Another beautiful weekend, and I drove down south again: this time to Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is not really a likely February destination but why not when it is 50 degrees, clear and sunny? I had an academic rationale for my trip, but I spent most of the day wandering around looking at houses. The Remond family, the African-American family who lived and worked at Hamilton Hall in Salem for many years, was exiled to Newport from 1835 to 1843 when two of the Remond daughters were expelled from Salem High School: their father John, an advocate for abolition, desegregation, and universal suffrage, promptly moved his family out of town in protest. As I’ve got several talks scheduled on the Remonds in the next few months and I’ve largely ignored their Newport interlude, I went down to see some of the places they might have inhabited: not much luck with home or shop but I did find their church, or at least the present incarnation of what was their church: the Union Congregational Church, the first free black church in America.
Trade Card from the Remond Family Papers, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
But 137 Thames Street is a parking lot, so off I went on an architectural tour. Structurally speaking, there are two Newports, of course, the old Newport and the Mansions of Bellevue Avenue. February is not the time to visit the latter and I’m more interested in the former anyway, so I kept to the narrower streets. I got a bit indignant when I found myself on Cornè Street, named after the Italian artist Michele Felice Cornè, who was brought to the United States on a Derby ship in 1800: I think of him as a Salem artist but a casual look at his biography indicates he spent much more time in Newport: his house stands at the beginning of his street, with a plaque noting his re-introduction of the tomato to the western hemisphere. There are far more National Registry plaques in Newport than Salem.
Cornè’s house is in the midst of a color spectrum I am going to call “Newport Greige”: there are many houses along the historic streets of the city that share this spectrum, but they are distinguished by their colorful doors, among other architectural details. Here are just a few:
Believe me, I could go on and on with this neutral palette, but there are plenty of colorful houses in Newport too: a few pumpkin-painted houses, bright red and “colonial” blue, a dark, dark green, and almost-black. They all pop among the greige, and as you can see, all are in pristine condition. The whole city is in pristine condition! No stumbling on these sidewalks—and they take care of their trees!
So you can see I’m happy to wander around in the eighteenth century, but Newport’s historic district has considerable architectural diversity, and as you head towards the mansions, things get more stridently nineteenth-century, with the occasional lane of older houses: it all adds up to an interesting melange. I do like the Shingle houses, including the Newport Museum of Art and the Isaac Bell House below, which look amazing in the midst of the dormant February foliage, but the less “natural” Kingscote is my favorite of the Newport mansions: the rest are just too much, at least for February.
February 25th, 2020 at 8:30 am
Wonderful diversity. Thanks Donna. I think I might repaint my front door.
February 25th, 2020 at 9:39 am
I came home thinking I should spiff up my house as well!
February 25th, 2020 at 9:33 am
Excellent work! Next up – a field trip to Curacao to uncover John’s earliest roots. Who was his mother? Who was his father? I sure would like to have a DNA sample from the one of a kind genius who came at Salem out of nowhere and virtually took over the place.
February 25th, 2020 at 9:38 am
Sounds like a plan!
February 25th, 2020 at 9:36 am
Nice photos, Donna, thanks!
February 25th, 2020 at 12:20 pm
What a wonderful collection of photos. Thanks for again sharing the sad story of how Salem mistreated the Remond family. We are trying to do much better now by recognizing their achievements an struggles. Thanks for leading be charge.
So glad we got to meet George Ford this summer as he returned to Salem to explore his roots. Thank you so much for your talk too.
I did note one photo of a brick sidewalk in need of repairs in one of your photos. I suspect Newport fully appreciates their value and durability.
National Register markers are bronze, which is very durable, but expensive. HSI prepares quality house histories and affordable durable wooden plaques. There are over 650 house histories in our database available online. HSI tries to keep the house history and plaque as affordable. It is a key part of our mission to tell Salem stories and connect our history to our built environment. Here is a link:
Thanks Donna for all your wonderful work in telling and preservingSalem’s amazing history!
February 25th, 2020 at 9:03 pm
Sorry you could not find what you were looking for regarding the Remond story. But it did give us the opportunity to enjoy viewing those delightful 18th century houses in downtown Newport. Haven’t been there in years. Glad to know that the area is kept pristine, especially that the sidewalks are maintained so well.
I really love the colors of these houses. The split staircases remind me of those in Nantucket. Thanks for taking us on another historic junket…