Newport, RI Walk: Harbor & Historic District
Discover Newport, Rhode Island’s colonial and seafaring past on our historic district walking tour. The 2-mile route is a loop that includes clapboard houses, cobblestone streets, bustling wharves, and outstanding harbor views of Newport’s waterfront and Old Quarter.
Located on Aquidneck, Island, the city boasts one of the highest concentrations of colonial-era buildings in America. Our walking route will take you past Newport’s spectacular harbor and many of the quaint New England-style structures that remain today. A walk-about of the Old Quarter attractions is one of Newport, RI’s best things to do.
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A Bit About Newport’s History
Although Newport, Rhode Island is well known for its mansions, the Gilded-Age is only one part of the city’s rich culture. The area’s earliest European settlers held religious freedom and the separation of church and state sacred. This attracted inhabitants with wide ranging beliefs (many fleeing from the Puritans in Boston and New York). One such group was the Quakers, whose “plain” style is reflected in much of Newport’s early architecture.
Throughout Newport’s history, the seaport has been a hub of commercial activity. At one point, over 150 wharves docked fishing, mercantile, and naval ships. Later, during the Gilded-Age, Newport became a major yachting destination. Remnants of these activities are evident in the downtown waterfront region. On this walking tour of Newport’s historic district and waterfront, we hope you enjoy the diversity of this uniquely American city.
Newport Historic District & Waterfront Walking Route
We will begin the walk at Bowen’s Wharf. Sitting across from the Trinity Church, Bowen’s Wharf is centrally located on Newport Harbor. The foundation of the wharf was laid in the 1600s. Later, a series of offices, sailmaker’s shops, and warehouses were built on the busy pier. Today, the warehouses are filled with shops, restaurants, and other attractions for visitors to enjoy. Take some time to meander the brick paths and granite quays that lead to the harbor.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
At the end of Bowen’s Wharf turn right onto America’s Cup Avenue, then merge onto Memorial Boulevard W. Look up, and see St. Mary’s Church. St. Mary’s was the first Catholic parish established in Rhode Island. It was founded at a time when Catholics were facing harsh discrimination in other cities. The current Gothic Revival style building was erected in 1847.
During the Civil War, the church served as the Naval Academy’s chapel. In 1953, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier married Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy (later the 35th President) at this location. When the Senator and his wife spent weekends in Newport, they attended Sunday services here (in pew #10). The church holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If the doors are open, go inside to admire the stunning stained-glass windows.
Trinity Church and Queen Anne Square
Leaving St. Mary’s, turn left onto Spring Street until reaching the Trinity Church. A group of Anglicans established Trinity’s congregation in 1698. The current church was erected in 1726. The box pews inside of the church were intended to keep families warm before the building was heated. The different dimensions of the boxes indicate the various sizes of the families who worshipped here (and paid for their own pews). The chalice-shaped central pulpit remains from colonial times. It is thought to be the only one of its kind in America.
Outside of the church explore the attached cemetery, and Queen Anne’s Square. The square is a public park that provides a quiet space away from town. Brick paths intersect the lawns that overlook the waterfront. Oak, elm, and maple trees provide pockets of shade. There are strategically placed stones throughout the park for picnicking and rest.
Old Colony House
Returning to Spring Street, walk left for .2-miles. Then, turn onto Touro Street and make a quick right onto Court House Street. Next door to the Court House, you will find the Old Colony House on Washington Square.
Erected in 1739, the Newport Colony House is the 4th oldest statehouse in the United States. The Georgian-style building originally had a marketplace on the ground floor, and legislative offices on the second. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony. For 3-years during the Revolutionary War the statehouse was used as a British barracks. Steven Spielberg’s film, Amistad, was filmed here. Visit the Newport Historical Society site for tour information.
Washington Square & Eisenhower Park
In front of the Old Colony House, view the trapezoid-shaped Washington Square. The square is the heart of Newport’s Old Quarter and historic district. Buildings from the last 4-centuries line the roads around Eisenhower Park (the center of the square). In addition to the Newport Courthouse and Old Colony Building, there are many shops, restaurants, and businesses to explore in this area.
Brick Market Building
On the bottom west end of Washington Square, locate the Brick Market Building. Constructed in 1762, the Brick Market is one of the city’s colonial treasures. It was originally an open-air market with mercantile offices on the upper floors. Over the years, the space has evolved into civic offices, a printing business, and theater. The building is currently managed by the Historical Society and houses the Museum of Newport History and Shop.
From the Brick Market Building, make a series of quick turns to find “The Point” neighborhood (from Washington Square turn left onto Marlborough Street (.2 miles), right onto Gladys Carr Bolhouse Road (79 feet), a sharp left onto Marsh Street (66 feet), and finally a right onto 3rd Street.) Once on 3rd Street, stroll past the rows of tightly packed houses until you reach Battery Street. Go west. At Washington Street, turn left and walk .4 miles. The houses (now lining Narragansett Bay) are larger than those on 3rd Street, and were once home to colonial sea captains and successful merchants.
The Point is a National Historic Landmark – Historic District. Washington, 2nd, and 3rd Street all fall within this area. The neighborhood is thought to contain the largest number of colonial homes in the United States. The Point was established in 1725 when a land holder sold small parcels of land to tradesmen and artisans. As you walk through the neighborhood, look for preservation society plaques that help to tell the story of the district.
Follow Washington Street past Storer Park and the Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard. At the end of Washington, turn onto Long Wharf. When you reach America’s Cup Avenue, turn right and follow the road past Bowen’s Wharf to Bannister’s Wharf – for the last stop on our loop.
Built during the Colonial-era, Bannister’s Wharf was built to serve as a commercial maritime wharf. Today, the complex is home to a number of distinctive shops and dining venues. The well-known Clarke Cooke House Restaurant is here as well as a charming guesthouse with rooms for rent. Beyond the wharf the harbor is filled with yachts and fishing boats.
Enjoy the view! Laura and Randy
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