Everyone wants to talk about Newport—the people who live there, the musicians who play there, the tourists who visit there.
The city’s slogan is “America’s First Resort,” and this label seems to have held true in some manner or other for centuries. Native Americans in the area had a summer settlement in what is presently downtown Newport and hadset up land management and fishing practices well before Europeans ever set foot on the island. According to the Newport Historical Society, “the work these native people had done clearing the land was one of the factors that made this area attractive to English settlers.”
Once the settlers arrived in the early 1600s, it did not take them long to make the most of the sea. This led to a rather paradoxical and checkered history, in which trade and piracy flourished together, as did both religious diversity and human trafficking. While not everything about Newport’s history is praiseworthy, it certainly laida foundation for the city’s current eclectic and vibrant atmosphere. Over the decades, its fortune has ebbed and flowed like the waters surrounding it, booming when the ports were free, and slumping when, for example, the British occupied the city during the American Revolution.
Newport came into its own as a resort many years after the Revolution, when Southern planters flocked north in the summers to escape the southern heat and enjoy the coastal breezes. They began building grand dwellings in the city. Soon wealthy Yankees followed suit, and people like the Vanderbilts moved in, adding their own “cottages” (i.e., mansions) to the landscape. Those mansions include The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, considered the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family's social and financial preeminence; The Elms, the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York, which was modeled after the mid-18th century French chateau d’Asnieres outside Paris; Chateau-sur-Mer, an Italianate-style villa built for China trade merchant William Shepard Wetmore, and the most palatial residence in Newport until the appearance of the Vanderbilt houses in the 1890s; and Kingscote, a landmark of the Gothic Revival style in American architecture built in 1839 for Southern planter George Noble Jones.
Now tourists flock from far and wide to view these mansions, as well asto take advantage of the other seaside delights Newport has to offer.