Historic Newport, RI
Sep 1, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
Best known for its summer “cottages,” built by the Astors, Vanderbilts, Wideners and other wealthy industrialists, Newport’s history runs as deep as the waters off its shores.
Founded in 1639, Newport grew to be a large settlement that became rich from its commercial activity, most of which was generated by its strategic position as an important New England port. Rent a scooter or a bike from Scooter World to take in the many historic buildings in town that remain today, including the Old Colony House, a handsome example of Georgian architecture completed in 1741. Trade promoted by Portuguese Jews that sought refuge here during the mid eighteenth century further enriched this seaside town and today you can still see Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest synagogue.
Newport played an important role in the Revolutionary War during which time the navy established a firm foothold, one that still exists today. Naval Station Newport houses the Naval War College, the Naval Justice School and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. There’s also an important United States Navy training center here. So don’t worry, you’re safe. The Naval War College is open to the public, however, special tours of the facility need to be approved in advance.
OK, now for the mansions. That’s what you came for, isn’t it? It all began toward the early part of the nineteenth century when wealthy plantation owners from the south wanted to beat the heat. Hence, the idea of a summer home by the water was born. One of the oldest remaining gems from this Gilded Age is Kingscote, built in 1839 and located on Bellevue Avenue, which you can just call Millionaire’s Row. (Bellevue means beautiful view in French, of which there are many here.)
Keep on pedaling. And if you’re in your car, sally forth in slow cruise mode because you don’t want to miss one bit of the world-famous Bellevue Historic District. The Breakers, the Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue, is among the most famous. There’s also Miramar, Château-sur-Mer and a plethora of other grand residences embellished from their immense seaside terraces to their coffered ceilings, many of which are open to the public for guided tours and visits. Expect lots of gilt work and breathtaking views.
Round out your tour on Newport’s Ocean Drive, another historic district notable for its magnificent homes, landscaping and views.
Be sure to take in Salve Regina University where you’ll see many of the mansions that were later converted into academic buildings. Wow, what a campus!
Walk along the Cliff Walk for a Wuthering Heights perspective on these extraordinary pieces of real estate. Be careful not to fall because it’s a long way down in most spots.
For a view from above, take a chopper tour with Helicopter Tours. You can enjoy other fine perspectives and historic narratives from the water with Gansett Cruises, Rum Runner II and the Jamestown Newport Ferry. The Block Island Ferry, which sails twice daily from Newport, will fill in some gaps for sightseers as well.
This old international sailing town by the sea is synonymous with the America’s Cup, a sailing race as storied and complex as the many ardent sailors that have been striving for this ornate and historic prize since 1851. Perhaps the best and most exciting way to learn about this prestigious race is to visit the Herreshoff Marine Museum in nearby Bristol, Rhode Island. In addition to their rich collection of maritime treasures and America’s Cup memorabilia, they also host a swell of events such as regattas and presentations, which further promote the understanding and passion of the sport of sailing. Spectacular yachts and fascinating people that have been a part of this great tradition rank among the highlights of this fine museum as well.
If you’d like to sail about on Narragansett Bay on an awe-inspiring vessel that participated in an America’s Cup, check out America’s Cup Charters. Thrill seekers take notice.