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History Byte: The Transit of Venus

In early June 1769, the Reverend Doctor Ezra Stiles (1727-1795) was compiling his “to do” list, reviewing sermons at his Second Congregational Church and, of course, preparing for the Transit of Venus. Newport’s greatest multi-tasker had transformed his quiet Clarke Street residence into a bustling astronomical observatory to watch the tiny dot of Venus pass across the disc of the sun, a rare lifetime event. His friends and parishioners had specific assignments throughout the house and shouted observations from basement to attic throughout the day: Benjamin King with his sextant, William Vernon with his perpendicular plumb and weights, Henry Marchant with a telescope borrowed from Abraham Redwood and Christopher Townsend with two clocks. William Ellery and Caleb Gardner recorded longitude measurements previously made by Peter Harrison. Meanwhile, the event was also being observed by David Howell at the College of Rhode Island in Warren, by Capt. James Cook in the South Pacific and by others in dozens of sites worldwide.

The great event (“Moment of Immersion”) occurred at sunset on Saturday, 3 June 1769. Dr. Stiles’ account of the Transit included over 200 pages of notes and calculations

Above: Many 18th-century Newporters paid close attention to the movement of celestial bodies and corresponding special days on the calendar; this December calendar page from a 1752 almanac includes notations for Venus throughout (Venus’s symbol looks like a circle with a tiny cross at its base). NHS Collection.

Ezra Stiles Home

A c.1920s photo of Ezra Stiles’ house on Clarke Street, NHS Collection.

 

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History Bytes: Here’s the Scoop…

Image:  Ice cream scoop used at  Westall’s Ice Cream shop, 64 Bridge Street. The key at the top of the scoop rotates two metal strips located inside, which helped to efficiently serve the ice cream. Circa late 19th century. NHS 96.42.15.

Advertisements featuring ice cream from the 1901 Newport Directory, Sampson, Murdock, & Co. NHS Library.

Advertisements featuring ice cream from the 1901 Newport Directory, Sampson, Murdock, & Co. NHS Library.

Newport’s first “ice cream saloons” appeared in city directories as early as 1865. Classified as “Confectionery and Ice Cream Saloons”, it is unclear how many of the eleven businesses listed actually sold ice cream. The frozen novelty became more and more common throughout the 19th century, however, receiving a boost in popularity after Jacob Fussell launched the first American ice cream factory in Baltimore, MD in 1851. By 1901, Newport was home to seven designated ice cream saloons, from Simon Koschny’s First Class Confectionery at 230 and 232 Thames St., to A. Fenton Genuine Homemade Candies on Bellevue Avenue.

Prior to the invention of industrial refrigeration in the 1870s, ice cream was made and sold by confectioners mostly on a small scale, since the process was quite laborious, and involved cutting blocks of ice from lakes during wintertime and storing them in ice houses for use during the summer. Though still considered a luxury around the time “ice cream saloons” began cropping up, Newport’s wealthy Gilded Age residents were certainly no strangers to treating themselves.

For those interested in learning more about the history behind ice harvesting (and how one man turned frozen water into a fortune), the podcast 99% Invisible did a wonderful episode entitled “The Ice King”. Lilly Pond was Newport’s local source of ice during the ice-cutting era. For more information about ice harvesting within Newport specifically, check out this History Byte from February 2015.

This History Byte was written by Michelle Montalbano, Digital Initiatives Intern

The Newport Creamery Trail, a Newport Creamery promotional brochure, circa 1950s. NHS Library.

The Newport Creamery Trail, a Newport Creamery promotional brochure, circa 1950s. NHS Library.

Newport Creamery Trail_open

Recipe (or “receipt”) for ice cream, found in an unattributed recipe book from the Newport Historical Society’s Collection. Circa mid-19th century.

Recipe (or “receipt”) for ice cream, found in an unattributed recipe book from the Newport Historical Society’s Collection. Circa mid-19th century.

 

History Bytes: Eppley Laboratory

The Newport area has hosted many cutting-edge scientific facilities, from the development of the torpedo on Goat Island to underwater tracking systems at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Middletown. Among the many private research centers is the Eppley Laboratory, which has operated continuously at 12 Sheffield Ave since 1917.

Capt. Marion Eppley (1883-1960) was a decorated U.S. Naval officer who was introduced to Newport by his socialite wife Ethelberta Pyne Russell, a member of the Lewis Morris and Moses Taylor families of Newport. Capt. Eppley developed energy storage cells during World War I and expanded research into solar measurement and thermal radiation instrumentation.

Eppley owned “Beacon Rock” in Newport Harbor form 1921-1951 and established the Eppley Foundation and the Eppley Wildlife Refuge in West Kingston, RI.

Above: Entrance to the “Beacon Rock” estate, circa 1900; Newport Harbor is visible in the background. Photo from the Newport Historical Society’s collections.

Photo of Eppley Laboratory circa 2016, courtesy Google.

Photo of Eppley Laboratory circa 2016, courtesy Google.

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