Weeks 6-8: Tourists, Maps, and Newport vs. Williamsburg

Moving into the Newport’s contemporary history has raised one major urban issue: that of commercial tourism. Since August is the height of the summer tourist season, I have been able to observe the flood of tourists first-hand while simultaneously reading academic understandings of the phenomenon, gaining a better sense of its historical roots. The tourist industry in Newport is a situation that frequently led writers to compare Newport with Williamsburg, since both are towns in which public history linked to major historic architectural stock and preservation have drawn tourists from around the world.

One major difference, however, is that while Colonial Williamsburg is largely isolated from the domestic neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Newport is saturated with historic attractions, none of them centralized as a result of the town’s chronological spatial settlement. This has contributed to the main conclusion of research; that Newport’s wealthy classes have followed traditional spatial patterns of the upper class in increasingly seeking domestic neighborhoods removed from centers of activity and commerce. The fact that Newport is for this set largely a non-primary residence has tempered this trend, and Newport as a retreat for the wealthy has not dissipated because of the continued attraction to the town’s history and natural and environmental wealth.

These weeks have also led me to learn more about Newport’s middle-class neighborhoods, which are traditionally overlooked because of the overwhelming architectural presence of wealth in the town. I am hoping that some modern organizations will provide me with the information that historians and academics have ignored.

Since I will likely finish my research next week, this has also been a period of nitty-gritty work as I prepare to complete my final project. While I have already written the majority of my paper and finalized some accompanying graphics (see my second update), I have only just finished mapping the information found in the various social indexes. Entries often contained only a house name or only a street name. While this demonstrates the highly insular nature of the historic summer colony, it also forced me to conduct additional research. In some cases, it is impossible to determine where a family lived, and this has caused me some trouble- for example, multiple families listing only “Bellevue Avenue” as their place of residence causes hotspots on my maps that are not accurately indicative of housing density, since these families might have lived anywhere on the boulevard. Research beyond my timeframe would be necessary to locate the actual locations of these summer residents.

However, I am including in this post the map displaying the data of the 1916 edition of The Newport Directory. Overlaid on top of Newport’s neighborhoods (based on the AIA Guide Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 8.52.34 AMto Newport and my personal experience) (and which I had to draw into the mapping software myself, speaking of nitty-gritty work), this data shows clearly the continued concentration of Newport’s summer set in traditionally upper-class and thus largely seasonal (read: Gilded Age) neighborhoods (especially Ocean Drive, in orange, and Bellevue Avenue, in red). I would love to catalogue not only where these entries find themselves, but how many have descended from those included in earlier indexes, but that aspect of Newport’s social life is beyond the scope of my project.


  1. eadefraine says:

    This is some very interesting stuff. My grandparent’s live across the river from Newport in Little Compton, so I head over there fairly often. The sheer number of multi-million dollar estates, both historic and recently developed, is staggering. Frankly I’ve never seen much of the town other than those estates and the tourist focused areas, so it’s interesting to get a perspective on what you might call the more traditional or standard living situations in the town, especially as compared to Williamsburg. I wonder what kind of geo-social discrepancies the case study of the two towns represents in regards to New England vs. the Mid-Atlantic.

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