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Newport’s colonial history

Everyone knows about the mansions in Newport, RI — perched high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic ocean, these 19th-century estates were the summer homes of rich robber barrons (Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and the like). Less known, perhaps, are the equally impressive Colonial sites throughout this historic city. I spent today touring numerous historic areas, from the Whithorne House to the Redwood Library and Touro Synagogue, which help to illuminate the distinctive architecture, artistic history and religious heritage of this state.


Whitehorne House: This 1811 structure is part historic home, part furniture museum. Visitors learn about the house and its typical New England architecture during a tour. But the highlight of the visit is not the home itself, but its contents — today, the structure houses a great collection of Newport furniture, a style that sprang from the simplicity of the area’s Puritan roots and evolved to be a beautiful example of Colonial Rhode Island craftsmanship.



Newport Art Museum: Paintings, drawings and other works of art on display at this museum range from Colonial times to the modern area. The exhibits highlight Rhode Island artists, as well as other creative minds from New England. One of the chief attractions is the museum’s distinctive main building, an 1862 mansion.


Redwood Library: This institution holds the distinction of being the oldest lending library in the country, and visitors can still see some of the books first purchased by the library members in 1747. A visit to this library is a study in art and architecture as well — the building is one-of-a-kind, and the art collection includes a Gilbert Stewart painting of George Washington, in addition to other significant pieces.


Touro Synagogue: Another Newport first, Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States. The building was dedicated in 1763, and remains a symbol of Rhode Island’s heritage as a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. An active congregation still worships here every week, so group tours must be planned around their service times.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.