Living with Style, The Newport Diary

13 Reasons to Celebrate Summer in Newport

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It’s official — summer is here! And it’s a pretty good bet that sooner or later you will find yourself in our magical “City by the Sea” (or dreaming of it). A truly singular experience.

Newport has lots of bragging rights. Here are thirteen accolades, “firsts” and distinctions that will speed you our way. Who knew our town was more than just a gorgeous coastline, scrumptious green landscapes, wide crescent bays of sandy beaches and sparkling blue waters dotted with white sails? You do now! Newport is also its own premier destination for sumptuous weddings, world class regattas and Downton Abbey-esque sporting rituals.

1. Party on! The oldest tavern building in continuous use in the United States and a National Historic Landmark, the White Horse Tavern was opened in 1673.


2. The Redwood Library and Athenaeum (founded in 1747) is the oldest lending library in America, and the oldest library building in continuous use in the country. Established by Abraham Redwood  while America was still a colony of England, its stated mission was  “having nothing in view but the good of mankind.”


Did You Know? The British used the library as an officer’s club for the four years that they occupied Newport during the Revolutionary War; during this time, they either helped themselves to, or destroyed over half of the library’s volumes. Luckily, the building (the first Palladian public structure in our country) was spared.

3. Newport’s philosophy of religious toleration provided an attractive, safe haven for many religious groups that had been marginalized and persecuted in other communities. Starting in the early 1700’s, these groups contributed greatly to Newport’s prominence and importance in the shipping and mercantile trades of the Colonies. By 1758, the Jewish population had  grown sufficiently that there was need for a house of worship. Touro Synagogue, designed by Peter Harrison (also the architect of the Redwood Library) is the oldest surviving synagogue in the western hemisphere.

Photo Credit: National Park Service Digital Image Archives
Photo Credit: National Park Service Digital Image Archives

4. No surprise! Rhode Island, the colony founded by the most conscientious of religious dissenters from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was the first of the thirteen colonies to declare its independence from England. Newport, as the capital of Rhode Island, was the site of this now famous event in 1776, its declaration made from the steps of the Colony House.


Did You Know?Ironically, Rhode Island would be the last state to ratify the new American Constitution more than 14 years later on May 29, 1790. 

5. Bank Newport, the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States (founded in 1819) is on Washington Square, the centerpiece of Colonial Newport, which it shares with the Colony House.


6.  On July 30, 1844, John Cox Stevens invited eight friends to his yacht Gimcrack, anchored in New York Harbor. The nine who met nearly 170 years ago resolved to form the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) and named Stevens commodore. Three days hence, the new commodore announced, members would be departing on a yacht club cruise to Newport. Thus began the historic connection between the NYYC and Newport, Rhode Island; the first official NYYC Regatta, begun in 1854, is the oldest sailing regatta in the country and is hosted by the NYYC in Newport at the Harbour Court clubhouse.


7. Ida Lewis, the first female lighthouse keeper, operated the Lime Rock Light in Newport Harbor from 1857-1911. On that site today is the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, named after this courageous woman who is said to have rescued over 36 sailors during those years.


8. The United States Lawn Tennis Association held its first American championships at the Newport Casino in 1881. The beautifully manicured grass courts set off the handsome structure designed by McKim, Mead & White in their signature shingle style; it is now home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Bellevue Avenue.

International Tennis Hall of Fame
Photo Credit: International Tennis Hall of Fame

9. Newport became the site of the first polo club in this country, with its inaugural  International Polo Match, the” Westchester Cup,” held in 1886. Polo thus joined other “les sports elegants” as one of the first international sporting events in modern history. The tradition continues when the  25th season kicks off on June 4, 2016 continuing through the end of September.

Photo Credit: Kim Fuller
Photo Credit: Kim Fuller

10. In 1895 Newport hosted golf’s first US Open and first Amateur Championship at the nine hole course of the Newport Country Club. Both championships had to be re-scheduled to October because of a conflict with a more established Newport sports spectacle, the America’s Cup yacht races held in September.

Newport Country Club is one of the most interesting and historic golf courses in North America; among other distinctions,  it is one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association. Sited majestically above the windswept sculpted landscape of southern Newport, it stood as the first building in America specifically designed to be a country club.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Marque

Did You Know? Whitney Warren, after the accolades heaped on him as architect of the Newport Country Club, went on to design New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

11. The prestigious America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sport (1851), was raced in the waters off Newport from 1930-1983 (when America lost the Cup to Australia). For those 50 years, Newport proved to be a perfect venue for the America’s Cup because of its light and predictable winds and small volume of commercial traffic. America recovered the Cup in 2015 when Oracle Team USA, racing in San Francisco Bay, defeated Emirates Team New Zealand.

Rome in CS with Cup

Did You Know? Twenty-seven year old Newporter Rome Kirby (pictured above) was the only American on Oracle Team USA.

12. Of course! In 1975 the Cliff Walk became the first designated National Recreation Trail in New England. Running along the eastern shore of Newport, the Cliff Walk is world famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s gilded age. Wildflowers, birds, topography…all add to this delightful 3.5 mile walk. Recent restoration work following Hurricane Sandy has immeasurably improved the walking experience.

Photo Credit: The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Photo Credit: The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Did You Know? Over the years, many legal challenges from homeowners along the Walk have attempted to limit access to Cliff Walk. Each has been rejected due to a legal document dating back to 1663; in that year, the King Charles Charter specifically allowed access to the ocean by all residents of Rhode Island for “fishing and the gathering of seaweed.”

13. Newport has the first court tennis court in the country still in its original location, built in 1880. Significant as the oldest racket sport in the world, court tennis (or “real tennis”) is an obscure and discreet game played on an indoor court in what many describe as a combination of chess, squash and tennis. The National Tennis Club, one of only 10 active clubs in the country, is  located on the grounds of The International Tennis Hall of Fame. The Court Tennis World Championship was recently played in Newport and the title was won by Camden Riviere, the head professional of the National Tennis Club.

 International Tennis Hall of Fame
Photo Credit: Ross Cann

Did You Know? To put this within historic context, Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s court tennis court where he was famously at play as his Queen, Anne Boleyn, was  beheaded.

See you in Newport…

Featured Image Credit, Tim Fater.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

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