Newport, Rhode Island
Written by Missy Johnston
Newport, Rhode Island, renowned as the City-by-the-Sea, is well known for its maritime history and as the stage of past America’s Cup races. Past the magnificent harbor and only a few steps from any of the city’s marinas, visitors will find fabulous mansions, colonial architecture and history, great music, trendy boutiques, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Newport is a living historical panorama from the earliest settlers and the American Revolution, to the great mansions built by 19th century industrialists. There is drama on every step of the Cliff Walk and turn of Ocean Drive and spectacular beauty found in the beaches and harbor, making Newport for yacht charter, an excellent port to visit. Yacht charter in Newport, RI is a major activity today with charter yachts lining the docks in the various marinas circling the harbor.
Colonial Newport is clustered around the main harbor, historically one of the deepest water harbors on the east coast of the United States, making Newport a valuable location for the clipper ship triangular trade with the Caribbean. Deep-keeled clipper ships could sail right up to the wharf in Colonial Newport, unload into a warehouse, with the Custom’s Office just footsteps away. Unlike New York City, Boston, and even London where goods and people had to be rowed back and forth from the ship out on anchor, the ease of trade given Newport’s deep water soon made Colonial Newport a burgeoning and wealthy city in the 1700’s, and one of the most important ports in Colonial America. The British blockaded Newport at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, bringing Newport to a standstill for decades. Today, with Newport stopped in time in the Colonial time period, there are more Colonial buildings in Newport than in any other location in the United States.
With a varied history that included pirates, and rum running, the most astonishing period, and that which brought slumbering Newport back to the nation’s attention, was The Gilded Age. Newport became the preferred location to summer for many of the old and newly wealthy in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It was the thermal winds that blow across the island, lowering the summer temperatures and removing any humidity that had this class flocking to the area before the advent of air conditioning or even electric fans. Great mansions, cunningly referred to as “Summer Cottages” sprouted up along the top of the ridge overlooking the harbor, and along the southern coast, but most particularly along a new development on either side of Bellevue Avenue. These Gilded Age Mansions were built to showcase an opulent lifestyle, which only lasted in Newport for the two summer months of July and August. However, during that time, there were balls, parties, picnics and other extravagant entertainments every day, while carriages rolled up an down Bellevue Avenue each afternoon for the very important event of establishing social precedence by calling or not calling on one another.
The advent of income taxation and the American Depression brought The Gilded Age to a halt, causing Newport to slumber once again. But the landscape was stamped forever by the opulent mansions and estates built by those with unfettered wealth. Newport today has gained prominence from the same thermal winds that brought the wealthy to Newport and, with them, their yachts during The Gilded Age, as the Sailing Capital of America, and home in recent decades to the America’s Cup Races. Today, Newport is a center for New England yacht charter, and sailing is a very prominent activity. Newport, RI yacht charter often starts or ends in the deep water harbor, where today yachting reigns supreme.
What to Do and See in Newport, Rhode Island
America’s Firsts: Newport, as one of the first towns established in America, is the birth place of The Redwood Library, America’s oldest library, Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest synagogue, The Old Quaker Meeting House, the oldest Quaker house of worship, The Colony House, the oldest State House still standing, and the White Horse Tavern, claimed to be the oldest continually run tavern in the United States.
Colonial Newport: Wander off the beaten path and stroll some of the quieter streets on Historic Hill and the Point. Your eyes will be opened to a side of Newport that you never knew existed; a once busy colonial harbor town larger than either New York City or Boston, shut down, and locked in time by a British blockade during the Revolutionary War.
No other city in America has more restored colonial-era homes and buildings; almost 200, all protected by the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Several of the more important Colonial Homes are open for tours, such as the Hunter House on Washington Street situated on Newport Harbor as the home of and built by a wealthy sea captain.
Brick Market Museum of Newport History: An architectural treasure, The Brick Market Building, designed by Peter Harrison, was constructed in 1762. Originally it housed an open-air market below with offices on the upper floors including the Custom’s Office, ideally located right beside the docks where goods were offloaded from the mighty clipper ships that sailed into Newport and right up to the docks, given that Newport was a deep water port. Today on the first floor is a museum gift shop with unique gifts, while a museum of Newport history is housed on the upper floors with interactive audio and video exhibits.
“Summer Cottages”: Within blocks of the historic colonial districts are the fabulous mansions of the 19th century wealthy, lined up along Bellevue Avenue. These paragons chose Newport as their place to “summer” in grandiose “cottages”, built as a statement of personal achievement and wealth due to the salubrious cooling winds that cross the island in the summer.
Enjoy guided tours of many grand mansions and learn much about the lifestyles, tastes and diversions of those that called Newport home during the various centuries of city existence. Each guided tour is unforgettable, highlighting the real-life of real people whose names are part of American legend: Commodore Perry, Vanderbilt, Doris Duke, and John F and Jackie Kennedy. There are also guided tours of the lives of those not so famous; showcasing the Downstairs existence of the Upstairs-Downstairs world of a 19th century upscale mansion.
Newport Harbor: Ashore around the harbor on the various wharves that once were docks for clipper ships coming in from the Caribbean with wares, are chic shops, boutiques and many restaurants and watering holes. Perhaps enjoy a fresh cooked lobster or a clam boil, complete with lobster bib, both of which are New England favorites.
Cliff Walk: Take a walk along the Cliff Walk, which borders the “backyards” of so many of the Newport Gilded Age summer “cottages” and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a lovely walk along the Atlantic Ocean, with the same view as those that lived once in these lavish mansions.
Tennis Hall of Fame: If you are a tennis enthusiast, on Bellevue Avenue is the International Tennis Hall of Fame, complete with original grass tennis courts. With advance reservations, you too could play tennis on one of the original grass tennis courts.
Yachting Museum: Any yachting enthusiast may enjoy the Yachting Museum on Lower Thames Street within the International Yacht Restoration School, which also has displays and information on yacht restoration, including an active exhibit of the restoration of the schooner “Coronet”, a wooden-hull schooner built in 1885, and one of the oldest and largest schooner yachts in the world. While inside the Yachting Museum are exhibits about Newport’s international role in Yachting History.
Ocean Drive: Enjoyed as much for the beautiful seascapes of the Atlantic Ocean stretching to England as for landscape of massive mansions and homes, this drive will find you moving from Newport Harbor, around the headland of Newport on the Atlantic Ocean, past Beach Clubs for both the upper and lower classes, and onto Bellevue Avenue, with blocks of large mansions running down either side.
At night, the docks, and streets along the harbor come alive with any number of establishments open for fun and frivolity, both outdoors and indoors. Newport is not just a boarding location from which to start your southern New England yacht charter, but is a historic port of call offering a tremendous amount to see and do, before, during or after a luxury yacht charter.