Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

Middle-Class Newport

Newport's middle-class residents played an influential role in the growth of the town. Middle-class vacationers came from Northeastern cities to enjoy Newport's resort culture.

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison
Newport drew a number of accomplished architects. Peter Harrison designed Redwood Library (1748), as well as the Brick Market (1762) and Touro Synagogue (1763). Richard Munday designed the town's landmark, Trinity Church (1726). [1]

Richard Morris Hunt designed many homes for Newport's upper-class families during the Gilded Age. George Champlin Mason and Dudley Newton also designed summer homes in Newport.

City Officials
In the 1880s, city officials created a series of parks in residential areas, including Morton Park, Ellery Park, and Battery Park. Morton Park founder Levi P. Morton went on to become Vice President of the United States under Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893).

Newport's businessmen included bankers, merchants, and real estate developers. Newport's bankers established the first Savings and Loan Association and the Newport Businessmen's Association. [2]

While nineteenth-century Newport was a largely segregated community, a number of African Americans were successful businessmen there.

George T. Downing
George T. Downing
George T. Downing operated the Sea Girt Hotel in the 1850s. He owned a commercial real estate block in the 1860s. Active in Rhode Island politics, Downing worked with Thomas Wentworth Higginson to desegregate Newport schools in the 1860s.

Reverend Mahlon Van Horne, pastor of Union Congregational Church, helped desegregate the School Committee in 1873. [3] Armstead Hurley, a migrant from Culpeper County, Virginia, owned and operated a successful housepainting service. David B. Allen and J. T. Allen operated the Hygeia Spa on Thames Street and Easton's Beach. [4]

Middle-class reformers established the Newport Hospital (1873), the Sanitary Improvement Association (1887), and the Newport Civic League. [5] The Newport Civic League undertook an important study to improve working conditions during the winter months in Newport.

Military Officers
Newport Navy
Newport Navy
The United States military was another important presence in nineteenth-century Newport. The U.S. Army established a base at Fort Adams.

The U.S. Navy established the Naval Torpedo Station on nearby Goat Island. Coasters Harbor Island became the site for the Naval Training Station in 1880 and the Naval War College in 1884, both of which were founded by Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce. [6]

Newport's upper-class families and the military appear to have coexisted. Maud Howe Elliott, daughter of Julia Ward Howe, recalled in her memoir that women gathered at Fort Adams in the 1870s to watch the drills and dance with the officers.

Naval officers were welcomed at parties on Bellevue Avenue. Elizabeth Drexel Lehr's husband, Harry Lehr, sometimes contacted the Naval base to request bridge players or extra dancers for the balls. [7]

Summer Vacationers
Bathers at Easton's Beach
Bathers at
Easton's Beach
Middle-class Americans took vacations to resorts along the Atlantic seaboard. They chose from a variety of transportation routes to reach their destinations. In the Northeast, a series of railroads and trolley lines operated in tandem with steamboat lines to connect major cities with resort towns.

Middle-class vacationers took extended trips to Newport, staying in inexpensive hotels or boarding houses, usually for less than a month.

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001