A stroll in Newport -- 02/24/11

Today Nancy and I drove over to Newport and took one of the walking tours offered by Doris Duke's Newport Restoration Foundation. A lot of Newport's old buildings -- dating from the late 17th through the early 19th century -- survived well into the mid-twentieth century because Newport had fallen on hard times and, thus, there was no 19th or 20th century building boom causing the demolition and replacement of these buildings. In the late 1960s, Duke (once known as "the richest girl in the world" because of her inherited tobacco fortune) began buying up many of these buildings in order to save them. She set up the Newport Restoration Foundation to own the seventy or so buildings she purchased. A handful are museums today but most of them are still in use, rented to people who live in them (and who cannot change the building's structure nor its outer appearance).

The tour began in the Samuel Whitehorne House, a Federal style mansion built in 1811 by Samuel Whitehorne, a successful and wealthy merchant who was an exception to the generally tough economic climate in Newport... until he, too, fell on bad times and lost his business... and his mansion. Today it is one of the Duke buildings that is kept as a museum. Our guide began in the kitchen where she explained the origins of Newport and its history. We got to examine containers of the various spices that were imported by Newport merchants and were told about the triangle trade -- molasses and sugar imported to Newport from the Caribbean, the molasses made into rum in Rhode Island and shipped to Africa, where it financed the purchase of slaves who were then taken to the Caribbean where they worked on sugar plantations... (In theory, I suppose, everyone should have learned about this in school, but history is badly taught, assuming that there is an attempt to present any history at all during "social studies" courses. Hmm, if they do not teach history or geography or economics or political science or... well, just what is it that they do "teach" in those courses? That's a rhetorical question. I can still remember my own school days.)

We moved out to the backyard, where the Whitehorne family had had a formal garden (in imitation of the British upper class) and where we could see on the opposite side of the side street from the Whitehorne backyard, three frame houses belonging to the Newport Restoration Foundation, ones that are still used as private housing today.

Our tour took us around this neighborhood. The Whitehorne mansion faced Thames Street. There was a row of buildings across the street (today they are mostly commercial buildings) -- behind those buildings is the Newport waterfront, where the colonial era merchants had built docks and warehouses for their shipping. Today there are a lot of pricey condominiums there, but most of the docks remain, although today they attract private recreational boats rather than commercial shipping.

This is a view of dozens of pleasure boats wrapped for winter storage in white plastic shrink wrap. This somewhat abstract-looking picture of a neighboring marina was taken through a window at IYRS -- the International Yacht Restoration School (a fascinating place, we ended our walking tour by wandering through IYRS and I will try to get some pictures of that into an entry tomorrow).

Nancy took a photograph of me while we were there... and I took a piece of it and blew it up a bit.

(Yes, I know... I need a haircut.)

The weather was marvelous today -- sunny and comfortable (for February) -- but tomorrow is supposed to bring heavy rain along with strong winds (a chance of gusts in the fifty to sixty mile an hour range here along the coast) and then we will be cooling off and having a chance of snow.

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