Marlborough Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking west on Marlborough Street from Farewell Street in Newport, around 1911. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene on Marlborough Street includes several notable Newport landmarks, with the most significant being the White Horse Tavern on the far right. This building is perhaps the oldest in the city, dating back to before 1673. It was just a two-story, two-room house at the time, but it was later expanded, and by 1687 it was being operated as a tavern by William Mayes, Sr. His son, William Mayes, Jr., had a career as a pirate before returning to Newport, retiring from piracy, and taking over the operation of the tavern in 1703. Within a few years, though, his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols, owned the property, and it would remain in the Nichols family for nearly two more centuries.

In the years before the Colony House was built in the 1730s, the colonial legislature often met here at the White Horse Tavern, which acquired its current name around this same time. Some 40 years later, it was used to house British soldiers during the American Revolution, and after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof. It would continue to be owned by the Nichols family until it was finally sold in 1895. The first photo was taken only about 16 years later, and at this point it had been converted into a rooming house.

The White Horse Tavern was already an old building in 1807 when the other prominent landmark in this scene, St. Paul’s Methodist Church, was completed. Long known for its religious tolerance, Rhode Island was among the first places where Methodism took root in America in the late 18th century. However, the Newport congregation caused a considerable stir in the Methodist community when they built this church. Although similar to other New England churches of the era, it was far more elaborate than the plain meeting houses that early Methodists worshipped in. It is considered to be the first Methodist church in America to have a steeple, bell, and pews, and early Methodist leader Bishop Francis Asbury is said to have “lifted his hands with holy horror when he first saw it and predicted that a church which began with a steeple would end with a choir and perhaps even an organ.”

Bishop Asbury was ultimately proved right in his prediction about the organ, with the congregation installing one in the church in the 1850s. However, an even more significant change had come about 15 years earlier in 1842, when the entire building was raised eight feet and a new, full-story foundation was built beneath it to make space for a parish hall. Otherwise, the exterior of the church has not significantly changed, although the building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1881. However, it was subsequently restored, and the first photo was taken about 20 years later.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, most of the historic buildings on both sides of Marlborough Street have been demolished. Even the White Horse Tavern itself was threatened with demolition. Badly deteriorated and neglected more than 50 years after it became a rooming house, it was nearly demolished in the 1950s to build a gas station here on the corner. Instead, though, it was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored it and reopened it as a tavern in 1957. It remains in operation today, and is marketed as America’s oldest tavern. Further down the street, St. Paul’s Methodist Church is also still standing, and still houses the same congregation. The 2017 photo shows it in the midst of a restoration project, but otherwise it is largely unchanged from the first photo, and both it and the White Horse Tavern are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark district.

Buckley Block, Newport, Rhode Island

The building at the corner of Broadway and Oak Street in Newport, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This commercial block was built around the turn of the 20th century, and was originally owned by Patrick Buckley, an Irish-born grocer whose store was located here in the building. The sign is not legible in the first photo, but the corner storefront has meat on display in the windows, along with what appears to be shelves with bottles. The store, which he operated with his sons David and John, was here until around the early 1910s, but by the middle of the decade the ground floor of the building was the home of the I.X.L. Company, a furniture store that, according to its advertisement in the city directory, had “Office and house furnishings of every description.”

The building was owned by the Buckley family until 1928, and the I.X.L. Company was here until at least the early 1930s. However, they appear to have left soon after, because they are not listed in the 1935 city directory. By the early 1950s, there were at least three different stores on the ground floor, with the 1951 city directory listing Minkin Auto & Radio Store on the left side, Valeteria Cleansers in the middle, and Cote Pharmacy on the right side. Along with these commercial tenants, the two upper floors were rented out as apartments.

Around 115 years after the first photo was taken, the building is still standing, although the exterior has had some significant alterations over the years. As originally built, the Buckley Block had a Colonial Revival-style exterior, with decorative elements such as shutters on the windows, a balustrade on the roof, and quoins at the corners of the upper floors. However, at some point – probably in the early 1900s – these were removed and the exterior was covered in wood shingles. The storefronts have also been significantly altered, with only the one on the left bearing much resemblance to the original photo. Overall, though, the building has retained much of its early 20th century appearance, and it is now a contributing property in the Newport Historic District.

Broadway from Spring Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Broadway from near the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

When the first photo was taken, the west side of Broadway was lined with a variety of wood-framed commercial buildings that dated back to the 19th century. The ones in the foreground, at the corner of Marlborough Street, appear to have been the oldest, with the gambrel-roofed building on the far left probably over a century old at this point. The building just to the right of it, with the three dormer windows, may have been almost as old, and was probably built in the early decades of the 19th century. Just beyond it, the gable-roofed building was somewhat newer, dating to around the 1840s, and the larger, more ornate building on the right side was probably built around the 1860s or 1870s.

The first photo shows signs for a number of different businesses in these storefronts. The one on the left was William S. Hazard’s meat market, while G. B. Smith’s furniture repair company was located out of the back of the building. Continuing to the right was Sam Lee Laundry, followed by an ice cream shop with a sign on the sidewalk that reads “Try our ice cream.” A carriage blocks the view of the next storefront, but the gable-roofed building to the right of it has a sign for the Newport Paper Company. A young boy was apparently posing for the camera, and can be seen seated on a hitching post in front of Sam Lee Laundry.

Today, much of downtown Newport has remained remarkably well-preserved, but this particular scene along Broadway has seen more drastic changes over the past 113 years. Only one building, the 1840s gable-roofed one in the center of the scene, is still standing from the first photo. The two buildings on the left are long gone, and the site is now a small plaza at the corner of Broadway and Marlborough Street. Further in the distance, these buildings were demolished by the late 1920s to build the Paramount Theatre, which opened in 1929. This project also included the construction of one-story commercial buildings on either side of the theater, and these are still standing today. The theater building is also still there, partially visible in the distant center, but it was converted into apartments in the 1980s.

Brick Market, Newport, Rhode Island

The Brick Market on Thames Street, opposite Washington Square in Newport, in 1890. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Downtown Newport is renowned for its many colonial-era buildings, but one of the finest is the Brick Market, located along Thames Street at the western end of Washington Square. It is a prominent architectural landmark, and is one of only a handful of surviving buildings that are known to have been designed by Peter Harrison, one of the first formally-trained architects in America. Born in England in 1716, Harrison came to Rhode Island in 1740 but returned to England a few years later, where he studied architecture. Upon returning to the colonies, he designed several prominent buildings in New England, including King’s Chapel in Boston, Christ Church in Cambridge, and the Redwood Library and Touro Synagogue here in Newport.

The Brick Market was the last of his confirmed works, and is shows the influence that English architecture had on his designs. The building’s design was based on the Old Somerset House in London, with Harrison copying elements such as the arcade on the lower floor, the pilasters on the upper floors, and even the alternating arched and triangular window pediments. He designed the Brick Market in the early 1760s, and construction began in 1762. However, financial difficulties delayed the construction, and it was not completed until 1772.

Upon completion, the building consisted of an open-air market on the ground floor, similar to other contemporary New England marketplaces such as Faneuil Hall, while upper floors were used for offices and dry goods storage. However, over the years the building’s use changed several times, starting in the 1790s when the upper section was converted into a theater. Then, in 1842, the building was converted into Newport’s city hall, which included removing the third floor and replacing it with seating galleries. It was still in use as city hall when the first photo was taken in 1890, and it would remain so for another decade, until the current city hall was completed in 1900.

By the early 20th century the Brick Market was in poor condition, but it was restored in the 1920s by Norman Isham, an architectural historian and professor who specialized in preserving colonial-era buildings in Rhode Island. The building is now owned by the Newport Historical Society and operated as the Museum of Newport History, where it stands amid modern shopping plazas. All of the other historic buildings on the west side of Thames Street between Marlborough Street and Memorial Boulevard have since been demolished, and today the only other building still standing from the first photo is the one on the far left, at the corner of Thames and Touro Streets. Known as the Henry B. Young Building, it was built in 1861 but was heavily altered in the 20th century, including the removal of the top floor, and today it bears little resemblance to the building from the first photo.

Washington Square, Newport, Rhode Island

Facing west along the north side of Washington Square in Newport, around 1880. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Washington Square has been the main focal point of Newport since its establishment in 1639, when the first settlers built their homes in this area. Over the years, it was variously known as the Mall and the Parade, and by the mid-18th century it was the civic and commercial center of Newport, with the Colony House and the Brick Market locates on opposite ends of the square. In a sense, this arrangement was somewhat unusual for New England towns, which typically had a church, as opposed to secular buildings, situated in the most prominent location on the town common. However, here in Newport this reflected colonial Rhode Island’s focus on religious liberty, by not showing preference to one particular church over another.

Around the turn of the 19th century, the area came to be known as Washington Square, and over the next few decades the park was landscaped with trees, fences, walking paths, and a fountain. During this time, the square was the site of many fine mansions, including the one that is seen on the far left side of the photo. Built around 1750 for Peter Buliod, this house was purchased in 1818 by Oliver Hazard Perry, a Rhode Island native who achieved prominence as a naval hero in the War of 1812. He died a year later while serving in the Caribbean, but the house remained in his family until 1865, only about 15 years before the first photo was taken.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1880, modern commercial buildings had come to dominate the square, although some of the old mansions were still standing. Perry’s former house had become a commercial property, with a storefront on the first floor, and on the other side of the photo, further in the distance, was the Rathbun-Gardner-Rivera House, which had been built around 1722 and converted into a bank in 1803. In the center of the photo, the colonial-era Brick Market was still standing, although by this point it had become Newport’s city hall. Directly behind the photographer, the old Colony House was also still standing, and it was still in use as one of Rhode Island’s two state houses, with the state legislature alternating sessions between here and Providence.

Nearly 140 years after the first photo was taken, Washington Square has not undergone any significant changes. Some of the 19th century buildings have come and gone, but overall the area has retained the same scale, with mostly two and three-story commercial buildings surrounding the square. It is hard to tell because of the trees, but most of the buildings on the left side of the scene are still there today. On the far left, the Buliod-Perry House is still there, and was restored to its original appearance in the mid-1970s. Next to it is the Henry Bull Opera House, which was built in 1867 and still stands, although it no longer has its top floor. The Perry House Hotel to the right of it was demolished in the 20th century and replaced with a two-story commercial building, and at the corner of Thames Street the 1861 Henry B. Young Building still stands, although heavily altered and without its top floor.

The 1760s Brick Market is still standing at the western end of Washington Square, and it is now a National Historic Landmark that serves as the Museum of Newport History. Further to the right, the Rathbun-Gardner-Rivera House is still there, partially visible just to the left of the handicapped parking signpost. It is still a bank, having been used as such for over 200 years, but otherwise the right side of the scene is not as well-preserved as the left side. All of the other buildings here on the north side of Washington Square are from the first half of the 20th century, and the ones in this scene date back to around 1929-1931. However, directly behind the spot where this photo was taken, the Colony House is still standing as another one of Newport’s many National Historic Landmarks.

As for the park at the center of Washington Square, it is not much different from when the first photo was taken. The only significant change came in 1885, when a statue was dedicated to Oliver Hazard Perry to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. Located directly opposite his house, it is mostly hidden by trees but still stands on the square. The park itself was renamed Eisenhower Park in 1960, joining Washington and Perry as another military hero whose name would be associated with the square. Eisenhower spent several summers here in Newport during his presidency, and he was present here at the park for the dedication ceremonies in the summer of 1960, during his last year in office. A few years later, in 1968, the park would join the rest of the neighborhood as a contributing property in the Newport Historic District, which is collectively another one of the city’s National Historic Landmarks.

Anna Pell House, Newport, Rhode Island

The house at the corner of Mary and Clarke Streets in Newport, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built sometime around the late 1870s or early 1880s, and was originally owned by Anna Pell, although she does not appear to have personally lived here. Born in 1817 in Cooperstown, New York, Anna was the daughter of George Clarke, a prominent landowner who owned Hyde Hall, a mansion on Lake Otsego that was said to have been the largest private home in the country at the time. She and her husband, Duncan C. Pell, subsequently lived here in Newport, in a house on the opposite side of Mary Street from here. Duncan served as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island from 1865 to 1866, and the 1870 census lists him as a retired merchant, with a net worth of nearly $400,000, or nearly $8 million today.

Duncan Pell died in 1874, and within the next decade Anna built this house across the street from their home. She appears to have continued to live in her husband’s house across the street until her death in 1899, but during this time she rented this newer house to Sidney Woollett, who was living here with his wife Julia by around 1885. Woollett was an elocutionist who was notable for his public poetry recitations, specializing in Shakespeare, Longfellow, and Poe, and he appeared to have had some sort of personal connection to Anna Pell, because in 1884 he named his youngest daughter Anna Pell Woollett. Along with Anna, he and Julia had three other children, and the family lived here until the end of the 19th century, around the same time that Anna Pell died.

By the time the first photo was taken a few years later, the house was owned by Patrick J. Boyle, the longtime mayor of Newport. He was the child of Irish immigrants, and was born in Newport in 1860. As a teenager, Boyle had begun working for the Newport Gas Light Company, and served for many years as the company’s bookkeeper. In 1895, he was elected to his first term as mayor, and over the next few decades he was re-elected to sixteen more terms in office, a remarkable record for a Democrat in a largely Republican city. His first wife, Anne, died sometime before he moved into this house, and in the early 1900s he remarried to his second wife, Alice Lee. He had one son, Patrick, from his first marriage, and he and Alice had two daughters: Alice and Barbara.

Patrick Boyle was still serving as mayor, and was still living in this house, when he died in 1923. The rest of his family continued to live here for several more years, but around 1928 Alice moved to New York City. Around 90 years later, the house remains well-preserved, although partially hidden by trees and other vegetation from this angle. Along with the rest of the historic 17th, 18th, and 19th century buildings in the center of Newport, the house is now part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.