Thursday, September 28, 2017

No Yachts, No Mansions

From Dave Brigham:

What's the first thing you think of when I say Newport? Mansions built by 19th century robber barons that they referred to as summer cottages? The America's Cup yacht race? The International Tennis Hall of Fame? Loads of windburned preps with names like Muffy and Skip wearing Nantucket Reds and spilling white wine while howling with laughter over tales of cheating on exams at Hahvahd?

On a recent family mini-vacation to Rhode Island's toniest address, we managed to miss all of that. But we saw plenty, on both the front and back sides of this wonderful, historic city on Narragansett Bay.

As regular readers of this blog know, whenever I'm on vacation, I make time to find the backside of whatever city I'm in. I spent part of one early morning doing just that, but a lot of my discoveries were made while just walking through Newport's commercial and restaurant areas, as well as on a tour of a fort just a few miles from downtown.

(Fort Adams)

(View across the front yard of the fort, with housing in the background.)

Built between 1824 and 1857, the current Fort Adams replaced a predecessor established in 1799. It was an active Army post until 1950. We toured part of fort (there was a reenactment going on taking up a lot of the interior space), including some of the listening tunnels.

(Our tour guide took us on a short walk through some low listening tunnels, in which soldiers garrisoned at the fort could station themselves so they could hear attempts by the enemy to dig under the fort.)

We had lunch one day at Buskers Pub, a quiet respite from the overflow crowds at so many other eateries. Amid all the memorabilia, both real items and knockoff ones peddled by restaurant decor companies to give diners that oh-so-important cozy feeling of fake nostalgia, my wife spied this beaut.

Know what it is? I'll give you a hint: it's used in a game that few Americans have seen, and even fewer understand, a game that originated in the Basque region of Spain. Give up? It's a jai-alai cesta! Newport used to have a fronton -- what you call the enclosed court where jai-alai is played -- but it's been closed for years. Now the building holds a casino. My friends and I frequented the Hartford fronton back in the '80s.

There are loads of cool historic buildings along the main drags and in the neighborhoods of Newport.

(Now housing retail and office space, this circa-1894 music hall looks great, and surely must have been the cat's pajamas in the 20th century.)

(Home to the Newport Blues Cafe, the former Kinsley Building started life in 1892 as a Aquidneck National Bank, hence the "SAFE DEPOSIT" etched into its facade.)

(The Seamen's Church Institute provides "education, hospitality and a safe haven for those who work, live and play on or by the sea." This building was erected in 1930.)

Driving up to our hotel, I looked across the street and my heart skipped a beat.

The park had a similar feel to Doubleday Field at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which I had the pleasure of playing on a number of years ago. So I knew it was old.

Bernardo Cardines Memorial Field is indeed long in the tooth, and is considered one of the oldest baseball fields in the good ol' US of A. Home to the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, a summer league sanctioned by the NCAA and Major League Baseball, the field isn't anything fancy, but I really wanted to get inside to watch a few innings.

Alas, there were no tickets to be had, as the season had ended earlier in August.

Meandering just a little ways from the hotel and ballpark, I came across The Point neighborhood (also known as Easton's Point), one of the oldest in Newport.

(The Callender School in The Point. Built in 1862, closed in 1974 and renovated into apartments in 1979-81, it was named for John Callender Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Newport, who lived from 1706 to 1748.)

(The Point is filled with so many amazing old houses that have been beautifully restored. The neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial homes in in the U.S., per Wikipedia.)

(The Sarah Kendall House in The Point dates to 1871, when it was built for the wife of a wealthy shipping merchant, according to the inn's web site.)

(On the outskirts of The Point sits Ten Speed Spokes, a bike store with a cool retro sign.)

Inevitably, I stumbled across some railroad tracks.

Once part of the Old Colony & Newport Railway that connected to Boston, these tracks have been abandoned for quite some time. But there's a small, restored station just up the railbed.

About 20 minutes out of town you can ride the rails. Not on a train, mind you, but on a rail cart. No, not a handcar like you've seen in old-timey movies. You pedal along for about six miles, hands-free, while you enjoy views of Narragansett Bay and the quaint surrounding towns. Here's some video of the trip my wife, kids and I took with Rail Explorers:

Pretty cool, eh?

Finally, while we didn't hit any mansions or board any yachts, we did check out one of Newport's major tourist attractions: the Cliff Walk. Sandwiched between the Newport shoreline and the backyards of Gilded Age mansions, the walk extends 3.5 miles, although we only walked a small portion of it because my kids are kinda lame.

(Mystery box located along the Cliff Walk, at Salve Regina University.)

We had a great time in Newport. There were so many great restaurants, shops and museums that we only strolled past, because again, our kids were with us. I'd love to get there with my wife and take advantage of more of what this great little city has to offer.

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