Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy southern planters seeking to escape the heat began to build summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue such as Kingscote (1839).Around the middle of the century, wealthy Yankees such as the Wetmore family also began constructing larger mansions such as Chateau-sur-Mer (1852) nearby. Most of these early families made a substantial part of their fortunes in the Old China Trade.
By the turn of the 20th century, many of the nation's wealthiest families were summering in Newport, including the Vanderbilts, Astors, and the Widener family, who constructed the largest "cottages", such as The Breakers (1895) and Miramar. They resided for a brief social season in grand, gilded mansions with elaborate receiving, dining, music and ballrooms, but with few bedrooms, since the guests were expected to have "cottages" of their own. Many of the homes were designed by the New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who himself kept a house in Newport.
The social scene at Newport is described in Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence. Wharton's own Newport "cottage" was called Land's End. Today, many mansions continue in private use. Hammersmith Farm, the mansion from which Jackie Kennedy was married, was open to tourists as a "house museum", but has been purchased and reconverted into a private residence. Many other mansions remain open to tourists. Still others were converted into academic buildings for Salve Regina College in the 1930s, when the owners could no longer afford their tax bills.
In the mid-19th century, a large number of Irish immigrants settled in Newport. The Fifth Ward of Newport (in the southern part of the city) became a staunch Irish neighborhood for many generations. To this day, St. Patrick's Day is an important day of pride and celebration in Newport, with a large parade going down Thames Street.
The oldest Catholic parish in Rhode Island, St. Mary's, is located on Spring Street, though the current building is not the original one.
Since the colonial era, Rhode Island did not have a fixed capital but rotated its legislative sessions among Providence, Newport, Bristol, East Greenwich and South Kingstown. In 1854 the sessions in the cities other than Providence and Newport were eliminated, and finally, in 1900, Newport was dropped. A constitutional amendment that year restricted the meetings of the legislature to Providence. Connecticut was the only other state to have more than one capital at one time.
Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower both made Newport the sites of their "Summer White Houses" during their years in office. Eisenhower stayed at Quarters A at the Naval War College and at what became known as the Eisenhower House, while Kennedy used Hammersmith Farm next door.
Newport, RI Properties
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