Newport Historic District Walking Tour, Newport

Newport Historic District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Newport

The Newport Historic District covers 250 acres (100 hectares) in the center of Newport, Rhode Island, and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1968. Home to an extensive and well-preserved assortment of intact colonial buildings dating from the early to mid-18th century, the collection of colonial buildings here is incomparable to anywhere else in the US. So much so in fact, that in 1997, the district doubled for mid-19th-century New Haven, Connecticut, during the production of Steven Spielberg's Amistad movie.

Six of the local buildings are historic landmarks in their own right. Additionally, the district encompasses several other notable landmarks that tell the story of Newport's yesteryear, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and tourists alike.

One of the prominent attractions here is the Museum of Newport History and Old Brick Market. This museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Newport's maritime heritage and its role in the American Revolution. The Old Brick Market, an elegant colonial building, adds to the district's historic charm.

The Vernon House, an exquisite mansion dating back to the 18th century, is another gem within this district. Its architecture and historical significance make it a captivating place to explore. Nearby, the Trinity Church stands as an iconic example of Georgian-style architecture and holds a significant place in Newport's religious history.

For those interested in religious history, the Touro Synagogue is a must-visit. It is the oldest operational synagogue in the United States and serves as a symbol of religious freedom. The Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House, on the other hand, provides insights into colonial life with its well-preserved interiors and exhibits.

The Old Colony House, with its stately presence, serves as a reminder of Newport's role in early American politics. Meanwhile, the White Horse Tavern is a historic inn and restaurant, offering visitors a taste of colonial-era dining.

Finally, the Hunter House is a prime example of Georgian-style architecture and offers guided tours for visitors to appreciate its historical significance.

Nowadays, the Newport Historic District is where historic structures coexist harmoniously with newer and modern buildings. Complemented by a picturesque waterfront setting and the shops located along Thames Street, it makes a major tourist destination. Still, if you're fascinated primarily by maritime history, religious heritage, or colonial architecture, this district won't disappoint you for sure. Just take this self-guided journey and get a deeper appreciation of America's past!
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Newport Historic District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Newport Historic District Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Newport (See other walking tours in Newport)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Museum of Newport History and Old Brick Market
  • Vernon House
  • Trinity Church
  • Touro Synagogue
  • Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House
  • Old Colony House
  • White Horse Tavern
  • Hunter House
Museum of Newport History and Old Brick Market

1) Museum of Newport History and Old Brick Market

The Old Brick Market building, designed by the noted 18th-century American architect Peter Harrison and constructed in the 1760s, serves as an architectural marvel and a reminder of Newport's deep historical roots. This three-story brick structure, crowned with a low hip roof, is a testament to Harrison's skill and artistry.

On the ground floor, visitors encounter round-arch openings, once the bustling heart of Newport's marketplace, where a diverse array of goods and commodities exchanged hands. While the original open-air arcade has since been transformed, with most arches now featuring glass, the history of commerce is palpable.

Venturing to the upper levels, guests can appreciate the building's remarkable architectural features. Large pilasters adorned with Ionic capitals, and a dentillated cornice beneath the roof, showcase the attention to detail that went into the Old Brick Market's design.

The Museum of Newport History, owned and operated by the Newport Historical Society, resides within these hallowed walls. Its exhibits offer a sweeping view of Newport's history, from the pre-colonial era to the opulence of the Gilded Age and beyond. The museum's collection is a treasure trove of artifacts that paint a vivid portrait of Newport's heritage.

From the antique printing press of James Franklin, the brother of Benjamin Franklin, to the elegant figurehead from the yacht Aloha, the museum showcases a fascinating array of historical items. One particularly remarkable piece is a sword gifted by the Marquis de Lafayette to Daniel Lyman, underscoring Newport's connection to pivotal moments in American history.
Vernon House

2) Vernon House

The Vernon House stands as a remarkable testament to both the rich history of the region and the dedication of preservation efforts that have helped safeguard its legacy. Built in 1758 for Metcalf Bowler, this historic house showcases architectural distinction, rooted in the colonial era, and reveals a compelling tale of American history.

The Vernon House possesses a unique historical lineage that likely dates back to the late 17th century. It underwent significant alterations in the 18th century, believed to have been influenced by the renowned architect Peter Harrison. This rich architectural history makes the house a captivating example of colonial-era design, which remains well-preserved today.

However, it's not just the architecture that lends significance to the Vernon House. During the American Revolutionary War, this house played a crucial role as the headquarters of the Comte de Rochambeau, who commanded the French forces stationed in Newport from 1780 to 1783. This connection to pivotal moments in American history has solidified the Vernon House's place in the annals of the nation's heritage.

The house acquired its name from William Vernon, a prominent historical figure known for his involvement in the slave trade and his contributions during the American Revolution. Vernon purchased the house in 1773, and it remained in the family's ownership until 1872. The enduring historical value of the Vernon House drew the attention of those who understood its significance. In 1912, a charitable organization took action to rescue the house from impending demolition, embarking on a partial restoration project that helped breathe new life into this historic gem.

In recognition of its historical and architectural significance, the Vernon House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This dual recognition underscores the house's role as a living testament to Newport's rich history and the relentless efforts of those committed to its preservation.
Trinity Church

3) Trinity Church

Trinity Church boasts a legacy dating back to its foundation in 1698, making it the oldest Episcopal parish in the state. It has, for generations, served as a spiritual and architectural beacon, leaving an indelible mark on both the city of Newport and the history of the Episcopal Church.

Trinity Church's significance during the 18th century was far-reaching, as it played host to the largest Anglican congregation in all of New England during this period. This is a testament to the church's central role in the religious and community life of the region.

The present Georgian-style building that graces Queen Anne Square was designed by the accomplished architect Richard Munday and constructed between 1725 and 1726. It is one of the most significant and well-preserved 18th-century churches in New England, characterized by its timeless beauty and historical importance. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark since 1968, the church remains a striking example of early American religious architecture.

Trinity Church's design was heavily influenced by Richard Munday's inspiration from the architectural styles of Sir Christopher Wren, notably seen in London's churches during the late 17th century. The result is a building that evokes a sense of grandeur and timelessness, with notable similarities to Boston's Old North Church, albeit being constructed entirely of wood.

Within the hallowed walls of Trinity, you'll find a remarkable treasure—a three-tiered wineglass pulpit, a feature virtually unique in its retention of the original central aisle position, right in front of the altar. This architectural gem is surrounded by historic box pews, preserving the church's original character and design, evoking the essence of the 18th century.

In 1731, Trinity Church received a generous gift from Dean George Berkeley—an organ that still graces the church today. Its wooden case, adorned with the Crown of England and the mitres of the archbishops of Canterbury and York, remains a cherished part of the church's rich history.

Trinity Church's captivating presence is not confined to history alone. Its timeless beauty has graced the silver screen, making appearances in notable films like "Amistad," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "Evening." This serves as a testament to the enduring charm of this iconic house of worship.
Touro Synagogue

4) Touro Synagogue

The Touro Synagogue, also known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel, holds a special place in the heart of American history.

Built in 1763, the Touro Synagogue is a testament to the enduring spirit of religious freedom and diversity in the United States. It proudly holds the title of being the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States. It's not just a testament to the Jewish community's history but a symbol of religious tolerance and liberty that has come to define the nation.

Designed by the renowned British architect and Rhode Island resident, Peter Harrison, the Touro Synagogue is considered one of his most remarkable creations. The exterior of the building is an elegant representation of 18th-century architecture, capturing the essence of the colonial era.

As you enter the synagogue, you are greeted by a striking interior characterized by a row of twelve majestic Ionic columns that flank the central space. These columns symbolize the twelve tribes of ancient Israel, and it is particularly noteworthy that each column was expertly carved from a single tree. The significance of these columns adds a layer of depth and meaning to the synagogue's design.

The building is meticulously oriented to face east, a customary practice for Jewish places of worship, symbolically directing its gaze toward Jerusalem. At the eastern wall, you will find the Torah ark, which houses the sacred Torah scrolls. Above it, a mural intricately depicts the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, a meaningful artwork created by Newport artist Benjamin Howland.

The Touro Synagogue's history is deeply intertwined with the story of the Jewish community in Newport, under the leadership of Cantor Isaac Touro. The synagogue stands as a testament to their faith, resilience, and commitment to preserving their religious heritage.

In 1946, recognizing its immense historical value, the Touro Synagogue was declared a National Historic Site.
Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House

5) Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House

Located within the downtown section of the Newport Historic District, the Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House stands as a cherished testament to centuries of history. Built around 1697, it proudly wears the mantle of being the oldest house in Newport and one of the state's most ancient structures. With its rich and storied past, this house has etched itself into the annals of Rhode Island's history.

The house even bears the scars of history. During the Stamp Act riots in 1765, when it was occupied by a Tory Stampmaster, the house suffered damage as a result of the turmoil and unrest. T

The house, which has passed through several hands since its construction, has seen its share of renovations and improvements. While the namesake of the house refers to three members of a family related by marriage who owned it from just before the Revolution until 1911, the house's story extends beyond these individuals. Its history is a tapestry woven by the lives of all its occupants over the years. Since the 1920s, the Wanton–Lyman–Hazard House has been under the stewardship of the Newport Historical Society (NHS).

The story of this house begins with merchant Stephen Mumford, who constructed it in the late 17th century. It started as a simple two-story structure, with one room on either side of a central chimney—a reflection of the modesty and functionality of that era.

Over the years, the house went through various phases of transformation. A lean-to-styled kitchen was added to the north side before 1725, and Loyalist lawyer Martin Howard, Jr. contributed to the house's elegance by adorning it with molding and paneling.

Today, the house stands as a quintessential example of colonial architecture, a five-bay wooden clapboard structure with a steeply pitched roof that gracefully slopes towards the rear. Its façade is painted in a rich historic shade of dark red, with a pristine white door and entryway, framed by pilasters and crowned with a small pediment.
Old Colony House

6) Old Colony House

Standing proudly at the eastern edge of Washington Square in Newport, the Old Colony House, also known as the Old State House or Newport Colony House, is a distinguished brick Georgian-style building that has witnessed centuries of American history. Built in 1741, it remains an iconic symbol of Newport's colonial past and political heritage.

The Old Colony House served as the hallowed meeting place for the colonial legislature, where pivotal decisions and discussions of the era unfolded. From the dawn of American independence in 1776 until the early 20th century, it continued to play a central role in the state's political landscape, with the Rhode Island state legislature convening here, as well as in the Rhode Island State House in Providence.

What sets this historic building apart is its remarkable state of preservation. Little has changed in its architectural makeup since its completion over two centuries ago, making it one of the best-preserved Georgian public buildings from the colonial era in the United States. In recognition of its historical significance and architectural integrity, the Old Colony House earned the prestigious designation of a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1960. It is also an integral part of the Newport Historic District, which itself holds the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark.

The Old Colony House, although still owned by the state, is meticulously maintained and operated as a museum by the Newport Historical Society. Inside its venerable walls, a wealth of history unfolds. This hallowed site witnessed numerous significant events during the American Revolution in Rhode Island. Icons of American history, including George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, have graced its halls. Over the years, the building has worn many hats, serving as a barracks, a hospital, a courthouse, and even as the backdrop for a Steven Spielberg film.
White Horse Tavern

7) White Horse Tavern

The White Horse Tavern holds a special place in American history as one of the oldest tavern buildings in the United States. The story of the White Horse Tavern begins in 1652 when English immigrant Francis Brindley constructed the original building on this site, laying the foundations of what would become an enduring legacy. The property was granted to Brindley by his brother-in-law William Coddington, making it a cherished piece of land even from its inception.

In 1673, the building found a new purpose as William Mayes purchased the lot and transformed the structure into a bustling tavern. It became a hub for the local community, serving not only as a place to enjoy drinks and meals but also as a venue for significant gatherings. The tavern was used for Rhode Island General Assembly meetings, as a courthouse, and even as a city hall, further entrenching its place in the heart of Newport.

As the years passed, the Mayes family took over the establishment, with William Mayes, Jr. continuing the tavern's operation well into the early eighteenth century. However, it was in 1730, under the ownership of Jonathan Nichols, that the establishment adopted the name by which it's known today, "The White Horse Tavern."

Throughout its storied history, the tavern bore witness to pivotal moments in American history. During the American Revolution, it played host to Tories and British troops during the British occupation of Newport, particularly during the Battle of Rhode Island, underscoring its role in the ebb and flow of the nation's struggle for independence.

In the twentieth century, the Van Bueren family generously donated funds to the Preservation Society of Newport, ensuring the restoration of the building in 1952 after years of neglect during its time as a boarding house. This marked a crucial turning point in the tavern's history, as it was once again revived and rejuvenated to serve its original purpose.

Today, the White Horse Tavern stands as a cherished piece of Newport's rich heritage, providing a space where visitors can step back in time while indulging in modern culinary delights.
Hunter House

8) Hunter House

The Hunter House stands as a captivating piece of American colonial history. This historic house, situated near the northern end of the Newport Historic District, is steeped in rich heritage and architectural splendor.

The story of Hunter House begins in 1748 when the original portion of the house was constructed for Colonial Deputy Governor Jonathan Nichols Jr. This elegant, 2½-story house exudes the character of the era with a distinctive balustraded gambrel roof and heavy stud construction. It serves as a testament to the architectural style of the time.

In 1756, the property changed hands, coming into the possession of Colonel Joseph Wanton Jr., a prominent deputy governor of the colony and a merchant. Under his ownership, Hunter House underwent a significant transformation. Wanton expanded the house by adding a south wing and an additional chimney. This expansion turned the residence into a formal Georgian mansion, complete with a spacious central hall. The architecture and design were a reflection of the colonial grandeur that characterized the era. Subsequently, Senator and Ambassador William Hunter acquired the house, further enhancing its Georgian colonial elegance.

The significance of Hunter House was not lost to the annals of history. In 1945, a group of preservation-minded individuals recognized the importance of safeguarding this architectural gem and preventing its potential demolition. This led to the formation of the Preservation Society of Newport County, a guardian of Newport's historic treasures. As a result, Hunter House was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 24, 1968.

Today, Hunter House is open to limited public tours, offering a captivating glimpse into colonial America's bygone elegance. The house is adorned with period furnishings by renowned craftsmen Townsend and Goddard. The collection also includes paintings, one of which is by the famous Gilbert Stuart, as well as a meticulously restored 18th-century garden.

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