Newport County and East Bay: Places to Explore

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Photo: Kelli Westfal/Shutterstock

Newport

Established in 1639 by a small band of religious dissenters led by William Coddington and Nicholas Easton, the city by the sea became a haven for those who believed in religious freedom. Newport’s deepwater harbor at the mouth of Narragansett Bay ensured its success as a leading Colonial port, and a building boom produced hundreds of houses and many landmarks that still survive today. These include the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House and the White Horse Tavern, both built during the 17th century, plus Trinity Church, Touro Synagogue, the Colony House, and the Redwood Library, all built in the 18th century.

British troops occupied Newport from 1776–1779, causing half the city’s population to flee and ending a golden age of prosperity. The economic downturn that followed may not have been so great for its citizens but it certainly was for preserving Newport’s architectural heritage, as few had the capital to raze buildings and replace them with bigger and better ones. By the mid-19th century the city had gained a reputation as the summer playground for the very wealthy, who built enormous mansions overlooking the Atlantic. These so-called "summer cottages," occupied for only six to eight weeks a year by the Vanderbilts, Berwinds, Astors, and Belmonts, helped establish the best young American architects. The presence of these wealthy families also brought the New York Yacht Club, which made Newport the venue for the America’s Cup races beginning in 1930 until the 1983 loss to the Australians.

The Gilded Age mansions of Bellevue Avenue are what many people associate most with Newport. These late-19th-century homes are almost obscenely grand, laden with ornate rococo detail and designed with a determined one-upmanship.

Pedestrian-friendly Newport has so much else to offer in a relatively small geographical area— beaches, seafood restaurants, galleries, shopping, and cultural life. Summer can be crowded, but fall and spring are increasingly popular times of the year to visit.

Newport at a Glance

Elsewhere in Newport County and East Bay

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