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History Bytes

History Bytes: Old Port Days

In the 1920s, Newporters looked internally to their own origins and the birth of the nation. Colonial revival decoration and architecture were increasingly popular and the great period of the 18th century was celebrated with festivals, house tours, music and costumes.

Old Port Days began in 1929 as an all-day block party on Washington Street to raise money for the restoration of the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, Newport’s first historic house museum. The Old Port group hosted similar events through the 1930s and 40s, as well as provided educational programs about history and architecture. In 1963, Old Port morphed into Operation Clapboard, the beginning of the city-wide house restoration movement.

Above: Residents from the Point neighborhood wearing historic costumes greet visitors for tours of the “Hunter House” (St. Joseph’s Convent) in 1929.

History Bytes: Seaman’s Protection Certificates

In 1796, Congress authorized the creation of Seaman’s Protection Certificates as a way to prevent foreign navies from kidnapping or “impressing” American mariners into service. Issued by the US Customs House of the home port, the certificates were proof of American birth or citizenship including the name of the sailor, his age, height and other distinguishing physical features such as scars, birthmarks and hair color. One copy was held by the mariner and a duplicate was filed with the Custom House, now in the custody of the National Archives.

Seen here, a 1797 protection certificate for 15 year old John Borden signed by William Ellery, from the NHS archives.


History Bytes: Vice President Morton

Over the centuries, Newport has hosted a fair share of US presidents. The recent visit by Gov. Tim Kaine, who received the invitation to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate while visiting Newport, reminds us that the city has also hosted many vice presidents, past, present and future. The most notable was Levi Parsons Morton (1824-1920), who served under the Harrison administration from 1889-1893.

Morton purchased the “Fairlawn” estate on Bellevue and Ruggles Avenues in 1868 and employed Richard Morris Hunt, George Champlin Mason and the firm of McKim, Mead and White to make extensive renovations and improvements to the house throughout his 22 year ownership. A banker by profession, Morton served in the US Congress and was Minister to France from 1881-1885. He formerly accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty on behalf of American citizens and drove the first rivet in its assembly. Locally he is remembered for giving Morton Park to the City Newport in 1886.

He sold “Fairlawn” shortly after accepting the vice presidency in 1889, and later served as Governor of New York in 1895, residing at his estate in Rhinebeck, NY. Today “Fairlawn” is owned by Salve Regina University and houses the Pell Center for International Relations.

Above: Photograph of “Fairlawn” by Clarence Stanhope circa 1912 from the NHS collection.

A 1926 photograph of "Fairlawn" on Bellevue Avenue from "The Newport Daily News" collection in the NHS archives.

A 1926 photograph of “Fairlawn” on Bellevue Avenue from “The Newport Daily News” collection in the NHS archives.

Photograph of "Fairlawn" by John T. Hopf from the NHS archives.

Photograph of “Fairlawn” by John T. Hopf from the NHS archives.