Newport was founded in May 1639 by a small band of men under the leadership of John Clarke and William Coddington from Massachusetts. Early industries were farming, fishing and shipbuilding. By 1680 Newport had become a thriving seaport town of some 400 houses and had a large-scale trade with the middle and southern colonies, the West Indies, and Europe. At the beginning of the 18th century Rhode Island was more involved than any other colony with the African slave trade, and Newport became the chief New England slave center. Many fortunes were made in the slave trade and 50 or 60 vessels were engaged in the transportation of people and the ship owners were among the leading merchants of the city. Newport soon became the most prosperous seaport on the eastern coast. Craftsmen produced the best furniture, silver, pewter and clocks which were exported to other colonies. By 1761 Newport had 888 dwelling houses and 439 warehouses and stores. Newport’s era of greatest prosperity was from 1740 to 1775, and numerous surviving structures date from those golden years. The prosperity was undermined by the American Revolution and the British army, under General Henry Clinton, occupied Newport and held it from late 1776 to October 25, 1779. Later the Americans and their French allies were stationed in Newport until American independence was achieved. The later Embargo Acts of 1807 and 1809, which interfered with British and French shipping, as well as the War of 1812, further hurt the city’s recovery, which did not occur until the 1830’s, and then primarily as a resort destination.
Although most of Newport’s distinguished buildings from the early period are from the 18th century there are still some important 17th century houses, as well as many post-colonial and Greek Revival structures which have survived. The earliest, the Quaker Meeting House, dates from the 17th century. In the 18th century, six very fine buildings were constructed between 1726 and 1763. Three of them, Trinity Church and the Colony House, both National Historic Landmarks, and the Sabbatarian Meeting House (now partially gone), are connected with Richard Munday, an architect-builder who worked before 1740. The other three, Redwood Library and Brick market, also both National Historic Landmarks, and the Touro Synagogue, a National Historic Site, were built 10-20 years later by Peter Harrison, one of the most famous and accomplished of America’s early architects. St. Paul’s Methodist Church on Marlborough Street represents the style of the early 19th century as does the Rhode Island Union Bank, built in 1818 and designed by well known carpenter architecture and writer of pattern books, Asher Benjamin. Newport’s unique character as a colonial town lies not only in its public buildings but in the many rows of small houses which survive throughout the old part of the city. These give a coherent architectural background which forms a unified district joining the public buildings and larger houses of the wealthy merchants.
There were about 1100 buildings standing in Newport at the beginning of the revolutionary War. According to records about 300 houses were destroyed by the British during their occupation, some for wood during the winter months. Many of the 400 houses built before 1840 were removed during the urban renewal projects of the late 1960’s along the waterfront area, but the majority of the buildings outside this section remain—some 100 houses have survived in the point section alone. The historic buildings are largely concentrated near the waterfront and located within the 18th century limits of the town. The landmark boundary has been drawn to include almost all of the documented historic structures while excluding recent commercial development.
The Brick Market, in the Newport Historic District
On May 1st, 2008, the Museum of Newport History and the Newport Historical Society Store opens with new renovations. Bus tour tickets can be purchased here. Go to their website at: www.newporthistorical.org/calndar.htm for more information.
The Brick Market, Newport , begun in 1761, was designed by Peter Harrison. Harrison's design was taken from the design of the Old Somerset House in London, published in Colin Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus. The use of giant classical orders superimposed on an arched basement was a frequent Palladian motif in England. Harrison reinterpreted the forms to suit the smaller scale of the building and the brick construction. The formal, academic composition gives the building an imposing presence and dignity which belies its rather small size. The Brick Market, like Harrison's Redwood Library and Kings Chapel, also National Historic Landmarks, introduced a new awareness of correct classical design and sophistication in its handling which establishes a base for the classical designs of Thomas Jefferson and the Greek Revival. In 1760 the proprietors of the Long Wharf deeded waterfront land to Newport for the erection of a market house to meet the growing commercial needs of the city. When completed, all rental and profits from the building went to the Newport town treasury to be used for the purchase of grain to supply a public granary for the town. After the American Revolution the upper part of the building housed a printing office and in 1793 was remolded as a theater. It was used for this purpose until 1799. In 1842 the building was altered to serve as the townhall. It served as the City Hall for Newport from 1853 to 1900.
The Brick Market is a three-story building with a low hipped roof. The first story is treated as an arcaded basement upon which the upper two stories rest, united by giant Ionic pilasters which surround the entire building between the windows.