J&D's Travelog


Newport, RI

August 24, 2003

For three years, we had heard about a walking trail in Newport, RI that meandered along the shoreline and past the historical mansions for which the town is known. So as it happened, we found ourselves with a weekend with good weather and one we didn’t have to work – a rare combination. We grabbed our gear, jumped in the car, and made the two hour trip to the island.

Similar to the founding of Providence by Roger Williams, Newport was established by a group of settlers yearning to break free from the puritanical Massachusetts Bay Colony. The town was one of the first in America to advocate the separation of church and state, and thus became a sanctuary for the religiously persecuted – Quakers in particular. Newport actively resisted their British occupation during the American Revolution and finally ousted the Red Coats with the help of the French. During the Civil War, Newport temporarily hosted the Naval Academy when it was moved there from Annapolis. Well-known for shipbuilding and sailing, the city has hosted numerous America’s Cup yachting competitions and retained sport’s oldest trophy from when it was won from the British in 1851 to when it was finally lost to the Australians in 1983.

Newport's Cliff Walk
View of the northern part of the Cliff Walk.

Rhode Island Sound
A beautiful summer day on Rhode Island Sound.

It was the day of the carriage festival.

Cliff Walk

During the Gilded Age of the 19th century, wealthy residents of the Atlantic Coast and New York in particular came to while away the summers in Newport. Eventually, they started building large homes along the coastline to accommodate themselves and their many guests. These mansions have now become as much a symbol of Newport as its jazz festival. Between the homes and the Rhode Island Sound is a path that was used since the Narragansett Indians occupied the land, it has since become known as the Newport Cliff Walk. Owners of the mansions have consistently tried to block the path in the name of privacy, but access is guaranteed in the Rhode Island Constitution that grants residents fishing rights and access to the shore. Though not over-publicized, the path has become a tourist draw but has suffered badly from poor maintenance and hurricanes.

Unsure of what to expect, we contemplated just wearing some tennis shoes for the three and half mile walk. Our reasoning was that with a constant flow of tourists along the path during the summer, how bad could it be? Ultimately, we opted for hiking boots which turned out to be a prudent decision. Parking was relatively easy near the northern end of the walk, and it began as a well-preserved path with a line of tourists filing in both directions. The path soon deteriorated to walking over large, sharp rocks along the beach. This turned out to be a mixed blessing, because most of the tourists turned back.

On a nice breezy sunny day as we had, the mansions are stunning sights. They are a mixture of architecture, and many have long histories in which we weren’t particularly interested. There are some that stand out however. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the 70 room Breakers, built by the Vanderbilts in 1893 and modeled after an Italian villa. John Jacob Astor IV was married at his home, the Beechwood, in 1911 but unfortunately became recognized as the wealthiest passenger to die on the Titanic as he was returning from his honeymoon. Another famed mansion is Rosecliff which was used as the setting for the filming of Redford’s the Great Gatsby, Schwarzenegger’s True Lies, and Spielberg’s Amistad. Salve Regina College claims two of the nicer mansions as part of its campus – the French Gothic Ochre Court and the red-stone Vineland. Clarendon Court Manor made film appearances in High Society and the Philadelphia Story, but is most famous as being the scene of the crime in the Claus von Bulow case. Another Vanderbilt construction was the 105 room Roughpoint which eventually came into the possession of Doris Duke, a 13 year-old girl who inherited $80 million.

Upon completion of our small journey and navigating the parade of horse-drawn carriages (and what they left behind), we treated ourselves to a nice seafood dinner overlooking the harbor in downtown Newport. On the whole, a fine way to spend a Sunday in New England.

More carriages
We had to wait for them to get out of the way so we could cross.


Salve Regina
Salve Regina College's Ochre Court.




Fences - to keep us out or keep them in?




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