, highlights the city's past in interactive displays and local artifacts. Newport is also the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum, housed in the Newport Casino, once a fashionable resort. The Rhode Island Fishermen and Whale Museum allows firsthand experiences with whale bones and with skippering a ship.
The Newport Art Museum is located in the former Griswold Mansion, itself a major example of late Victorian domestic architecture; the museum displays permanent and changing exhibits of nineteenth and twentieth century American art. Sculptural works are displayed on the museum grounds, and the Museum additionally hosts an art school within the Coleman Center for Creative Studies. A powerful piece of sculpture depicting the "triangular" slave trade in Newport is housed in the lobby of the Newport Public Library. Island Arts coordinates a large exhibition space for local artists and also offers a Creative Arts Camp for children between 6 and 12 years of age. After-school arts programs are available for teens. Project One is a public arts initiative, and the Four Corners Arts Center oversees a variety of arts programs for the Aquidneck Island region. Artists also run the Deblois Gallery space for professionals as well as beginning exhibitors.
Just north of Newport, in Middletown, are the Norman Bird Sanctuary and Museum and Whitehall Museum. The Norman Bird Sanctuary consists of 300 acres of preserved open space with 7 miles of trails that take hikers through a variety of habitats. Hooded warblers, black-crowned night herons, Caspian terns, and salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows can all be viewed within the grounds of the sanctuary. The Whitehall museum, used at various times as a farm house, a tavern, and as a residence for British officers during the American Revolution, is of architectural and historic interest.
Festivals and Holidays
The Newport year kicks off with Opening Night, the city's New Years Eve Arts Celebration, which can be followed up with the New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge. February brings 10 days of food and festivity with the Newport Winter Festival. March celebrations include Newport Irish Heritage Month. The St. Patrick's Day Parade is bolstered by a Kinsale Ireland Festival of Fine Food, quite fitting as Newport is a sister city of Kinsale.
April's festivities include the Newport Metaphysical Faire, while the month of May offers the Newport Fun Cup Windsurfing Regatta and the Newport Spring Boat Show, featuring hundreds of used and new boats. Food and film festivals abound in June, which first dishes up the Great Chowder Cook-Off and the Newport Film Festival.
Summer offers the Newport Fourth of July Celebration and Public Clambake. Later in the month, the Black Ships Festival commemorates the signing of a treaty between Japan and the U.S. that ended 200 years of isolationism. Asian cuisine, arts, dance, and music are coordinated by the Japan-America Society and Newport's Japanese sister city, Shimoda. Fine summer weather greets the Newport Kite Festival, with the sky full of demos and instruction; then the air is filled with music as the city hosts the Newport Music Festival in mid-July. The Dunkin' Donuts Folk Festival-Newport happens in late July or early August, and the JVC Newport Jazz Festival takes off in mid-August.
In September, the Taste of Rhode Island allows attendees to sample the best flavors of the Ocean State on the waterfront, accompanied by music and children's programs. October is a time of ethnic celebrations such as Festa Italiana, with food and music reflecting Newport County's Italian heritage, and Oktoberfest's Bavarian music, German food, and biergarten. October's Haunted Newport presents 10 days of Halloween activities like ghost tours, pirate tales, a horror film festival, and the Sea Witch Ball. In November, local restaurants show off their chops at Taste of Newport. Later in the month, Christmas in Newport features concerts and candlelight tours in local mansions, a Festival of Trees, a Holly Ball, and visits by St. Nicholas. The festival extends from late November through December. The Newport year winds up with FirstNight Newport, a family-friendly celebration of the new year.
Sports for the Spectator
Special sporting events take place throughout the summer in the Newport area. Professional tennis at the Newport Casino includes the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championship tournament in July, where 32 of the top male players in the game will compete for the Van Alen Cup. From June through August every year, the Newport International Polo Series takes place, with competition between teams from France, Scotland, India, Egypt, Jamaica, Barbados, and many more. Games are held at Glen Farm in nearby Portsmouth.
From 1851 to 1983 the America's Cup yacht races were held in the waters around Newport; today the city is the scene of many boating competitions, including a Mini America's Cup Race, scheduled throughout the summer. In mid-June, the New York Yacht Club's Annual Regatta is held, as it has been for the past 150 years. More than 100 yachts compete in a variety of races testing skill and speed. The Rolex Swan America Regatta is held toward the end of July and features more than 50 Swan yachts.
In 2001, the Newport Gulls brought New England Collegiate League baseball to the city. The nonprofit team competes in Cardines Field, a historic stadium that has been home to amateur baseball since the early 1900s. Satchell Paige at one point sat in a rocking chair near one of the dugouts while he waited to pitch. From February through December, the Spanish Basque sport of jai alai, a competition similar to handball, and parimutuel betting are offered at Newport Jai Alai.
Sports for the Participant
Newport's most popular outdoor sport is sailing, and boat rentals can be arranged locally. Excellent sea kayaking opportunities abound in Newport Harbor, and other water-related activities can be had at Easton Beach, which is maintained by the city of Newport. A boardwalk lines the beach, where boogie boards, surfboards, beach chairs, umbrellas, and bathhouses are all available for rent. From April to November, anglers may take advantage of some of the best saltwater fishing in the Northeast in Narragansett Bay, the Sakonnet River, and along the Atlantic coastline; many local ponds offer freshwater fishing; spear fishing and scuba diving are also available. When the water freezes, the Born Family Outdoor Skating Center at the Newport Yachting Center offers up family fun.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame offers grass and court tennis open to the public, along with professional instruction. There are several golf courses in the area and, in 2006, the United States Women's Open Golf Championship will be held at the Newport Country Club. Newport National Golf Club has been named the top course in Rhode Island in 2004 according to Golf Digest, offering 18 holes and greens that were designed to play fast. The Recreation Department oversees nine soccer, baseball and softball fields, two outdoor basketball courts, and five tennis courts.
Several state parks are within an easy drive from or just outside of Newport, including Fort Adams State Park and Brenton Point State Park. Hiking trails, fishing holes, and overlooks where visitors can view the Atlantic are highly recommended.
Shopping and Dining
Downtown Newport offers the Brick Market, originally a market and granary and now a center for specialty, gift, and antique shops. Thames, Spring, and Franklin streets also offer antiques; there are more than three dozen antique shops in Newport County. Cadeaux du Monde specializes in hand-made folk art from the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The Long Wharf Mall features jewelry, gift items, men's apparel, and leather goods. Galleries and shopkeepers at Bannister's Wharf offer a variety of upscale gift items, along with a real Newport dining experience in the Clarke Cooke House Restaurant's eighteenth century dining rooms. Another historic waterfront shopping site is located at Bowen's Wharf, with top-shelf clothing, jewelry and art shops. In reflection of its immigrant history, Newport hosts several Irish import stores. Aquidneck Island's only enclosed mall houses 25 stores, and there are two large malls in nearby Warwick.
From June to October, Newport puts on two farmers' markets with fresh produce, breads, cheeses and other goods sold in an open-air setting. The Aquidneck Growers Market II is held Wednesdays on Memorial Boulevard, while the Newport Farmers Market takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays on Marcus Wheatland Blvd.
As might be expected, seafood figures largely on restaurant plates in Newport. Lobster and quahog (hardshell clams) are local favorites; the quahog is the state symbol. A traditional Rhode Island clambake, featuring layers of clams, mussels, potatoes, onions, corn, sausage, fish, and lobster cooked over hot stones and seaweed, can be arranged. Catering to the tastes of the many immigrants who created the town, Newport serves up an array of restaurants offering Irish, French, Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, and Chinese cuisines. Ambience ranges from chain fast-food spots to delis to bistros; some restaurants are located in historic buildings and many are located harborside. The Newport Dinner Train offers a three-hour dinner excursion as the luxury train meanders along the Narragansett Bay coast. Specialty coffees can be found at a variety of locales throughout Newport, and dessert really ought to be had at the Newport Creamery, which has been scooping up ice cream in Rhode Island since 1928.
Visitor Information: Newport County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 23 America's Cup Avenue, Newport, RI 02840; telephone (401)849-8048; toll-free (800) 976-5122. Rhode Island Tourism Division, 1 West Exchange St., Providence, RI 02903; telephone (401)222-2601; toll-free (800)556-2484
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