Pelham Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking east on Pelham Street, toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around the early 1880s. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These photos show the same scene as those in an earlier post, just from the opposite view along Pelham Street. Here, a mix of 18th and 19th century homes line either side of the narrow street, with the United Congregational Church standing in the distance at the corner of Spring Street. Probably the oldest of these is the Langley-King House, which is partially visible on the extreme left of the photo. It was built around 1710, expanded around the mid-18th century, and eventually restored in the early 1970s. Next to it is the three-story John Gidley House, which was built around 1744, and further in the distance are several other homes that date to around the 18th century.

On the right side of the street, probably the newest house in the first photo is the Anthony Stewart, Jr. House. It was built around the 1860s or early 1870s, and its Victorian-era Mansard roof and bay windows stand in sharp contrast to the colonial-era buildings all around it. Its neighbor to the right, the c.1804 Jonathan Bowen House, also features a Mansard roof, although this was evidently added at some point after the first photo was taken. Further in the distance on the right is the small gambrel-roofed Lucina Langley House, which was built sometime before 1771 and still stands at 43 Pelham Street. However, its neighbor to the left, at the corner of Spring Street, was demolished sometime soon after the first photo was taken, and was replaced by the present-day William M. Austin House in 1883.

Perhaps the most historically significant building in this scene is the United Congregational Church. This Romanesque Revival-style brownstone church was completed in 1857, and was the work of noted New York architect Joseph C. Wells. At the time, the interior was largely plain, in keeping with the Puritan traditions of the Congregational Church, but this changed in 1880, when the prominent artist John La Farge was commissioned to redesign the interior. His only restriction was that he could not include illustrations of figures, or any Christian symbols, as these could be seen as violations of the second commandment’s prohibition of graven images. As a result, La Farge drew heavily upon Byzantine and even Islamic tradition, incorporating intricate geometric patterns and other abstract designs into his work. This ultimately included 20 stained glass windows, along with a number of murals on the walls and ceiling, and it was completed shortly before the first photo was taken.

Today, more than 130 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. All of the houses are still here, except for the one on the right at the corner of Spring Street, and the church is also still standing. It is now partially hidden by trees and by the Austin House, but the only significant change is the loss of the pyramidal roofs atop the towers, which were destroyed in the 1938 hurricane and were never replaced. All of the buildings in this scene are now part of the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was created in 1968. However, the United Congregational Church was also individually designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2012, in recognition of La Farge’s interior design of the building.

Spring Street from Prospect Hill Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street from the corner of Prospect Hill Street in Newport, around 1888. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Downtown Newport has a remarkable collection of historic buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but few street scenes have remained as well-preserved as this block of Spring Street. Aside from the addition of pavement and telephone poles, there are hardly any differences between these two photos, which were taken nearly 130 years apart. However, these buildings were already old when the first photo was taken, so it has been nearly 250 years since there were any major changes to this scene.

Most of the buildings in this scene date back to the mid to late 18th century. Starting in the foreground, at the corner of Spring Street and Prospect Hill Street, is the Lyn Martin House, which was built sometime between 1758 and 1777. The next two houses were also built during this same time period, including the Robert Brattle House at 209 Spring Street, and the Benjamin Howland House further in the distance at 205 Spring Street. Just beyond the Howland House is the Cremin House at 199 Spring Street, which was somewhat newer than its neighbors, having been built around 1785-1790. However, the newest building along this section of Spring Street is the William N. Austin House, which is barely visible on the far right side of the scene. It was built in 1883 at the corner of Spring and Pelham Streets, and replaced a very modest colonial-era building that once stood on the site.

With the exception of the Austin House, all of these buildings date back to Newport’s golden age as a prosperous seaport in the 18th century. However, the American Revolution caused irrevocable harm to Newport’s shipping industry, and the city experienced a long economic decline throughout the first half of the 19th century. As a result, though, there was very little new development in the city during this period, which may have helped contribute to the survival of so many colonial-era buildings, including these ones along Spring Street.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1888, Newport has reinvented itself as one of the nation’s premier resort communities, with the Vanderbilts, Astors, and other Gilded Age families spending their summers in palatial seaside homes. Most of this development was occurring in the southern part of Newport, leaving the downtown area largely intact as a quaint reminder of the city’s past. There are a few signs of progress, including the trolley tracks on Spring Street, but otherwise the scene looks much the same as it would have been a century earlier.

Today, all of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, with only a few significant alterations. The most obvious of these is the addition of the porch on the left side of the Martin House, but other changes include the dormer windows atop the neighboring Brattle House. Further in the distance, there are no noticeable changes to the Howland House, but it is now operated as the Howland House Inn. Along with much of the surrounding area, these buildings are now part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Samuel Bours House, Newport, Rhode Island

The house at 175 Spring Street, just south of Mill Street in Newport, around 1932. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a group of buildings on the west side of Spring Street, just south of the corner of Mill Street. Of these, the oldest might be the Jonathan Gibbs House, which was built around 1771 and still stands on the left side of the scene. However, its much larger neighbor in the center of the photo was probably built around the same time, and was definitely here by 1777, when it was owned by the merchant Samuel Bours. Its architecture is similar to many other colonial-era homes in Newport, with Georgian-style details and a gambrel roof, although it had a rather unusual main entrance, which was located on the side of the house instead of facing the street.

By the early 19th century, the house was owned by Samuel’s son, John Bours. This period coincided with the economic decline of Newport, though, and in subsequent years this former merchant’s house became the home of working class residents. The 1880 census shows two families living here, with carpenter George A. Brown living in one unit with his wife Mary and their son Orin, and florist Carl H. Jurgens living in the other unit with his wife Louise and three children.

The Brown family continued to live here in the house for many years, and the 1910 census shows George, Mary, and Orin all still living here. Orin was 39 years old and working as a mailman by this point, and he lived here with his wife Nellie and their four young children. The first photo was taken a little over 20 years later, in 1932. Nellie had died a year before, but Orin was still living here, and he also rented part of the house to Norwegian-born fisherman Henry Monsen and his wife Josephine.

Orin Brown subsequently remarried to his second wife, Fannie, and he lived here in this house until his death in 1953, at the age of 83. Then, in 1969, the house was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, which also acquired the neighboring Jonathan Gibbs House in the same year. Also in 1969, the organization purchased the c.1811 Alexander Jack, Jr. House, which had previously stood on Levin Street. The house was moved to the corner of Spring and Mill Streets, adjacent to the Bours House, and is visible on the right side of the 2017 photo. All three of these houses were restored in the early 1970s, and they are now part of the Newport Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark district.

Spring and Mill Streets, Newport, Rhode Island

The northwest corner of Spring and Mill Streets in Newport, around 1928. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows an evidently abandoned building that once stood at the corner of Mill and Spring Streets in Newport. It was probably built at some point in the second half of the 18th century, as it shares many common architectural features of this period, most notably the gambrel roof. Many surviving Newport buildings have a similar style, including the somewhat smaller White Horse Tavern building, which was originally constructed in the 17th century but was expanded to its present-day appearance a century later.

The 1777 map of Newport shows a building standing here at the corner, although it is unclear whether it was this particular building or an earlier one. Either way, the building was here by the 19th century, and the 1876 city atlas shows that the property belonged to Theodore R. Helme. His occupation was variously listed as a mason, carpenter, auctioneer, and grocer, and he also owned the commercial block that still stands on the opposite side of the street, at 148-160 Spring Street. He died around the turn of the 20th century, but the 1907 city atlas shows that his widow Ruby still owned this property, along with the one across the street.

The first photo shows that the building had several storefronts on the ground floor, and the upper floors were presumably divided into apartments. However, by the time the photo was taken in 1928, the building had fallen into serious disrepair. The upper floors were clearly empty, with hardly any surviving windows, and the storefronts also appear to have been vacant. The sign above the stores is completely illegible, and the only things visible in the windows are posters advertising for a circus on Wednesday, May 31. If the 1928 date of the photo is accurate, these posters must have been there for a long time, because the last time May 31 had fallen on a Wednesday was in 1922, and it would not do so again until 1933.

Based on its condition in the first photo, this building likely did not survive beyond the 1930s at the latest. The neighboring building on the far right side has also since been demolished, and today the area is a park adjacent to Trinity Church. Only the top of the church spire is visible in the first photo, but the entire building can now be seen from this angle. It was completed in 1726 and it features a design that is very similar to that of Old North Church in Boston, which was built only a few years earlier. Although the other buildings from the photo are gone, the nearly 300-year-old church is still standing, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its architectural and historical significance.

Spring Street from Church Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street from the corner of Church Street in Newport, around 1887. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These photos were taken directly across Spring Street from Trinity Church, and show the west side of the street, on the block between Church and Mary Streets. A small portion of the churchyard is visible on the far left side of the scene, with an assortment of commercial and residential buildings beyond it. Most of the buildings from the first photo are still standing today, with remarkably few exterior changes, but the one significant difference between the two photos is the building in the foreground, at the corner of Church Street. The first photo shows a colonial-era, gambrel-roofed house that was probably built in the early or mid-18th century. It was probably constructed as a house, but by the late 19th century it included a storefront on the Spring Street facade, which was occupied by the L. Schaefer shoe repair shop. However, the building was demolished sometime around the turn of the 20th century, when the present-day building was constructed on the site.

Further down the street, most of the buildings are still standing. Starting closest to the foreground is the blue and white John Preston Mann House, which was built around 1827. Next to it, with the mansard roof and two-story bay window, is the William B. Sherman House, which was built around the 1860s and is now the Outlook Inn. Further in the distance, barely visible in both photos, is the gambrel-roofed Samuel Barker House. This elegant house was built around 1714, and stands as probably the oldest recognizable building in this scene, predating most of its neighbors by more than a century. Today, all of these buildings, including the turn-of-the-century corner building, are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Spring Street from Mary Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street, toward the corner of Mary Street in Newport, around the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Narrow streets such as these are typical in downtown Newport, where the street network was laid out long before the advent of automobiles. Even Spring Street, which is a fairly major street, is hemmed in by densely-crowded historic buildings on either side, leaving just a single travel lane for northbound traffic in the present-day photo. This is not much of a change from the first photo, taken around the 1920s, which shows several cars sharing the narrow street with a trolley line on the right side.

In nearly a century since the first photo was taken, most of the buildings in this scene are still standing. On the far left is the Odlin-Otis House, which is probably the oldest building in this scene. It was constructed around 1705 and was subsequently expanded, although by the time the first photo was taken it had been altered and converted into a two-family home. On the other side of Mary Street, just beyond the Odlin-Otis House, is the Franklin Bakery, which was built in 1876 and stands as the only brick building in the scene.

Further in the distance on the left side of the street, there are several houses beyond the Franklin Bakery. Closest to the foreground is the c.1870s George C. Barker House, which still stands and now features a coat of dark blue paint. Two houses down from the Barker House is the gambrel-roofed Elisha Johnson House, which was built around 1750 and is now painted brown. In between these two houses, the first photo shows a gable-roofed house with two windows on the first and second floors. This building is the only noticeable change from the first photo, as it was demolished around 1969 in order to move the c.1807 Edward Willis House onto the site.

The buildings on the right side of this scene are not as easily visible from this angle, but they have been similarly well-preserved over the years. Today, thia section of Spring Street features a remarkable collection of historic 18th and 19th century buildings, all of which are now part of the Newport Historic District. This is one of the many historic districts in Newport, encompassing much of the downtown area, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of historic recognition in the country