Nestled along the picturesque coastline of Rhode Island, Newport stands as a beacon of history, culture, and architectural grandeur. Due to historic preservation efforts, Newport is home to more 17th and 18th-century structures than any other city in America. While owning a historic home in Newport can be a dream come true for many, it’s important to recognize the unique challenges and considerations that come with preserving and living in these cherished properties.
What are the Historic Areas of Newport, RI?
Newport has several historic areas with unique features that are protected by the City:
- The Newport Historic District earned its National Historic Landmark designation in 1968, thanks to its extensive collection of well-preserved colonial buildings dating from the early and mid-18th century.
- The Point, a National Historic Landmark District, is renowned for its 18th-century architecture, secret gardens, and a vibrant community spirit. In the 1600s and 1700s, affluent merchants built state-of-the-art homes close to the harbor, featuring clapboard facades, wooden doors, and 12-over-12 windows.
- The Kingscote-Bellevue Avenue Historic District encompasses the Bellevue Avenue area, housing grand mansions like the Breakers and Marble House.
- In the Old Beach Road Historic District, you’ll find 18th and 19th-century homes situated near Easton’s Beach.
- The Hill, a downtown neighborhood with streets designed for horse and buggy, features homes primarily built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many have been meticulously restored with modern amenities. While its specific borders are debatable, it is often described as the area from Barney Street to the north, Bowery Street to the south, and Spring Street and Bellevue Avenue from the west and east, respectively.
- The Southern Thames Historic District, immediately south of Newport’s colonial center, experienced residential and commercial development between 1850 and 1920. Densely built streets, including the major north–south thoroughfare, Thames Street, characterize this area.
- The Ocean Drive Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1976, features houses on large lots overlooking beaches and the ocean. It’s known for its distinctive landscape (partly the work of Frederick Law Olmsted). This area was a favored picnicking spot for wealthy summer residents of nearby mansions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Preservation Efforts and Regulations
Preserving the historic charm of Newport’s homes and neighborhoods is a shared responsibility. The city has established stringent regulations to maintain the authenticity of its historic districts. While these regulations can sometimes pose challenges for homeowners seeking to modernize their living spaces, they play a crucial role in safeguarding the architectural character of the city. To acknowledge the efforts of homeowners in historic areas, the city partners with Newport Restoration Foundation each year to grant the Doris Duke Historic Preservation Award to individuals who have demonstrated excellence in historic preservation efforts.
Newport’s Historic District Commission
To preserve the district’s historical character, the city established the Historic District Commission (HDC) to oversee the downtown historic district plus Newport’s other historic areas, including Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive. The HDC is responsible for reviewing exterior alterations to buildings in the district, excluding routine maintenance, and issuing Certificates of Appropriateness. However, it lacks the authority to mandate changes to a property.
Maintenance and Restoration
Living in a historic home often requires a heightened sense of dedication to regular maintenance and restoration. These homes may come with unique architectural features that require specialized care and attention. From preserving intricate woodwork to maintaining vintage fixtures and foundations, the upkeep of these properties demands a certain level of commitment. Engaging skilled professionals with experience in historic preservation is essential to ensure that the property retains its original allure while meeting modern living standards. By investing in routine maintenance and timely restoration, homeowners can safeguard the value and allure of their historic abodes.
Energy Efficiency and Modern Comforts
While historic homes boast timeless elegance, they may not always align with contemporary energy efficiency standards. Balancing the preservation of historic elements with the integration of modern comforts and eco-friendly solutions can present a unique challenge for homeowners. Upgrading insulation, incorporating energy-efficient appliances, and installing sustainable heating and cooling systems are some of the measures that can enhance the comfort and sustainability of living in a historic home. By adopting eco-conscious practices and technologies, residents can reduce their environmental footprint while enjoying the luxury of a historically significant dwelling.
Emotional Connection to the Past
Owning a historic home in Newport is not just an investment in property; it’s an investment in an emotional connection to the city’s rich past. Every creak of the floorboards, every ornate detail, and every hidden story within the walls contributes to the unique living experience that only a historic home can provide. Living in a historic home or district is a commitment to preserving the city’s cultural heritage and embracing the beauty of a bygone era. While it may come with its share of challenges, the rewards of experiencing the timeless charm and rich history of these homes are unparalleled.
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