Thames Street from Cannon Street, Newport, RI

Looking east on Cannon Street from the corner of Thames Street in Newport, around 1915. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the view looking up the hill along Cannon Street, a narrow side street that stretched one block from Thames Street to Spring Street. At the time, the street was lined with a variety of houses, most of which appear to have been built during the 19th century. On the left side, at the corner of Thames Street, was a bicycle shop, and several bicycles are visible in the window, just above the dog on the sidewalk. Aside from the bicycles, the cars in the distance are the only other sign of modernity, as the rest of this scene had probably not undergone any significant changes in several decades.

However, this scene would change dramatically within only a year or two after the first photo was taken. Around 1916, the buildings in the foreground were demolished to build a new post office, which now stands on the left side of the present-day photo. Further changes came in the mid-20th century, when Cannon Street was significantly widened to become Memorial Boulevard West. All of the buildings on the south side of the street were either demolished or relocated, but the few remaining ones here on the north side were largely unaffected, aside from being renumbered with Memorial Boulevard West addresses.

Today, the only surviving building that is easily recognizable from the first photo is the yellow Victorian-style house just to the right of the center in the 2017 photo. According to the Newport Historic District inventory, it was built around 1850. However, it must have been significantly altered later in the 19th century, because its Mansard roof and small turret are more in line with architectural styles of the 1870s and 1880s. The house is hard to see in the first photo, but it is partially visible just behind the first car. At the time, it was the home of Mary Maloney, an Irish immigrant who worked as a laundress and lived here with her sister, her niece, and her nephew. The house has since been converted into a bed and breakfast, and it is now the Burbank Rose Inn.

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 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

Odlin-Otis House, Newport, Rhode Island

The Odlin-Otis House at 109 Spring Street, at the corner of Mary Street in Newport, in 1924. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

The streets of downtown Newport are lined with many historic colonial-era buildings, including this house at the corner of Spring and Mary Streets. It was originally owned by John Odlin, who purchased the property in 1705 and evidently constructed the house shortly afterward. The house was subsequently expanded several times in the early 18th century, creating a long, narrow house with a highly asymmetrical Spring Street facade. Other early owners of the house included Jonathan Otis, a silversmith who was here around the time of the American Revolution.

At some point during the 19th century, the house was divided into two units, with two front entrances on the Spring Street side, as seen in the first photo. This arrangement continued throughout much of the 20th century, and at some point the exterior was covered in artificial siding. Despite these changes, the house remained as one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport, and in 1968 it became a contributing property in the Newport Historic District. Four years later, it was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that has been responsible for saving dozens of historic properties in the city. The Odlin-Otis House was restored in 1976-1977, and today it stands in far better condition than it was in when the first photo was taken nearly a century ago.