Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Newport (Rhode Island)

NEWPORT a city of the United States, one of the capitals of the State of Rhode Island, and among the most fashionable of American watering-places, is situated on the west coast of the island from which the State derives its name, on the isthmus of the southern peninsula. By rail it is 19 miles south-south-west of Fall River, and by steamer 162 miles from New York. In front lies an excellent harbour opening into Narragansett Bay, with a fine anchorage in 30 feet of water between Fort Adams (a military post of great importance) and Goat Island (head quarters of the torpedo division of the United States navy), and allowing vessels of 18 feet draught to reach the piers at low water. But it is rather the attractions of the east and south coast that have made the fortunes of the modern city:—First or Easton's Beach, one of the safest for surf-bathing; Second or Sachuest Beach, exposed to heavier breakers; Third Beach, more secluded than either; the Hanging Rocks, where Berkeley is said to have composed his Minute Philosopher; Lily Pond Beach; and the Spouting Cave, where the water dashes through a hole in the roof to a height at times of 50 feet.

EB9 Newport (Rhode Island) - plan.jpg
Plan of Newport, Rhode Island.
1. Redwood Library. 3. Trinity Church.
2. Touro Park. 4. State-House.

These and other points of interest are connected with the city by avenues and drives, many of which are lined in whole or in part with villas and cottages; and in fact Newport as a watering-place may be said to comprise the whole of the southern peninsula. In its narrower limits as a city it is a place of no small interest. In Washington Square, the central point of the old town, stand the State-house (dating from 1742), the city-hall (1763), and the opera-house (1867). Trinity Church has an organ presented by Bishop (then Dean) Berkeley, and the first Baptist church dates from 1638. The synagogue, founded in 1762, is the oldest in the United States; it is still used, though there are few Jews in Newport, endowments for keeping it in repair and maintaining services having been left by the brothers Abraham and Judah Touro, the latter of whom also gave the city $10,000 towards the purchase of Touro Park. The Jewish cemetery is the subject of one of Longfellow's best pieces. Redwood Library, established in 1747, has 27,000 volumes; and there is a free people's library with 15,000. Besides the bronze statue of Commodore M. C. Perry, of Japanese fame, Touro Park contains an old tower, supported on round arches, which has been one of the greatest antiquarian puzzles in the United States some considering it a monument of the Norsemen who visited America before Columbus, and others maintaining that it is only an old windmill dating from the 17th century. At one time, previous to the War of Independence, Newport was the seat of great com mercial activity, but it now holds a very secondary posi tion both in trade and manufacturing industry. Its ex ports and imports in 1882 made a total of only $17,513; and one or two cotton-mills and a brass foundry are almost its only public works. The population of the city was 12,521 in 1870, and 15,693 in 1880.

The harbour of Newport was visited by Verezzani in 1524, and the first settlement was made in 1639 by a party under the lead of William Coddington. Rapidly increasing from 4640 inhabitants in 1730 to 12,000 in 1774, the town soon took rank immediately after Boston in the matter of trade. But it suffered severely during the Revolution, being occupied by the British forces from 1776 to 1779, and on their evacuation having its wharves and fortifications destroyed and its library and records carried off. In 1788 Brissot de Warville found houses falling to ruin and grass growing in the public square, and its inhabitants were at that time less than 6000. During the first half of this century the recovery of the city was comparatively slow.