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NEWPORT'S CLAIM TO FAME
Newport Rhode Island is a town of Colonial charm, Victorian architecture, Gilded Age mansions, inns, jazz festivals, tennis, a picturesque harbor, marvelous restaurants, narrow old streets, and "la bonne vie"- the good life.
However, not widely known, is that it is blessed with an unusual past, as evidenced by the many firsts this town can boast.
The White House Tavern located on Marlborough Street, is the oldest tavern building in continuous use in the USA. On Touro Street you will find the first synagogue in the USA, the Touro Synagogue, built in 1759.
Did you know that the first gas-illuminated streetlights (1803), and the first photograph taken by an electric light all took place in Newport? The oldest newspaper in continuous operation in the USA, The Newport Mercury, started its publishing days here in 1758 by the Franklyn Family. A leisurely stroll along the elegant Bellevue Avenue will lead you to the oldest lending library in the USA, Redwood Library, built around 1745. The Quakers can claim that its first settlement in North America was Newport. In 1895 Newport had been host to the first open golf tournament. And the list goes on and on, far too numerous to mention them all.
It is also where Jacqueline Bouvier grew up and married Jack Kennedy on the 12th of September 1953 at St Mary's Church, the oldest Roman Catholic Parish in Rhode Island, located at 70 Church Street.
English settlers first began arriving in Rhode Island in 1636, when an English clergyman, Roger Williams, and his small army of followers were practically drummed out of Massachusetts for their liberal religious views challenging the foundations of Puritanism.
Providence was the first settlement to be established in 1636, to be followed by Newport, in 1639.
Among Williams' followers were Ann Hutchinson along with her spouse William, and William Coddington. Eventually these three found their way to the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, and Coddington purchased from Native Americans, called the Narrangansetts, a tract of land, later to be renamed Newport.
What is momentous about these early settlers is that there was a concerted effort to cast off the restraints imposed by the political intervention in religious life, and to separate the church from the state. For this reason, Newport has often been described as the birthplace of democracy, and it provided a refuge for Jews and Quakers who were constantly escaping religious intolerance.
A visit to Newport is a romantic voyage back in time. It seems that everything in this historic town are reminders of its past.
To appreciate historic Newport a good starting point is to hop on the narrated Scenic Overview Tour, offered by Viking Tours of Newport that will take you along the 9.5 mile Ocean Drive overlooking the rugged Atlantic Ocean. The tour will remind you of Newport's seafaring past, as it was one of the leading ports in colonial America, along with Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston.
Bustling with activity in the 1700s, the waterfront was the scene of 150 separate wharves and hundreds of shops. Today, these old wharfs, Bannister's Wharf and Bowen's Wharf, have undergone a most impressive restoration housing charming restaurants and shops.
The tour will also point out some of the grandiose mansions lining Bellevue Avenue, where the Vanderbilts, Astors, and their friends spent their summers having a grand time partying. Mansions they referred to as their "cottages."
Or, if you prefer, why not jump aboard the Spirit of Newport where you will enjoy a one- hour narrated cruise of the harbor. The sightseeing boat departs behind the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina.
A visit to Newport would not be complete without taking a leisurely stroll along Bellevue Avenue. It is here where you will be able to enter some of Newport's castle-like mansions that have been preserved by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and are open to the public.
Incidentally, the Rosecliff Mansion has recently been the setting for such films as The Great Gatsby and True Lies.
If you are brave and energetic, try the scenic Cliff Walk, a 3½ -mile public park that winds its way between the backs of the Bellevue Avenue mansions and the ocean. In 1975 it was designated as a National Recreation Trail. It is one of the best ways to see the city.
To capture Newport's colonial charm, discriminating travelers will insist on well-appointed amenities, and no less than perfection when it comes to service. Without doubt, the legendary Hotel Viking, ideally located within the fashionable neighborhood of Bellevue Avenue's graceful mansions satisfies these requirements.
Stepping into this charming hotel is a step back in time circa 1920s. Originally built in 1926 at a cost of $500, 000.00, the hotel's primary's objective was to accommodate out-of-town guests of the famous Newport "400." (This prestigious list comprised 213 families and individuals, whose lineage could be traced back at least three generations.)
It is the only hotel in Newport to be listed in the prestigious National Register of Historic Places, and it is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America, as well as the Noble House Hotels and Resorts collection.
Over the years the hotel has been host to President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, the Astors and the Vanderbilts, many international dignitaries, Tennis Hall of Fame players and Newport Film and Jazz Festivals attendees.
Guests who appreciate Queen Anne and Chippendale-style furnishings will relish settling in one of the 237 newly renovated guest rooms offering an authentic romantic Newport experience. Among the amenities offered are a health club and sauna, state-of-the-art workout facilities, indoor pool (presently undergoing renovation), and two restaurants.
Newport lends itself to walking, and many visitors find this mode of transportation to be the most convenient way to explore the city's highlights. The Viking's adjacent parking lot makes it easy to forget about fighting traffic or parking spots. Once you check into the hotel and park your car, you are free to go on you way without any sweat.
Just about all of Newport's attractions, restaurants, antique stores, and boutiques are within an easy stroll from the hotel's front door. You will find many of them on Thames Street and Spring Street in the heart of Newport.
Newport, no doubt, is endowed with great history and culture; however, it also overflows with many fine-dining establishments.
Le Bistro, a Yankee Magazine Travel Guide "Editor's Pick Award" located on Bowen's Wharf , specializing in French country cuisine for the past twenty nine years is a favorite choice of visitors and locals alike.
This charming and intimate restaurant has a wonderful view of Newport's harbor, making it somewhat difficult to concentrate on the menu. After soaking in the beautiful scenery, turn your attention to the innovative menu. It will not disappoint you.
Recent diner selections included baked stuffed lobster, broiled local scrod, seafood linguini, roasted duck, steamed native lobster, New York Sirloin Steak, fresh sea scallops, grilled salmon, rack of lamb, shrimp saute, chicken saute. One caveat, the portions are humongous! We hardly had enough room to savor the finale, the delectable deserts, such as the apple tart and the amaretto cheesecake.
The casual atmosphere of the restaurant with its simple decor makes you feel at ease, creating an ideal setting for a pleasant romantic rendezvous. In fact, the couple seated beside us was celebrating their tenth anniversary, and from what I gathered from our extremely helpful and courteous waiter, many an anniversary had been celebrated here.
Try arriving early in order to be seated near the window.