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History Bytes: The Newport Asylum

The U.S. Naval War College was established this week in 1884 and Commodore Stephen B. Luce was appointed its first president. The college occupied the building now known as Founder’s Hall on Coaster Harbor Island, which had an interesting life of its own before naval strategy was taught within its halls.

Founder’s Hall was originally built in 1819 by the City of Newport as the Newport Asylum and Poor House and in 1822 occupants from the earlier poor house on Broadway were moved there. Residents included the indigent, mentally ill and substance-dependent citizens of a city that was still struggling from the economic destruction of the American Revolution and War of 1812. In later years, Asylum residents were moved to state hospitals and sanitariums and the building was sold to the federal government in 1880.

Engraving from the NHS Collection, 2004.13.119. Artist, G. Wall; engraved and printed by Fenner, Sears & Co.

History Bytes: Evolution of the NHS Resource Center

As the opening of the Newport Historical Society’s new Resource Center approaches, it is timely to review the building’s evolution:

1854 Newport Historical Society incorporated. Rhode Island Historical Society’s “southern cabinet” collections housed at the Redwood Library.

1880 The 1730 Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House was purchased and moved from lower Barney Street to Touro Street and was converted to an exhibit hall.

1902 The Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House was moved north on the Touro Street lot. A library and office space was added to the front of the Meeting House on Touro Street.

1915 The Seventh Day Meeting House was again moved back. A new building with exhibit halls, offices and storage rooms were constructed at the rear of the library from matching gifts of Arthur Curtiss James.

2014-2015 Renovation of the 1902 and 1915 buildings into a state-of-the-art Resource Center which includes an elevator and new entrance.

Above: Cyan postcard depicting a Newport Historical Society exhibit space in the Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House, circa 1910. NHS 2009.3.37.

Below: Architectural renderings of the Historical Society’s 1915 addition, attributed to architect Joseph G. Stevens. NHS 2012.13.



History Bytes: Coaching in Newport

This week Newport will host the triennial Weekend of Coaching with parades and demonstrations throughout the city. An important promoter of coaching was Fairman Rogers (1833-1900), whose book A Manual of Coaching (1900) helped turn a casual pastime into a serious sport.

Rogers, an engineer, inventor, educator and decorated veteran from Philadelphia, built “Fairholme” on Ruggles Avenue in 1874 with the help of his brother-in-law architect Frank Furness. After several alterations, “Fairholme” recently sold for $15 million.

Above: William Vanderbilt driving his road coach, Venture, in the Newport Horse Show at the Newport Casino, c.1926. People pictured include Mr. Vanderbilt, his daughter Emily, Miss Louise F. Waring, Mrs. Joseph La Rocque, Mr. Lewis Waring, and an unidentified assistant. Venture is in the Breakers Stable. Image from the NHS photo collection.