Photo: Thomas Galvin Cottage, ca. 1848, 53 Dearborn Street, Southern Thames Historic District, Newport, RI. Galvin, probably Newport's best-known and most prosperous Irish-born resident, owned a large nursery and had a flourishing business patronized by members of the summer colony. His beautifully landscaped house is a picturesque board-and-batten affair with bracketed trim. It is an outstanding example of the influence of the writings of Andrew Jackson Downing, America's leading mid nineteenth-century architectural theorist. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Photograph by Pamela Kennedy, 2007, for nomination document, Southern Thames Historic District, Newport, RI NR# 08000314, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places.
The Southern Thames Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Southern Thames Historic District is set in the port city of Newport on a west sloping, harborside location. It includes a large neighborhood divided into a grid of narrow lots by two major north-south arteries, Thames Street and Spring Street, and by many cross streets running east-west up the hill from the waterfront.
Historically a mostly working-class Irish neighborhood (though dating back in its origins to the 17th century), the Southern Thames area flourished and expanded between 1850 and 1920, experienced a stable period in the mid-20th century, until once again it became a desirable neighborhood in the 1980s. Physically, the area's building stock is overwhelmingly late-19th-century—compact, unassuming, cohesive. The district is divided into three areas: a residential area, the Thames Street commercial corridor, and the waterfront.
The waterfront area is set on a comb of wharves jutting into Newport Harbor, and includes warehouses, mill buildings, open storage yards and parking lots—a collection of large and small buildings both new and old, vacant lots, and narrow alleys oriented to the harbor. The Thames Street commercial corridor is lined with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, mostly wood-frame, two-and-a-half- and three-and-half-story structures that form cohesive walls along the street edge. Thames Street has the look of an old, small-city shopping district, with ubiquitous plate-glass storefronts, a narrow street, and limited parking. The buildings, many altered from residential to commercial use and many rehabilitated in the last twenty years, create an unpretentious, small business atmosphere, appealing to both residents of the district and to Newport's many tourists. The third and largest area in the district constitutes the residential area of the neighborhood. It is located between Thames and Spring Streets and, at the north end of the district, crosses Spring Street on its uphill (east) side, going east as far as the rear walls of the great Bellevue Avenue estates. At the southern end of the district, the residential area includes a large neighborhood south of the harbor to Morton Avenue and east to Marchant Street. Covering approximately seventy acres, the residential area includes almost 900 properties. This area is characterized by row upon row of mostly well preserved small-scale dwellings tightly packed along sparsely landscaped streets with narrow walkways and little off-street parking. Much of the housing is of frame construction with minor architectural detailing. Dwellings are one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half stories tall, predominantly gable-roofed and set gable end to the street on lots averaging about 2,500 square feet. Most of the houses were built for single families, though there are many two- and three-unit buildings as well. The residential area contains a few public and institutional buildings, including some remarkable churches.
The bustle of Thames Street contrasts with the quiet of the residential side streets. Thames Street is alive with hardware shops, antique dealers, jewelers, grocery stores, nautical suppliers, restaurants, and so forth. The streetscape possesses a rich mixture of building periods and styles, ranging from the fine 18th- and early 19th century houses to two- and three-story Victorian blocks with flat, mansard, or gable roofs, to some late 20th century commercial buildings. They are interspersed with vernacular Colonial, Federal and Victorian houses of two or three stories, with hip or gable roofs, and stores at street level—built close to one another, abutting or very near the sidewalks. A Late Victorian armory building, several churches, and a firehouse are part of the street's fabric, as are gasoline stations, auto-repair shops, and some nondescript commercial buildings.
Between this linear business district and Newport Harbor is a section of the city's old waterfront characterized by a variety of warehouse buildings, harbor-side restaurants, vacant pockets of land, and utility stations, all on historic 18th-century wharves, and set near impressive early-19th-century textile mill buildings. During the summers, the wharves are busy with the coming and going of sail and motor vessels.
Newport's unique architectural character as a colonial seaport and Victorian resort community gained official recognition at the national level when much of central Newport was designated a National Historic Landmark District. The northern portion of the Southern Thames Historic District falls within this NHL district; it is included within this nomination as well since this section of the district shares historical development patterns with the rest of Southern Thames.
The buildings that line the district's wharves, the commercial buildings along Thames Street, and the many houses set on the district's side streets are important documents that elucidate Newport's history. The district evinces the town's development as a 19th-century port with adjunct industrial and commercial development, the development of neighborhoods to house those who built and staffed the great houses which characterized Newport's transition into a premier resort, and the provision of commercial opportunities. While most of the district's buildings are plain vernacular examples of trends in American architectural history, a few of the district's buildings, especially 18th- and 19th-century merchants' houses and churches, are unusually fine examples of the architect's art and are the work of masters.
The Southern Thames Historic District retains physical traces of all periods of its development. The residential area, business district, and waterfront played significant parts in the growth and expansion of the city's social, economic, and civic life. The network of streets reflects the evolution of Newport's settlement pattern from the 17th century through the early 20th. A thriving maritime trade during the colonial era created a cultural climate that produced the distinctive eighteenth-century houses in the district.
In the mid- and late 19th century, the grid of narrow streets between Thames and Spring Streets evolved; land was subdivided for intensive residential development; row upon row of simple residences, rental cottages, and tenements were built to accommodate the city's working-class population during Newport's growth as a summer colony. Second-generation natives of Irish and English descent, with new Irish, English, and Scottish immigrant workers, made their homes in this neighborhood. Many worked in the textile mills, factories, and gas works that were located in the vicinity of the waterfront. The fine Victorian commercial buildings along Thames Street helped to meet the community's new retail needs.
Although the Southern Thames Historic District remained undeveloped during the 17th century, Thames and Spring Streets, the major north-south arteries, are actually extensions of Newport's original street pattern. In 1639, shortly after initial settlement in the vicinity of the Town Spring behind the site of the Colony House, Thames Street was laid out parallel to the coast, north and south of the "Great Common" (Washington Square). Spring Street, which originated at the Town Spring, was laid out parallel to Thames Street. By 1712, according to John Mumford's street survey of Newport, Thames Street extended to "Miles End," the early 18th-century name for the area near Pope Street. Spring Street extended as far south as Clifton Street (now Ann Street); Brewer Street and Young Street were the first crossroads to be laid out in the area, and were certainly in place by 1740.
Some building activity in the district occurred during the mid-18th century following the town's growth in population and importance as a seaport. As harborside property in the northern half of the port became built up with the houses, wharf complexes, and shipyards of merchants engaged in coastal and international trade, development gradually spread south of Marlborough Dock, the town's first wharf. In addition to providing merchants with dock space for their ships and land for their houses and warehouses, the Southern Thames Historic District housed the increasing number and variety of laborers, craftsmen, and seamen on whom local manufacturing and maritime trade depended.
Ezra Stiles's 1758 map of Newport shows that five additional roads were laid out between Thames and Spring Streets after Mumford's survey of 1712. Approximately fifteen houses, seventeen shops, stills, and stables, and fourteen wharves had been constructed in the area. By 1777, dozens of houses, stables, storage sheds, and warehouses stood in the area, according to a Newport map prepared by Charles Blaskowitz, further illustrating the rapid, pre-Revolutionary development along both sides of Thames Street; on Spring, Fair, Gidley, Ann, Young, Howard and Pope Streets; and along the waterfront.
Southern Thames Street, known as the "Court End of Town," was a favorite residential location of well-to-do merchants in the mid-eighteenth century. From their homes along Thames Street, merchants such as Francis Malbone could look out onto their gardens and wharves and see their warehouses, chandlers, and sailmaking shops. Except for the wharves themselves, the original fabric of Southern Thames Street's waterfront has been replaced. Yet much of the neighborhood's distinctive pre-Revolutionary domestic architecture is intact. The Francis Malbone House, 1758, located at 392 Thames Street, is one of the most imposing residences built in Newport during this era. Built according to plans traditionally attributed to Peter Harrison—architect of Newport's Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, and Brick Market—the mansion is a dignified, three-story brick structure with a hip roof with a monitor. Malbone's house is an important reminder of Thames Street's historic mercantile activity. The mansions of Abraham Redwood and other prominent Newport merchants who also lived at the southern end of Thames Street, are unfortunately no longer standing.
The Southern Thames Historic District also retains several examples of small, frame, two- or two-and-a-half story houses topped by hip, gambrel or gable-on-hip roofs, built between 1730 and 1750, built for craftsmen and tradesmen, small merchants and artisans. Most notable among these are the Hunter-Whitehorne House (ca 1750) at 428 Thames Street and the house at 18 Pope Street (ca 1770). The former, which originally belonged to a local distiller, is a two-story, hip-roofed house with a pedimented entranceway; the latter is a two-and-a-half story residence with a recessed side entrance and gambrel roof. Other mid-18th-century houses in the Southern Thames Historic District are at 29 Howard Street, 283 Spring Street, and 406-410 Thames Street. In addition, at least four mid-18th-century houses were moved into or within the neighborhood during the 19th century: 28 Ann Street, 23 Bacheller Street, 25 Brewer Street, and 600 Thames Street.
During the 1760s, anti-British sentiment among Newport merchants was aroused by strict anti-smuggling regulations and the aggressive customs patrol in Newport Harbor, and in 1776 Crown troops occupied Newport. The city's maritime commerce came to a standstill. During their stay, the British billeted in churches and public buildings, and they dismantled hundreds of structures for firewood. Not all Newporters opposed the British, of course—loyalist Edward Cole, who served as recruiting officer for His Majesty's Army during the occupation, lived at 29 Howard Street.
In July, 1780, the British abandoned Newport, and French troops under Count Rochambeau were quartered here for several months. This change in fortunes did not reverse the port's economic decline. In the two decades preceding the Revolution, Newport had been at the height of its prosperity; it was one of the five major commercial centers of the American colonies. Following the war, Rhode Island's economic center shifted to Providence, which had suffered relatively little and which, in any event, was growing faster than Newport. Newport never regained its prominence as a seaport, although a few wealthy merchants attempted to renew its maritime commerce before the turn-of-the-century.
During the early nineteenth century, Newport's shipowners recovered a small measure of their trade. Local companies sent ships to Sweden and Russia for iron, to Java for coffee and to China for tea, silks, and cottons. The slave trade resumed between 1804 and 1807, although it had been illegal in Rhode Island since 1787. The profits realized by these ventures were stopped by the Jeffersonian Embargo of 1807, which prohibited American ships from embarking for foreign ports in an effort to force withdrawal of French and British restrictions on United States trade during the Napoleonic Wars. The War of 1812 destroyed Newport's maritime economy. In the decades following, Newport's economic base was weak—shipbuilding was at an all time low, foreign commerce and trade slackened, and building activity almost ceased.
During the first few decades of the 19th century (and perhaps earlier), there was a small cluster of African-Americans residents in the Southern Thames area along Pope Street. Among these was Newport Gardner, who had been brought to the city as a slave in 1760. Emancipated in 1792, Gardner was a founder of the African Benevolent Society, which educated African-American children at a small school, no longer standing. He was the first president of the African Union Society and a founder of the first African-American church in the city. His house is still standing at 25 Pope Street, though it was almost completely rebuilt in the 1870s. Among Gardner's neighbors was Bacchus Overing, a member of the African Union Society who worked as a chef and a distiller; he lived at 29 Pope Street. In 1825, a number of prominent black Newporters resettled in Liberia, part of a larger effort to repatriate former slaves. Gardner died in Africa a year later.
Only a handful of houses built between 1780 and 1825 stand in the Southern Thames Historic District. The oldest of these conform in style to those built before the Revolution and evidence interest in classical architectural motifs, such as the Gaspar Castoff House (ca 1788) at 271-273 Spring Street and the James Boon House (ca 1798) at 422 Thames Street. The Samuel Whitehorne, Jr, House (1811) at 414 Thames Street and the stone Robert Lee House (ca 1834) at 465 Spring Street are the only Federal mansions built in the area. Although conjecturally renovated by the Newport Restoration Foundation as a museum displaying Newport furniture, the history of the Whitehorne House is even more interesting as a reflection of Newport's weakened economy at the time it was built. Not only was this large, three-story brick residence a rarity in the community, its original owner—a merchant whose business involvements included a distillery, shipping, an iron foundry, a machine shop and a bank—went bankrupt before the house was completed. The Samuel Durfee House (1803) at 352 Spring Street and the house at 27 Gidley Street (ca 1800) are well preserved examples of more representative Federal domestic architecture. Both are two-and-a-half stories with gable roofs and pedimented doorways pierced by semicircular, leaded-glass fanlights inspired by English pattern books.
Between 1825 and 1845, new investments in the whaling and textile industries stimulated Newport's economy somewhat. Although at least eleven ships were active in whaling during this period, Newport never developed into a whaling center as Bristol, Warren, and New Bedford did. Turning instead to the textile industry, local businessmen built the Newport Steam Mill, the Perry Mill, John D. Williams's Woolen Mill, and the Coddington Mill in the Southern Thames waterfront area. Two of these industrial buildings survive—the 1831 Newport Steam Mill, at 449 Thames Street, and the 1835 Perry Mill, at 337 Thames Street. The Newport Steam Mill produced cotton goods until 1857. It is a handsome three-and-a-half-story, gable-roofed building constructed of rough-cut green granite at a cost of $40,000. A square entrance and stair tower projects from the center of the north elevation. The Perry Mill was erected by the Scottish-born mason Alexander McGregor; it was a massive stone structure, four stories high, with a gable roof, a full-length monitor and an imposing wooden belfry with Greek Revival detailing. Its upper story was removed, altering the building's form somewhat. Here delaines (light woolen or woolen and cotton dress fabric) were produced until 1850, after which time the Perry Mill manufactured cotton goods.
John D. Williams's Woolen Mill (c. 1835) on Thames Street was destroyed by fire in 1860. Coddington Mill (1837) was located opposite Holland Street on Thames and manufactured cotton goods. In 1869, it burned to the ground, sparing only the small stone and wood building at 16 Coddington Wharf which was part of the manufacturing complex and is now incorporated into a condominium complex.
Distilling proved to be Newport's most important manufacturing activity in the early 19th century. During this period, seven rum distilleries and a gin distillery were established. The rum and gin they produced were shipped abroad as well as sold locally. Newport also boasted several breweries, the largest being the Newport Brewery at the southeast corner of Brewer and Thames Streets.
In the 1820s, the federal government began construction on Fort Adams, a large coastal fortification across the harbor from the Southern Thames neighborhood. The fort is a complex series of tunnels, vaults, earthworks, ditches, bastions, and parapets. The great granite fort took several decades to complete and was one of Rhode Island's largest building projects of the century.
At the same time, Newport became increasingly popular as a summer resort. Newport's climate, picturesque scenery, beaches, and social life had attracted visitors since the early 18th century and, by the 1820s, hotels were being built. As Newport's popularity spread in the 1830s and 1840s, well-to-do families from the south and from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore constructed summer homes.
With the impetus of construction at Fort Adams and in the city itself of hotels, boardinghouses, and houses, Newport's economy prospered, and its population grew. A construction boom that continued into the 20th century provided work for laborers, carpenters, masons, painters, roofers and plumbers; hotels and restaurants needed staffs; clerks and bookkeepers were hired in new stores and offices; stevedores, teamsters, and truck drivers were wanted to move goods and people across town. In the large household of summer visitors, servants, gardeners, coachmen, and grooms were employed; the city hired more firemen, policemen, and schoolteachers. Newport's population jumped from 8,000 in 1840 to 20,000 in 1885. The city needed as expanded work force, and much of the need was met by immigration from Ireland. The increased population needed housing, and much of that need was met in the Southern Thames Historic District.
Driven by discrimination and poverty, and ultimately famine, large numbers of Irish immigrants were driven abroad in the mid-19th century. Attracted by the prospect of work on construction projects and in the service trades, thousands of Irish came to Newport and most settled in the Southern Thames neighborhood. The resulting building boom lasted into the 20th century.
The waterfront's existing alleys and wharfs were all present by 1870. Perry Mill Wharf, Brown and Howard Wharf, Lee's Wharf, West Howard Wharf, Spring Wharf, West Extension Street, Waite's Wharf, and Coddington Wharf were constructed before 1850; Ann Street Pier was constructed before 1860; by 1870, Taylor Court was laid out. The waterfront area also accommodated a variety of industries and commercial enterprises during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
The Perry and Richmond Manufacturing Companies, owners of the Perry and Aquidneck (formerly Newport Steam) Mills, respectively, continued to manufacture cotton goods. The Perry Mill specialized in print cloths. In 1878, the mill employed about 150 operatives. About 175 workers manned the Aquidneck Mill. Both mills closed before the end of the century. In 1892, the Newport Illuminating Company purchased Aquidneck Mill and, by 1900, William P. Sheffield purchased the Perry Mill. Both were converted to new uses.
In the early 1870s, the Richmond Manufacturing Company established an enamel factory on the site of the Coddington Mill, and John N. A. Griswold, one of Newport's largest property holders, established the Newport Lead and Shot Company on Thames Street just south of Aquidneck Mill. Griswold also developed a large wharf between West Extension Street and Spring Wharf. Silas H. Cottrell's Ship Yard and Marine Railway, which was established before 1850, continued to operate through the 1870s, succeeded in the early twentieth century by the Newport Shipyard and Marine Railway. Brown and Howard owned and operated a coal yard on the company's wharf from the early 1870s through the early twentieth century. The Staples Coal Company opened a yard between Spring Wharf and West Extension Street, and, in 1907, the Standard Oil Company installed oil tanks and warehouses at the end of Waite's Wharf.
The Newport Gas-Light Company, established in 1853, purchased the enamel factory from the Richmond Manufacturing Company in the early 1880s and expanded their gas-manufacturing plant, having obtained the exclusive privilege of piping gas throughout the city. They continued to provide Newport with gas until 1975, when the firm was purchased by the Providence Gas Company, and the Newport gasworks was demolished.
Although little physical evidence of these industries exists today, their activities established the waterfront's identity as a commercial district in the 20th century. For example, the Perry Mill was adapted for light industry by the General Electric Company. The Newport Electric Company, which vacated its operating department in Aquidneck Mill in the 1970s, ran a steam-power plant on Spring Wharf as well as an electric generating station and a substation which distributes electricity to the entire downtown Newport area. In the 20th century, Newport's boatyards became the scene of yachting activity, especially during the America's Cup competitions. Newport's largest fishing companies operated along the waterfront in the Southern Thames neighborhood and kept the waterfront a commercial fishing port. In addition, harborside restaurants catering to tourists and Newporters added to the vitality and diversity of this area.
Thames Street was the focal point of Newport retail trade from the turn of the twentieth century until well into the 1950s. As the Southern Thames residential area spread and its population grew, many houses along Thames Street were adapted for stores and offices. In the late 19th-century and early 20th-century commercial buildings were constructed in response to rapidly expanding needs for provisions and services of all types.
Meat, fish and produce markets, fruit stores, bakeries and confectioneries, dry-goods and hardware establishments, house-furnishings shops, millineries, shoe dealers, and pharmacies opened. Builders, carpenters, painters, plasterers, and plumbers—busy erecting new structures throughout the city—set up offices along Thames Street. To meet the increased need for retail space and window displays, storefronts were added to old houses; in 1882, the Newport Mercury described plate-glass store windows as "all the rage this season." Plate-glass fronts were installed in 18th-century buildings such as the James Carpenter House at 406-410 Thames Street, as well as in Victorian buildings such as the Allen House (c. 1850) at 477 Thames Street. The demand for both housing and retail space increased during the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s, resulting in the construction of several boarding houses and commercial buildings within the business district. In addition, merchants who did not live above their places of work often rented the upper floors of their buildings. Local workers boarded in tenements, like the Palmer Houses (c. 1880) at 421 and 425 Thames Street, convenient to their jobs; and new businesses were eager to rent space from property owners such as James J. Lynch who, in 1886, built the three-story, Second Empire-style building at 491-493 Thames Street for commercial and residential use. The Bartholomew Building (1895) at 526-530 Thames Street, is a noteworthy example of elaborate masonry commercial blocks in an eclectic Late Victorian style. William Gosling's design for the Rhode Island Armory at 365 Thames Street was completed in 1894, resulting in a castle-like stone building in which military drills were conducted.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Newport's summer residents and vacationers continued to help sustain the city's prosperity. In addition, the local economy received a major boost from the influx of Navy personnel stationed at the Naval Base and War College. Thames Street businesses continued to thrive. Residential development occurred in response, taking the limits of the compact part of town further south.
Conveniently positioned between the summer estates on the hill and Thames Street and the waterfront below, the side streets of the district rapidly developed in the mid-nineteenth century, housing workers who served the resort community; factory hands and machinists; carpenters and painters; stevedores, shipbuilders, seamen, and fishermen; storekeepers and clerks; grocers and teamsters; and dressmakers and bakers. This was the population of the soon-to-be famous Fifth Ward, which includes the Southern Thames Historic District.
Though ethnically diverse, the area's population was largely Irish. Newport was Rhode Island's first community to have a substantial Irish population. Although Irish settlers had come to Newport by the mid-eighteenth century, the first significant numbers of Irish immigrants arrived during the 1820s. These early Irish immigrants came to work on the construction of Fort Adams, and many settled in the Southern Thames area— the built-up portion of town closest to the construction site. A Roman Catholic congregation—Rhode Island's first—was established in Newport in 1828 to minister to its growing Irish-Catholic populace. This parish, originally named St. Joseph's and now St. Mary's, had its church in a former schoolhouse.
The terrible famine of the late 1840s, which caused enormous suffering in Ireland, induced greatly increased Irish settlement in the United States. Like other eastern communities, Newport's Irish population swelled as a result of this wave of new immigrants. The Southern Thames area, more than any other neighborhood, became their home. The arrival of the mostly Roman Catholic Irish and their concentration in the Southern Thames area prompted the construction of a new, more imposing church begun in 1848 at 250 Spring Street. This new St. Mary's, known as Our Lady of the Isle, was dedicated in 1853; the old church building was kept as an adjunct facility, serving parishioners living in the northern part of the city. In the 1880s these north end, Catholic Newporters were sufficiently numerous to require their own parish, and a new St. Joseph's parish was established, building its church on Broadway.
St. Mary's parish church, a beautiful brownstone Gothic structure, was designed by P. C. Keeley, America's foremost architect of Catholic churches in the mid-nineteenth century. The church was built through the efforts of Father James Fitton, one of the most dynamic Catholic priests working in Rhode Island and the driving force behind the creation of numerous parishes. Construction costs were underwritten substantially by members of the Harper family of Baltimore—wealthy Newport summer residents descended from the Carrolls of Maryland. This handsome building served the Southern Thames area's Irish community, and St. Mary's church was and remains the most visible symbol of Newport's transformed ethnic composition. The church and its associated structures form a typical Catholic parish complex and possess major historic and architectural significance.
In addition to the neighborhood's Irish population, the Southern Thames area had a good number of English-American residents, most of them with business interests along Thames Street or the waterfront. In addition, many worked in the waterfront textile mills. Increasing numbers of Protestant residents spurred the creation of several neighborhood congregations.
The first of these was a Baptist congregation known in the mid-nineteenth century as the Free Will Baptists. Their meetinghouse was on Thames Street, but the organization had a struggling existence. In 1850, a new Episcopal congregation was formed in the neighborhood, which ministered particularly to Anglican English and Scottish immigrants who worked in the local textile mills. Promoted by Charlotte Tew, Emmanuel Church, as this new Episcopal congregation was known, first used the Free Will Baptist meetinghouse. In 1856 their own building was erected at Spring and Dearborn Streets, a building later replaced by the stone church (1900-1902) on the site. A group of Methodists living in the area—led by Clark Burdick and Isaac W. Sherman— formed a mission congregation in 1854 which later became the Thames Street Methodist Church, with a building at 384 Thames Street constructed in 1865. This building, much changed, is now St. Spyridon's Greek Orthodox Church—reflecting the later arrival of a new ethnic community within the Southern Thames neighborhood.
The neighborhood street pattern evolved for new residential development in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Thames and Spring Streets were extended to the south and Pope Street was extended to the east. Maps published in 1850 indicate that by that year Fair, Gidley, Dennison, Anthony, Fountain, West Extension, South Baptist, Dearborn, Perry and Holland Streets and Lee and Narragansett Avenues were laid out; some 173 houses stood in the portion of the neighborhood north of Holland Street (to the south was vacant land). By 1850 a public school on Gidley Street and a Catholic school on Spring Street had opened. The neighborhood underwent a southward spurt in development between 1850 and 1878, as indicated by comparison of maps of those dates. During these years, Newton, Milburn, Hunt, Grant, Underwood, Bass and Sharon Courts; Byrnes, Bacheller, McAllister, Dixon, Simmons and Hammond Streets; and Wellington and West Narragansett Avenues were developed. Several hundred new houses were built, and the Gidley Street schoolhouse was replaced by one at the end of Newton Court. In 1877, the neighborhood's first Fire Station #2 was built at 16 Young Street.
The next period of intense residential development in the neighborhood was between 1883 and 1907, during Newport's height as a summer resort. From 1883 to 1893, Dean, Harrington and Richmond Streets were laid out. By 1907, several hundred more houses had been constructed, and the Newton Court public school had been replaced by the Lenthal School (1886) near Spring Street and the Henry R. A. Carey School (1896), 32 Carey Street. The residential area reached its present physical density about 1920; little new development occurred after that because of the scarcity of available land.
The typical one- or two-story frame houses in the Southern Thames Historic District are rectangular, modestly detailed structures. They are sited close to the sidewalk, either gable-end to the street on a side-hall plan, or with flanking gable roof with side gables on a center-hall plan. Clapboard is the predominant siding material, and front porches with bracketed detail are common; many porches have been at least partially enclosed. Doorway and window moldings are usually simple, and most windows contain two-over-two, double hung sash. Doors and windows are occasionally accented by clear, frosted or colored panes in geometric shapes.
The house at 11 Bacheller Street (ca. 1865), built for John Eagan, a laborer, is a representative example. In contrast to these, which are so simple, there are a handful of architecturally adventurous buildings in the Southern Thames Historic District which provide an interesting contrast to its homogeneous residential building stock. Two deserve special attention—Thomas Galvin's cottage at 53 Dearborn (1848) and the Carey cottage (1876) at 523 Spring Street. Galvin, probably Newport's best-known and most prosperous Irish-born resident, owned a large nursery and had a flourishing business patronized by members of the summer colony. His beautifully landscaped house is a picturesque board-and-batten affair with bracketed trim. It is an outstanding example of the influence of the writings of Andrew Jackson Downing, America's leading mid-nineteenth- century architectural theorist. John Carey, Jr., a New Yorker who was John Jacob Astor's son-in-law and who owned an estate which backed up to Spring Street at Narragansett Avenue, built a gardener's cottage on Spring Street across from his grounds in 1876. This elaborately trimmed structure includes early Colonial Revival interiors; it was designed by Sturgis & Brigham, of Boston. A view of Carey's cottage was published in the American Architect and Buildings News when it was built.
Repeatedly in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Newport papers reported on the housing problems of the city's working class and the financial soundness of speculative building activity. In response to the housing shortage, local investors built rental property throughout the Southern Thames area. Tenements, such as the pair of distinctively detailed buildings that William S. Cranston built ca. 1875 at 343 and 345 Spring Street or the modest houses William Oman built ca. 1880 at 21 and 25 Fair Street, typify this phenomenon.
Between 1870 and 1915, single-family houses continued to be built in the neighborhood for local workers and business people. The Catherine M. Sullivan House (1890) at 38 Hammond Street is a good example of the Late Victorian residences which were built during this period. It is a one-and-a-half-story cottage with simple detailing, a gable roof and an open porch with bracketed posts and a turned baluster railing.
Although houses of this type were the most common throughout the area, a few more elaborate residences were also constructed. The J. D. Hidler House (ca. 1885) at 28 Fair Street and the Holland House (ca. 1889) at 40 Hammond Street are noteworthy examples of Second Empire buildings characterized by decorative bracketing, mansard roofs, and gabled dormers. The Queen Anne style became fashionable during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The J.B. Parsonage House (ca. 1900) at 525 Spring Street, an imposing two-and-one-half-story residence, is distinguished by its irregular massing, bay windows, a large enclosed corner porch, a round tower, and projecting gables; it is the neighborhood's most exuberant example of the Queen Anne style. Several less elaborate Queen Anne residences, such as the Sullivan Houses (ca. 1902) at 30 and 32 Narragansett Avenue, are also noteworthy.
During the mid-twentieth century decades, Newport's economy slackened and then slowed—the building boom was over, the mills closed, and the activity of the seaport dwindled. In the Southern Thames Historic District, development had already decreased in the 1920s and 1930s as available building sites were exhausted, as the activity of the port declined, and as the national economy sank into the Great Depression. The depression of the 1930s had a critical effect on the lifestyle of Newport's summer estates and consequently on the many neighborhood residents whose livelihoods depended directly or indirectly on this economic base. Finally, many of the of the U.S. Navy's installations closed in the 1970s. The Southern Thames area suffered from each of these changes, and maintenance and repair of existing buildings became important issues.
In recent years, Newport has become once more an important resort, and its economy is now a lively one. Throughout the 1980s, the value of Newport's waterfront appreciated, and the land along the harbor rose in value, prompting the construction of a number of major housing projects in place of the older, smaller buildings located on tiny lanes. While out of scale with the old neighborhood, several of these developments use older materials and forms (albeit in exaggerated versions) in an attempt to blend into the Southern Thames neighborhood. Several of the district's large industrial buildings have been renovated and converted to new uses, and tourist-related commercial development replaced some of the neighborhood shops along Thames Street. The Newport Restoration Foundation's work throughout the older sections of the city has included the restoration and reconstruction of some colonial and Federal houses in the Southern Thames neighborhood. Of much greater importance, however, has been the large number of homeowners who have renovated their own properties. The deterioration of many houses that was prevalent here only a few decades ago has now been checked as the Southern Thames area has become a "neighborhood of choice."
‡ Catherine W. Zipf; with Wm. McKenzie Woodward and Pamela Kennedy, Salve Regina University; RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, Southern Thames Historic District, Newport County, RI, nomination document, 2008, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Ann Street • Anthony Street • Bacheller Street • Baptist Street South • Boss Court • Bowery Street • Brewer Street • Byrnes Street • Carey Street • Coddington Wharf • Connection Street • Dean Avenue • Dearborn Street • Dennison Street • Dixon Street • East Street • Extension Street • Fair Street • Fountain Street • Gidley Street • Goodwin Street • Grafton Street • Grant Court • Hammond Street • Holland Street • Howard Street • Howard Wharf • Hunt Court • Lee Avenue • Lees Wharf • Lucas Avenue • Marchant Street • McAllister Street • Memorial Boulevard West • Milburn Court • Narragansett Avenue • Narragansett Avenue West • Pope Street • Potter Street • Sharon Court • Simmons Street • Spring Street • Spring Wharf • Stockholm Street • Thames Street • Thomas Street • Underwood Court • Waites Wharf • Webster Street • West Street • William Street • Young Street