1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Newport (Rhode Island)

NEWPORT, a city, a port of entry and the county-seat of Newport county, Rhode Island, U.S.A., occupying the southern portion of the island of Rhode Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, about 50 m. S. by E. of Providence, about 71 m. S. by W. of Boston and about 165 m. E.N.E. of New York Pop. (1905 state census) 25,039, of whom 6111 were foreign-born, 2590 being born in Ireland; (1910 U.S. census) 27,149. It is served by the Newport & Wickford Railroad and Steamboat Line, which connects with the New York, New Haven & Hartford railway at Wickford junction; by ferry to Bristol, and by steamboats to Providence, Fall River and New York.

The broken water-front of the island, about 17 m. long, is partly rocky and partly made up of sandy beaches. From the harbour on the south-west the land rises to a gently rolling plateau with maximum elevations of about 250 ft. The climate is notably mild and equable throughout the greater part of the year. In the newer parts of the city there are many magnificent estates of summer residents; and in the “Old Town,” the greater part of which is close to the harbour, and extending up the hillside, are many 18th-century houses and Thames Street, its principal business thoroughfare, only 20 ft. wide. Near the northern end of Thames Street, Washington Square or the Parade, connects with Broadway, which extends northward and is the principal thoroughfare through a large residential district of the permanent inhabitants. From the Parade, also, Touro Street extends eastward to the upper end-of Bellevue Avenue, the principal street, which extends southward to the ocean. There Bellevue Avenue connects with the southern end of the Cliff Walk, which for about 3 m. winds along the cliffs on the eastern coast of the island. North of the walk is the smooth, hard Easton's Beach, frequented for sea-bathing. South of the Cliff Walk is Bailey's Beach, a private bathing-beach; at its western end is the Spouting Rock, through an opening in which the water, during violent south-east gales, has been thrown to a height of about 50 ft. Ocean Drive, about 9 m. long, encircles the south-western peninsula. Beyond Easton's Beach, in the town of Middletown, is Sachuest, or Second, Beach, with a heavier surf, and here is a fissure in the rocks, 150 ft. long and 50 ft. deep, and 8-14 ft. wide, known as Purgatory. North of Sachuest Beach are the picturesque Paradise Rocks and the Hanging Rocks.

At the head of the Parade stands the old State House (used when Newport was one of the capitals of Rhode Island); it was completed about 1743, was used as a hospital during the War of Independence, and is now the seat of the county court. In the vicinity are the City Hall and a monument to Oliver Hazard Perry. Fronting on Touro Street is a synagogue, erected in 1762-1763, and said to be the oldest in the United States; one of the early rabbis was Isaac Touro, a Jew of Dutch birth, whose name is borne by a street and a park in Newport. Near the corner of Touro Street and Bellevue Avenue is the Hebrew cemetery. Of chief historic interest along Bellevue Avenue are Touro Park and Redwood Library. In the park is the historic old Stone Mill or “Round Tower,” which Longfellow, in accordance with the contention of certain members of the Society of Danish Antiquarians, ascribes, in his Skeleton in Armour, to the Norsemen, but which Benedict Arnold (1615-1678), governor of Rhode Island, repeatedly mentions in his will as “my Stone-built Wind-Mill.” Opposite the park stands the William Ellery Channing Memorial Church; and in the park are monuments to Channing and to Matthew Calbraith Perry. The Channing House on Mary Street, built in 1751, is now used for a Children's Home. The Redwood Library grew out of the Philosophical Society, established in 1730, which Bishop (then Dean) Berkeley possibly helped to found during his residence here in 1729-1731; the Library was incorporated in 1747, being named in honour of Abraham Redwood (c. 1709-1788), a wealthy Friend who early contributed £500 toward supplying it with books; the building was completed in 1750. In Berkeley Avenue, north of Paradise Road, is Whitehall, which Berkeley built for his home in 1729 and which was restored in 1900. The first newspaper of Newport was published in 1732 by James Franklin, a brother of Benjamin Franklin, and in 1758 James Franklin's son, also named James, founded the present Newport Mercury.

Newport is best known as a fashionable resort during the summer and autumn; there are annual horse and dog shows, and fox-hunting is one of the amusements. The harbour is a rendezvous for racing- and pleasure-yachts. On Bellevue Avenue is the country club, the Casino. Among the great estates with magnificent “cottages” here are those of Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt, Wm. B. Leeds, Mrs O. H. P. Belmont (the “Marble Palace,” built for W. K. Vanderbilt), Mrs Ogden Goelet, Mrs Robert Goelet, Perry Belmont, and J. J. Astor—all on the Cliff Walk.

Newport has an inner and an outer harbour; the inner is landlocked, 1 m. long and ½ m. wide, but is not deep enough to admit vessels drawing more than 15 ft. of water; the outer admits the largest vessels and is a refuge for foreign and coastwise commerce. The whole harbour is protected at its entrance by Fort Adams, at the mouth of the inner harbour, Fort Wetherill on Conanicut Island, and Fort Greble on Dutch Island. The Lime Rock Lighthouse was for many years in charge of Mrs Ida Lewis Wilson (b. 1841), famous for the many lives she saved. On Goat Island, which partly encloses the inner harbour, is Fort Walcott, with a United States torpedo station and torpedo factory, and on Coasters Harbor Island, farther north, are a United States Naval Training Station and a War College. Along the western border of the outer harbour is Conanicut Island, on which is the town of Jamestown (pop. in 1905, 1337), with the Conanicut Yacht Club and other attractions for summer visitors. Newport has little foreign trade. There is, however, considerable coastwise trade in fish, coal and general merchandise, and in 1905 the total tonnage of the port amounted to 1,770,816 tons. Fishing is an industry of some importance. The value of the city's factory products decreased from $1,575,192 in 1900 to $1,347,104 in 1905.

Newport is governed under a charter of 1906, which is unique as an instrument for the government of a city, and aims to restore in a measure the salient features of township government. Most of the powers usually vested in a town meeting are here vested in a representative council of 195 members—39 from each of 5 wards. A candidate for councilman must secure the signature of at least 30 electors in his ward before his name can be placed on the ballot. A mayor, one alderman from each ward, and a school committee are elected in much the same manner: a candidate for mayor must have his election paper signed by at least 250 qualified electors, and an alderman or member of the school committee by at least 100. All other important officers are appointed by the council. The mayor and aldermen are for the most part executive officials corresponding to the selectmen of a town.

Newport was founded by Nicholas Easton (1593-1675), William Coddington (1601-1678), John Coggeshall, John Clarke (1609-1676), William Brenton (d. 1674), William Dyer, Thomas Hazard, Henry Bull (1609-1693) and Jeremy Clerke (d. 1652), who, as Antinomians, were driven from Massachusetts Bay, and in 1638 settled at Pocasset (later Portsmouth, in the northern part of the island of Rhode Island; pop. in 1905, 2371). As radical tendencies prevailed in Pocasset they removed, and in 1639 settled Newport at the southern end of the island (called Aquidneck until 1644), which they had bought from the Indians. Most of the founders are commemorated by place-names in the city; in the Coddington Burying-Ground are the tombs of Governor William Coddington, Governor Henry Bull, and Governor Nicholas Easton; and in the Coggeshall Burying-Ground John Coggeshall was buried. At the beginning an independent government by judge and elders was established (Newport and Portsmouth being united in 1640), but in 1647 the town was united with Providence, Portsmouth and Warwick in the formation of Rhode Island according to the Williams (or, as it is commonly called, the Warwick) charter of 1644. During 1651-1654 Newport and Portsmouth were temporarily separated from the other two towns. About 1640 a Baptist Church was founded, which is probably the oldest in the United States except the Baptist congregation in Providence; here, too, at nearly the same time, one of the first free schools in America was opened. In 1656 English Friends settled here. Between 1739 and 1760 great fortunes were amassed by the “Triangular Trade,” which consisted in the exchange in Africa of rum for slaves, the exchange in the Barbadoes of slaves for sugar and molasses, and the exchange in Newport of sugar and molasses for rum. The destruction here on the 17th of May 1769 of the British revenue sloop “Liberty,” formerly the property of John Hancock, was one of the first acts of violence leading up to the War of American Independence. The foreign trade of Newport, which in 1770 was greater than that of New York, was destroyed by the War of Independence. During the war the town was in the possession of the British from December 1776 to the 25th of October 1779; a plan to recover it in 1778 by a land force under General John Sullivan, co-operating with the French fleet under Count d'Estaing, came to nothing. Soon after the evacuation of the British, French troops, under Comte de Rochambeau, arrived and remained until near the end of the war, and Newport was a station of the French fleet in 1780-1781. The Sayer house, which was the headquarters of Richard Prescott (1725-1788), the British general; the Vernon house, which was the headquarters of Rochambeau, and the Gibbs house, which was for a short time occupied by Major-General Nathanael Greene, are still standing.

Newport was chartered as a city in 1784, but in 1787 it surrendered its charter and returned to government by town meeting. It was rechartered as a city in 1853; the charter of this year was much amended in 1875 and in 1906 was superseded by another. Until 1900, when Providence became the sole capital, Newport was one of the seats of government of Rhode Island.

See Mrs J. K. Van Rensselaer, Newport, Our Social Capital (Philadelphia, 1905); Susan C. Woolsey, “Newport, the Isle of Peace,” in L. P. Powell's Historic Towns of New England (New York, 1898); G. C. Mason, Reminiscences of Newport (Newport, 1884); W. A. Greene and others, The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years (Providence, 1886); C. T. Brooks, Controversy touching the Old Stone Mill (Newport, 1851); R. M. Bayles (ed.), History of Newport County (New York, 1888); E. Peterson, History of Rhode Island (i.e. Aquidneck) (New York, 1853).