Living with Style, People, Places & Spaces

Newport Landscapes – A Cultural View

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I’m reminded often – on warm days brushed by sea breezes, on cool misty nights – that as early as 1789 Aquidneck Island, of which Newport is the southernmost point, was referred to as the “Eden of America.” For the past few days, Newport proved again why it still deserves that moniker.

Norman Bird Sanctuary — The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Through a collaboration with the Preservation Society of Newport County, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) hosted one of their widely applauded “What’s Out There Weekends,” as they do annually in selected cities across the country. The focus was on Newport’s unrivaled legacy of open spaces; farms; nature sanctuaries; parks and gardens, living examples of the horticultural, social and artistic forces that have contributed to Newport’s distinct character over three centuries.

In a town with Newport’s renown, this weekend provided an unparalleled opportunity to share Newport’s great stories through its unique landscape legacy…a sentiment that also inspired me to write not one, but two books on Newport’s houses and gardens.


The weekend also provided a personal odyssey by offering me a reason to re-think something that is almost in my backyard and which I take a bit for granted -– the Cliff Walk. I learned that this former Indian path is now a National Recreation Trail (the first in New England) formally constituting a public right-of-way over private property whose genesis goes back to fisherman’s rights granted by King Charles II to colonists in the Rhode Island Royal Charter of 1663 (yes, 1663!) This historic, political and cultural point, plus the significant architectural edifices built along its route, prompted Charles Birnbaum (President and Founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation) to state that “there is not another walk, trail or path in this country, or the world, like Newport’s Cliff Walk.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Cliff Walk — The Cultural Landscape Foundation

From this 3.5-mile-long path that hugs the eastern shoreline of the island, Newport’s dramatic scenery (including 70-foot precipices), sparkling water, landscapes, vistas and view scapes, has prompted the building of an exceptional and noteworthy collection of houses.

In the 1880s property owners began to construct amenable additions to the Walk, like this bridge at “Rough Point.”

Cliff Walk -- TCLF
Rough Point — The Cultural Landscape Foundation

“The Forty Steps,” a local landmark leading off Cliff Walk.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation
40-Steps — The Cultural Landscape Foundation

What better way to appreciate the Cliff Walk, and be introduced to The Cultural Landscape Foundation database and booklet from this weekend’s event, than to have a little private tour of those homes which front the Walk and are included in my 2 books…Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden and Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.


At the paved, northernmost end of the Walk overlooking Easton’s Beach.


At the southern portion (Bailey’s Beach) where the Walk has been left in a natural state.




Cliff Walk with “Ocean View” and “Rock Cliff” in the distance.






The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s 60 page, fully-illustrated booklet also notes, of its 45 sites, the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which includes 5 private homes that are featured in my books. Here’s another quick peek at what’s behind those facades.













Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic of The New York Times, wrote that “great public places and works of landscape architecture deserve to be treated like great buildings.” Thanks to “What’s Out There Weekends” we are provided with new ways to experience first-hand the landscapes that we see every day but often overlook, while being introduced to the local character of each highlighted city.


With Charles Birnbaum at the Breakers kick off party for the “What’s Out There” weekend in Newport.


For more on The Cultural Landscape Foundation, visit their website at . To view the “What’s Out There: Newport County” PDF click here.

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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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