Architecture for Kids

Newport, Rhodes Island
The Golden Age

Newport was founded in 1639 by a group of Boston colonists, adherents of Ann Hutchinson, who had left Massachusetts seeking religious freedom. They welcomed Jews and Quakers who were not welcome elsewhere.

The excellent natural harbor afforded great opportunity for commercial development. Led by English merchants, the first settlers laid out their port, began building ships and wharves and entered the coastal trade which linked the colonies of North America and the Caribbean. By the middle of the 18th century, Newport was at its height of martime prosperity. Merchants engaged in various forms of commerce, including smuggling and slavery. Fine furniture was created by the Townsends and the Goddards. The achieved wealth resulted in magnificent homes throughout the city.

In addition, Newport welcomed summer visitors from plantation life in the South and Caribbean who were anxious to avoid summer heat and pestilence and happy to participate in a sophisticated and cosmopolitan society.

By 1776, the population had reached 11,000. It was the fifth largest city, after New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston by 1776.

Newport was occupied during much of the war by the British and then the French and at least half the population fled.  It never sprang back, and soon became a backwater. "Poverty preserves" according to architectural historians, and therefore, Newport today is rich in its wealth of preserved Georgian homes.

A few examples are shown below:
 
 

 
    Hunter House, at 54 Washington Street, is a gambrel roofed mansion and was built in 1748 and expanded 20 year later to its present shape. It is one of the best examples of colonial American architecture with its stately shape and excellent trim. William Hunter was our ambassador to Brazil. He became one of Newport's romantic heroes when he married a neighbor, Mary Robinson, outside her Quaker faith. The house, now a museum, contains a priceless collection of Goddard and Townsend furniture.  
    The photos to the right are of the back of the Hunter House and of the exquisite carvings above the front door. 
    The pineapple was a colonial symbol of welcome and can be found on Georgian buildings throughout the colonies. 
 
 

 
 

 
Thomas Robinson's house, at 64 Washington Street, was completed in about 1760 and like the Hunter house above overlooks Narragansett Bay.
 
The original part of Captain John Warren's house, at 62 Washington Street,  was built in 1736 and was later enlarged to the present shape. 
 
The Southwick House, at 77 Third Street, was built about 1760. It was owned by Solomon Southwick who was the editor and owner of the Newport Mercury prior to the Revolution. He is remembered for his fiery patrotism, summed up by ihs slogan, "undauhted by tyrants -- we'll die or be free." During the British occupation, he buried his press and fled Newport. He later returned. 
 
The Whitehorse Tavern is one of Newport's oldest buildings, originally a two-room, two-story house with a huge pilastered chimney. It was built in 1675 as a private home. It became a tavern by 1687, and was enlarged to its present shape in the 18th century. It remains today a fine tavern and restaurant.
 
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Newport Mansions