Posted on August 28, 2017 by Janet Steinberg
Newport, Rhode Island: George Washington Sat Here

Newport, Rhode Island, a beautifully preserved walking-city with an architectural tapestry dating back to the 17th century, pays homage to the past as it celebrates the present.  

 
WELCOME TO NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

 

President George Washington sat in the synagogue here.  Philanthropist Judah Touro is buried here; and the founders of America’s industrial society summered here.  Founded in 1639 by a group of dissidents seeking religious and political freedom not available in some northern colonies, Newport became a summer refuge for the nation’s elite. 

Their “summer cottages” were, in reality, the grandest of grand mansions that outdid one another.   Newport’s mansions permit visitors to peek into the Gilded Age that was experienced at the dawn of the 20th century.  Wealthy, powerful, men and women, who transformed America from its agricultural beginnings to an international industrial power, built their “summer cottages” in Newport. Three Newport mansions, The Breakers, Marble House, and The Elms, all rank in the top 20 of the most visited historic house museums in the United States.  

The Breakers (1895) is a 70-room “cottage” built by leading American Architect Richard Morris Hunt.  Cornelius Vanderbilt II, patriarch of America’s wealthiest family, ordered his estate to include interiors of rich marbles, gilded rooms, and open-air terraces offering magnificent ocean views.

 

 
ENTRY GATE TO THE BREAKERS

 

Marble House (1892) gives an intimate look at the life of Alva Vanderbilt and her “temple to the arts”.  William K. Vanderbilt asked architect Hunt to build him the best living accommodations that money could buy.  The result was Marble House, a “cottage” that cost $11-million and contained some 500,000 cubic feet of marble.  

The Elms (1901), commissioned by Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind, is an elegant French-style chateau that was a technological marvel for its time.  

 

 
THE ELMS

Rough Point (1891) was built for Frederick W. Vanderbilt, seventh child of William H. Vanderbilt and grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  In 1925, several owners later, it was left to Doris Duke the 13-year old daughter of James B. Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company, when he passed away.  Doris Duke, dubbed by the media as the “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Richest Woman in the World” lived at Rough Point from 1925 until her death in 1993. 

The Gothic-style, 105-room estate, situated in a dramatic setting along Newport’s famous Cliff Walk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is a living monument to Doris Duke and her passion for the finer things in life.  It is a rare opportunity to see artwork by Gainsborough, Bol, Van Dyck, Reynolds and Renoir displayed in an intimate setting. 

 

 
THE MORNING ROOM AT ROUGH POINT

 

The mansions, precariously perched on ocean-view bluffs, are truly grand, but it is a simple synagogue, tucked away on a quiet street in downtown Newport, that might well be the most historic structure in town. 

Touro Synagogue, dedicated in1763 and designated a National Historic Site in 1946, is the oldest synagogue in the United States and the only one which survives from the Colonial era.  The synagogue’s simple Georgian exterior conceals a dramatic 2-story Palladian interior.  It is a skillful combination of classical Italian architecture with functions of the Sephardic Jewish ritual.  

During a visit to Newport in 1790, President Washington was presented with an address from Moses Seixas, warden of the synagogue.  In his reply, President Washington repeated Seixas’s key phrases and wrote: “…For happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”  A facsimile of this historic document is exhibited on the west wall of the Synagogue and a reproduction is available in the gift shop.  More than 30,000 visitors a year come to Touro Synagogue where history, tradition, and the ideal of religious tolerance and freedom converge in a place of exquisite beauty and distinguished design.

 

 

 

TOURO SYNAGOGUE

A short walk up the hill from Touro Synagogue is Touro, the Ancient Town Cemetery, also called The Colonial Jewish Cemetery of New England.  Consecrated in 1677, the cemetery holds the remains of Judah Touro.  This quiet burial ground also served as the inspiration for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport’.  An excerpt from Longfellow’s poem best describes the cemetery:

 

And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown, 

That pave with level flags their burial-place, 

Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down 

And broken by Moses at the mountain's base. 

 

 

 

ARCHITECT ISAIAH ROGERS’ EGYPTIAN REVIVAL GATE TO THE TOURO CEMETERY

You can stroll through history on Newport’s dramatic 3.5 mile Cliff Walk where paved walkways and stone paths wind along the island’s southeastern edge, bordered on one side by the massive “summer cottage” of America’s turn-of-the-century elite and on the other by granite cliffs and pounding surf of the Atlantic.

 

 

 

THE CLIFF WALK AS SEEN FROM DORIS DUKE'S ROUGH POINT

 

Newport, Rhode Island, called America’s first Resort” is a city of firsts.  In 1687, it was the first American city to pass a traffic ordinance.  It had the first church steeple in the United States; was the site of the first of the thirteen colonies’ Declaration of Independence in May of 1776; it was home of the first permanent Quaker settlement in America; operated the first ferry service in 1657; had the first gas streetlights in 1803; and, as we already know, the first Jewish synagogue in America.  Newport also bills itself as The Sailing Capital of the World.  You can take to the water for a sunset sail on lovely Narragansett Bay, or watch one of the many annual regattas, races, and sailing festivals that take place off Newport. 

 

 

 

NEWPORT IS THE SAILING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

 

Fresh seafood is found all along the New England coast, and Newport restaurants like The Black Pearl do it best.  Black Pearl Clam Chowder and a Two and One Half Pound Lobster, grilled or steamed, are worth a try.  Follow that up with Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie or Apple Raisin Bread Pudding.

If you are lucky enough to play tennis on the legendary grass courts at The International Tennis Hall of Fame, you can work off some of those Black Pearl calories.  The Newport Casino, a National Historic Landmark built in 1880, is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.

 

 
INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME

 

Known as Newport’s “Sporting Mansion”, this Stanford White structural masterpiece is one of the finest examples of Victorian shingle-style architecture in the world.  The 6-acre complex features 13 grass tennis courts, a Royal Tennis Court, indoor tennis facility, Bill Talbert Stadium Court, and Museum.  The Casino was designed as a social and sporting club for the Astors, Vanderbilts, and all of Newport during the “Gilded Age”.

Whether it is a tennis complex, a mansion, or a mailbox, everything looms large in Newport, Rhode Island.

 
EVERYTHING LOOMS LARGE IN NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 43 national Travel Writing Awards. 

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