Newport’s Historical Buildings and I Become a Tunnel Rat

Besides beautiful coastal scenery Newport is blessed with lots of historic buildings and neighborhoods. One of the neighborhoods called the “Point” actually has the highest concentration of colonial homes in the nation with many built in the 1700’s. It was an interesting place to stroll around. Below is a photo of one of the oldest homes which was built in 1748 and is called the Brenton Counting House.

The Old Colony House was built in 1736 and is the fourth oldest state house still standing in the U.S. It was the meeting place for the colonial legislature. A number of events during the Revolutionary War took place here including reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the building in 1774. In modern times, Steven Spielberg filmed scenes from the movie Amistad both inside and outside the building.

Newport Old Colony House from 1736

Trinity Episcopal Church was built in 1726 and is very beautiful both inside and out. It is amazing to think that the church has been in use for almost 300 years. During our travels we have been to several churches where George Washington has attended and I have sat in his box pew. The Trinity Church also has a G. Washington pew. The friendly docent at the church encouraged me to sit in his pew and wanted to take photos for me, but my smile was too goofy looking for me to allow it on the blog. A plaque at the pew also lists other famous people who have sat here including Queen Elizabeth II and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Trinity Episcopal Church built in 1726

The church has the only center aisle, free standing triple decked pulpit left in America today. During colonial times, the three levels showed the importance of the service. The bottom level was used by the lay clerk to lead singings and verbal response from the congregation. The second tier was for reading scripture and saying prayers by the minister and the top was where the sermons were preached. Since the services could be long, there are gold tipped staffs or nodding rods above the pews that were used to prod or tap those who fell asleep. That would have been embarrassing!

Free standing Triple Decked Pulpit

Newport has another house of worship with great significance. The Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue building in the U.S. dating from 1763. There are tours inside the building and I would have liked to take one but did not have time.

Newport is proud of Fort Adams, a coastal fortification built in 1799 and named after President John Adams who was in office at the time. The Fort’s grounds have hosted the Newport Jazz Festival and the America’s Cup. The Fort has been active during most major wars including the War of 1812, the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and World War II but never fired a shot in anger. Unlike other forts we have visited, the only way to see this fort was with a guided tour.

The tour took us through the officer’s quarters, up to the top of the walls for a view of Narragansett Bay and down into the tunnels. This is a large fort with many buildings but overall Mark and I did not find it as interesting as other coastal forts we have visited in the South. But the views were well worth the visit.

View of Narragansett Bay from Fort Adams

Exploring the tunnels was the most interesting part of the tour. There are several thousand feet of tunnel space that the troops used to listen for enemy soldiers that could be burrowing underneath the walls of the fort. The tunnels are not for the claustrophobic and I bet it would have been rough duty during the Fort’s active years.

Fort Adams Underground Tunnel

The tunnel passages are very narrow and I couldn’t walk upright through them. We carried flashlights to find our way in the pitch blackness. At the end of our journey we were given a “Fort Adams Tunnel Rat” sticker.

I am a Tunnel Rat

Below is a photo of the Bay next to the Fort. The beautiful tall ship to the left is the Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s official sailing school vessel. I put a close up photo of this ship in my 2018 trip highlights blog several weeks ago. When we were there, several students were working with sails and ropes out on the dock.

Mark and I visited Brenton Point State Park right along the coast and it was here that we did something we hadn’t done in many years – flew a kite. Luckily there was a mobile kite shop on site where we could get our own kite (for no small price). The winds are perfect at this park for kites, at least they were the day we visited.

When visiting a new state I like to try a few of the iconic foods there. I did some research and found out about some in Rhode Island and the list includes doughboys (a type of donut), coffee milk, clam cakes, calamari and hot weiners. While there are other iconic foods the one that seemed the most accessible was Del’s Lemonade, a frozen lemon concoction that originated in Naples in the 1840’s. I thought it was pretty refreshing. If you ever find yourself visiting Newport come to Brenton Point State Park, get yourself a Del’s Lemonade at the stand there and have fun flying a kite (save $$ by bringing your own).

See you next time!

Newport Cliff Walk and Sailing on the Aquidneck

One of the most beloved activities in Newport, Rhode Island is walking the Cliff Walk. When we travel to a new city, town or area, I make a list (mentally or written) of activities we should do. Usually there are a few that we don’t get around to and I am glad the Cliff Walk was not one of them. Since we have been traveling full time, this is the best walk/hike we have done and we enjoyed beautiful sunny, warm weather for our trek.

Newport’s Cliff Walk

The Cliff Walk was first developed by estate owners during Newport’s Gilded Age from 1880-1920. It became a National Historic Walking Trail in 1976. This unique trail combines gorgeous ocean scenery with rocky coastline on one side with views of the historic mansions that Newport is well known for on the other. Along the way are signs with points of interest. The trail goes for several miles with much of it paved, but some portions require walking over jagged rocks that can be difficult to traverse. The trail can be accessed from a few different places in the city, but we began at the main starting point.

View of First Beach from the Cliff Walk

The walk starts out above First Beach, one of the more popular beaches in Newport where people love to sunbathe and swim. The photo above shows a view from the trail of the beach area.

Breakers Mansion next to the Cliff Walk

We walked past a number of historic homes and mansions including the Breakers. I wrote about the Breakers, a Vanderbilt summer cottage last time. Above is a photo of the back of the mansion from the trail which has a commanding view of the ocean.

There are a few gates along the trail and I especially liked this one with its imposing posts and wrought iron. Because of the historic mansions along the cliff and all the improvements on the trail including stone walls, arched passageways, gates and sitting areas, I found the trail to be rather elegant. It was easy to imagine residents during the Gilded Age walking along the path in their fancy attire with umbrellas to keep the sun off. In the photo below, the white building is a sun room perched on the edge of the property looking down on the sea. I could imagine hanging out there on a comfy couch or chair with a book, cup of tea, snack and binoculars.

We walked a good amount of the trail but decided to not venture further when we came upon the portion with jagged rocks. In the photo below I am standing near our turn around spot. I don’t think pictures can show what an impressive day and walk this was.

Sitting area on Newport’s Cliff Walk

I have probably mentioned this several times in my blog, but I love boats and being on the water. While visiting Maine, I had wanted to take a cruise on a schooner but did not find the time to do it. The time was just right in Newport which is a city that is perfect for sailing. Sail boats, yachts and other water craft are quite plentiful in Narragansett Bay where Newport is located. It seems to be a very popular pastime in the city.

The Schooner Aquidneck

There are several sailing companies offering tours and I decided to go on the “Aquidneck,” which is a reproduction of a late 1800’s coasting schooner. It was named after Aquidneck Island which is the island where Newport is located. Aquidneck is an Indian name meaning “Isle of Peace.”

Sailing from the harbor aboard the Aquidneck

While aboard the schooner we were free to sit or move around. After we got out of the harbor, guests were welcome to help raise the sails with several people willing to give it a try.

Guests help to raise the sails on Aquidneck

Narangansett Bay was a beautiful place to sail and the weather was perfect as well. We were joined by many other happy sailors that day as we cruised past various landmarks and points of interest.

A beautiful sailboat on Narangansett Bay

As always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this look at two favorite Newport activities.

Touring Newport’s Summer Cottages

Front view of Marble House

Newport has narrated trolley tours and I took an informative one that drove us all over this very beautiful town and area. There was so much to see including the harbor, St. Mary’s Church where John and Jackie Kennedy were married in 1953, the farm where they had their wedding reception, Touro Synagogue (oldest Jewish synagogue in North America, 1763), the yacht club, beaches, parks, Fort Adams, historic homes and many mansions. We visited two of the most famous mansions, summer “cottages” of two wealthy Vanderbilt families. These homes were only used a few months out of the year, a chance to get away to the seaside and relax from busy New York City. In spite of not being used much, they were designed to be just as large and lavish as their homes in New York City. In our travels I have seen a number of fancy homes, but these were the most extravagant yet.

Marble House Grand Stairway

Marble House, completed in 1892, was our first stop and the creation of Alva Vanderbilt. Alva spent much of her time elevating herself as a high society matron and wanted to have the most impressive homes and expensive parties. She was constantly trying to outdo other wealthy families in New York and planned Marble House to be the fanciest summer “cottage” in Newport. As the name implies, the walls and floors are covered with marble. The mansion cost about $11 million to build and furnish, of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. The house is truly a statement of what the gilded age was all about with no expense spared. Some months ago I read an intriguing book on the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. It was not unusual for them to spend several hundred thousand dollars on one fancy party and that was back in the late 1800’s. While partying huge sums of money away in their mansions on 5th Avenue, other New York City residents were living not that many blocks away poverty stricken in tenement buildings.

Marble House Dining Room

The dining room in Marble House features pink marble on the walls and gilt bronze decoration. Alva got her inspiration for the mansion from a chateau on the grounds of the French Palace of Versailles. The mansion was a gift to Alva for her 39th birthday from her husband William.

Marble House Gothic Room

There are 50 rooms in Marble House, so this is by no means a moderate sized summer cottage. It took awhile to walk through and “gawk” at all the rooms. The gothic room pictured above was designed for Alva’s collection of medieval artifacts.

Marble House Gold Room

It wasn’t all marble on the walls though. In the Gold Room or Gilded Ballroom are 22 karat-gold wall panels, probably the fanciest room in the house.

Seaside view from the back of Marble House

Stepping outside to the back of the house brings the view above. Marble House like many of the Newport mansions is located along the cliffs above the ocean with a remarkable vista.

Entrance Gate to the Breakers

After visiting Marble House we stopped at the Breakers, built by Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt in 1895. Cornelius was the grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt who built up the family fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius later became Chairman and President of the New York Central. This home has 70 rooms and was built in Italian Renaissance style, inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin.

The Breakers

Although Marble House was for awhile the premier house in Newport, once the Breakers was built it became the largest and most grand home. It cost less to build though at $7 million. Once again, it is amazing that so much time and money was spent on a residence that was only used for a summer cottage.

Central Hall in Breakers Mansion
Breakers Mansion

Breakers has five floors and 62,482 square feet of living space. Below are photos of the beautiful music room and dining room in the mansion.

Music Room in Breakers Mansion
Breakers Mansion Dining Room

A large glass wall on the Eastern side of the Breakers looks out at the Loggia (covered corridor), back lawn and the sea. The mansion gets its name from the waves that continually crash against the cliffs below the house.

Breakers Loggia

It was quite a visit to a much different time touring these amazing summer cottages. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as well. Stay tuned for my next blog post on more Newport adventures.

Exploring Rhode Island and Camping with Headstones

Map of the Rhode Island area we explored while staying in Middletown and visiting Newport

Since I still haven’t written about our summer in New England, I wanted to return to those states and post about some of our discoveries there. I figure this will be a good time since we are continuing to hang out in California for awhile longer and will not be doing much sightseeing. I thought I would start with Rhode Island, the smallest state in America and one that definitely made an impression on me. It was easy to decide which city and area to focus on in Rhode Island as Newport sounded the most intriguing with its seaside location and lots of history. There were few RV parks available near Newport, but there was one in Middletown just a few miles north. Reviewers were not that complimentary of the park, describing it as camping in an empty field with no amenities. We were coming a few days before Labor Day weekend and luckily they had a spot for us. I wasn’t expecting much and just hoped we could make do for the week we were staying.

A tiny Rhode Island Historical Cemetery next to our RV site

After checking in we were shown to our site where RVs were in fact, crammed together in a small field with no amenities. But our spot had a little something extra as it was right next to a teeny tiny cemetery with a sign of protection from the Rhode Island Historical Society. We did our best to pull in without driving over the burial plots. I couldn’t help but wonder, where was the fence around this little cemetery and why so little protection? After getting our trailer in I checked out the most prominent headstone which listed an Edward Tewes from 1776. Camping right next to a burial ground was a first for us, but next to a headstone that was well over 200 years old was something rather different indeed. Always curious, I tried to dig up a little about Edward online. What was his former occupation? Could he have died fighting in the Revolutionary War? Is this his date of birth rather than date of death? I had questions, but unfortunately came up with no answers about our neighbor. In the days ahead as I passed close by Edward’s tombstone to get into our truck, “good morning Edward,” or “good day Edward” became my mantra.

Edward Tewes, 1776

During our first day while Mark got the trailer hooked up I wandered down the street away from the RV park and found more history. This is one of the things I love about traveling and coming to a new place. You never know what you will find and I found something interesting at the end of the street. At a little park was the Boyd’s Wind Gristmill from 1810 which in addition to being beautiful and old had other historical significance. Still in operational order, it was moved to this park from another location in the state. A large mill stone located here was used during 1840-1844 with grain from almost every farm on Rhode Island passing over its surface. Rhode Island is surely a small state, but it is hard to imagine one mill stone and windmill doing the job for every farm.

Boyd’s Wind Gristmill built in 1810

Besides the windmill, a historic school house is also located at the park. Walking along the street I saw a number of historic homes with plaques. They had dates from the later 1700’s and into the early 1800’s, like the beautiful wood shingled home below. Instead of fences that are normally seen in a neighborhood, here it was old stone walls up and down the street. There is nothing like a good old fashioned stone wall to take you back a few years. Our neighboring burial plot and my walk around the neighborhood set the stage for all the history we would be seeing in Newport in the coming days. I also realized that this RV Park was actually not a bad find and we didn’t need any amenities this week any way.

Our first night in Middletown we found a pizza place that was supposed to be pretty good called “Carmella’s.” After ordering I was looking at the chalkboard sign on the back wall advertising all the good things in their pizza. My eye was drawn to the “Stanislaus Plum Tomatoes” used in their homemade sauce. I wondered, could these tomatoes be from the same Stanislaus County in California where we lived for many years before taking up RVing? It seemed likely since many tomatoes are processed in that county. In fact I have driven by those processing plants from time to time and seen the trucks loaded with fresh picked tomatoes. Upon inquiring, we found out that yes, we were right. What a small world – here we were at the opposite end of the U.S. eating pizza with tomatoes from our former California home.

Here at Carmella’s we ate good pizza with tomatoes grown in our former California county.

In Middletown we made another great find – the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge right next to the Bay. It had a nice system of trails with beautiful coastal views and little paths down to the water. In addition, there was the hope of seeing waterfowl, deer and other wildlife. A beach near the wildlife refuge was called Second Beach and was very popular with locals and visitors. The cost to park in the lot by the beach seemed a little outrageous at $15.00 per car on weekdays and $25.00 on weekends. It didn’t take long to discover that people love the beaches in the Newport area. Our friendly neighbors at the RV park kept their trailer here throughout the summer, coming frequently for the past 40 years from their home in Connecticut. When I asked about the beaches in Connecticut they said they weren’t worth going to, the best beaches were in Middletown and Newport. They went to Second Beach every day while we were there.

Mark walking the path by the Bay at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge

We came to Sachuest several times to walk the trails and watch the sunsets. One sunset was particularly gorgeous as golden light burst from a hole in the parting clouds.

Another lovely sunset from Sachuest looking out on the Bay toward Middletown.

We had almost perfect weather during our week in Rhode Island. There was not a single drop of rain during our stay, a rarity in the Eastern U.S. and something I always hoped to see! The temperatures were also that ideal summer warmth. I soon realized that a week in Middletown and Newport, Rhode Island was not going to be long enough. I will close with a scenic coastal view from one of Newport’s lighthouses.

Castle Hill Lighthouse, an active light in Newport, Rhode Island

Thanks for checking in! In my next blog more exploring in Newport.