Celebrating Newport’s Architectural Heritage

Newport is a treasure trove of important architecture, from the time of the earliest European settlement of North America to the present day. This vast and irreplaceable portfolio is managed not just by the city or a single institution, but by a large and varied group of organizations, individuals and companies. Together, this heritage is what Newport is best known for worldwide and is also a prime attraction that draws visitors as an essential economic driver for the community.

From the colonial period through the beginning of the 20th century, Newport is where some of the most ground breaking architecture was done by the most important architects of the time. Newport is one of the few places where Colonial-era architecture has been maintained, preserved and inhabited from the time of its construction. In cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia, much of the architecture from that time was lost decades, if not centuries ago, to redevelopment.

The east elevation of The Breakers, built by Richard Morris Hunt in 1895.

Newport also shined in the Gilded Age, which spanned from the 1870s to about the turn of the 20th century. This short era was marked by the construction of grand structures for personal use by the very wealthy, and Newport was an epicenter for that work, with the Breakers serving as perhaps the most iconic representation of that period.

Ten years ago, there were many organizations working to preserve individual buildings, but no single organization was celebrating the architectural portfolio as a whole. To correct that situation, more than 50 individuals set out to create the Newport Architectural Forum. Organizing both unique programming and partnering with many other community organizations, the Newport Architectural Forum set out to “Educate on, advocate for, and celebrate Newport’s unique and wonderful architectural heritage.”

Since its founding, the organization has widened its interests to include urban planning, interior design and landscape architecture. These arts combine to create the built environment that we experience and enjoy each day in the City by the Sea and the nearby communities.

During its lifetime, the Newport Architectural Forum has organized or helped support and promote more than 100 lectures, tours, exhibitions, panel discussions, conferences, symposiums, community charrettes and other events related to the topics of interest. This volunteer organization has annual dues of $20 and a membership form can be downloaded at Archforum.org.

Whether or not you are a member of the Architectural Forum or any of the dozens of organizations that maintain historic assets or produce architecture and design-oriented programming, you have an important stake as a Newporter or Rhode Islander in Newport’s architectural heritage, which generations before us have worked to maintain, and which we hope many generations beyond ours will live to enjoy and learn from.

Ross Cann