Next Stop, Rhode Island
Rhode Island is a state in New England known for sandy shores and seaside Colonial towns. It's home to several large cities including Newport which is famed for sailing and Gilded Age mansions, such as The Breakers. Rhode Island is the smallest state in size in the United States. It covers an area of 1,214 square miles. It's distance North to South is 48 miles and East to West is 37 miles. Rhode Island was the last of the original thirteen colonies to become a state.
From Plymouth, Massachusetts we drove on Thursday, August 3rd to the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island Canonicus Camp & Conference Center in Exeter where we met Michael, our contact through Harvest Host. This campground has 7 electric and water hook-ups and we arranged with them in advance to use their services for a modest fee. We also asked if we could stay longer than the typical one day and he graciously offered us three days. This was a real find given the scarcity of RV campgrounds with availability during the summer months. Indeed a God-sent provision for us in Rhode Island!
The land of Rhode Island was also a God-sent provision for founder Roger Williams in 1636 who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his radical views. Roger Williams purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and founded the first permanent white settlement in Providence in 1636. His firm belief in religious freedom, tolerance and the separation between church and state governed the colony of Rhode Island and inspired the future founders of the United States.
On Friday, August 4 we drove the truck to Newport, RI with our bikes so we could tour the area. Unfortunately, the Newport Jazz Festival was just starting that day, so the traffic was very heavy in the downtown area; we had to navigate around the congestion driving out to Brenton Point State Park. We had no problem finding a place to park out there. We ate lunch before unloading the E-bikes to began our Newport adventure.
We rode east on Ocean Avenue along the coast line towards the "Cliff Walk". This area of Newport is known for some of the most pretentious "cottages" in America. The Rough Point House and Breakers are just two of a number of these stately manors.
Rough Point is one of the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, now open to the public as a museum. It is an English Manorial style home designed by architectural firm Peabody & Stearns for Frederick William Vanderbilt. Construction on the red sandstone and granite began in 1887 and was completed 1892. It is located on Bellevue Avenue, borders the Cliff Walk and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The home's last owner was Doris Duke and it is currently owned and operated by the Newport Restoration Foundation.
In 1894, the Vanderbilts began renting Rough Point to summer guests. William Bateman Leeds Sr., known as the ‘Tinplate King’, rented the home in 1904 and 1905. He was one of the owners of American Tin Plate Company, a tin plate trust. He purchased the 10-acre estate in 1906. After he died in 1908, his wife, Nancy Leeds, used John Russell Pope to make some exterior alterations to the home. She remained the owner until 1922. Their son, William Bateman Leeds Jr., married Princess Xenia Georgievna of Russia.
In 1922, James Buchanan Duke, the founder of fortunes in electric power and tobacco, and benefactor of Duke University, along with his second wife Nanaline bought the house. They used architect Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia to assist in renovating the house; two new wings were added to the home. James died at his Fifth Avenue and 78th Street, New York City, white-limestone mansion in 1925, bequeathing his enormous fortune, along with its several residences, to his only child, 12-year-old Doris Duke. Rough Point, which came close to being sold twice at Nanaline's insistence nonetheless eventually became one of Doris' most prized properties, replete with its spectacular rocky coastal setting. Doris's memorable debutante ball was held at the estate in 1929.
Doris Duke continued to spend her summers at Rough Point; but, after the New England Hurricane of 1938 that devastated Rhode Island, and with the advent of World War II, Doris Duke's visits became less frequent. In the early 1950s, Doris Duke took up permanent residence in New York City and emptied Rough Point of all its furnishings.
From Rough Point we headed for The Breakers.
The Breakers is a Gilded Age mansion located at 44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island. It was built between 1893 and 1895 as a summer residence for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The 70-room mansion, with a gross area of 138,300 square feet and 62,482 square feet of living area on five floors.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II purchased the grounds in 1885 for $450,000 ($14.7 million today). The previous mansion on the property was owned by Pierre Lorillard IV; it burned on November 25, 1892, and Vanderbilt commissioned famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to rebuild it in splendor. Vanderbilt insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible, so the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the boiler be located away from the house in an underground space below the front lawn.
The Ochre Point Avenue entrance is marked by sculpted iron gates, and the 30-foot-high walkway gates are part of a 12-foot-high limestone-and-iron fence that borders the property on all but the ocean side. The footprint of the house covers approximately 1 acre or 43,000 square feet of the 14 acre estate on the cliffs overlooking Easton Bay of the Atlantic Ocean.
This ostentatious neighborhood reminded me of a description I once heard of the upper crust of society. "Just a bunch of crumbs held together by their own dough"! As we rode around both of us realized just how hard it is to even relate to this kind of opulence.
We rode about 12 miles throughout Newport taking back roads to avoid traffic and returned to the truck. We drove around the Newport town traffic and back to the Claiborne Pell Bridge, commonly known as the Newport Bridge, that spans the East Passage of the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The bridge connects the city of Newport on Aquidneck Island and the Town of Jamestown, our next stop on Conanicut Island.
We drove through Jamestown on our way to Beavertail State Park to see the lighthouse and the view. On our way we had to "stop at the sign of the lemon" at Mackeral Cove Beach for a world famous Del's iced lemonade. Um, um good... really enjoyed this Rhode Island refreshing treat.
Records of the town of Jamestown from 1712 make reference to a beacon, and they mention a watch house in 1705. A wooden tower was built in 1749 (attributed to architect Peter Harrison), and the light became the third lighthouse established in the Thirteen Colonies, known at the time as "Newport Light". A fire was lit at the top of the tower, as was common for the time. Four years later it burned down and was replaced by a stone tower.
British sailors retreating from Newport near the end of the American Revolutionary War left a trail of destruction behind them in 1779. This included burning the lighthouse and removing the optics, which left the light dark for the rest of the war.
In 1856, the tower was replaced with the current tower, made of granite which is 10 ft square and 64 feet from ground to beacon. A 3rd order Fresnel lens was placed in service, and it became the site of numerous fog-signal tests over the next 40 years under the supervision of the United States Lighthouse board. In 1898, quarters were added to the keeper's house for an assistant keeper; the assistant helped with fog-signaling, among other things.
In all we spent three days exploring Rhode Island enjoying the scenery, people, food and especially the ice cream. Before leaving Canonicus Camp & Conference Center on Sunday, August 6th we attend an encouraging Calvary Chapel service in North Kingston. With a full tank of diesel fuel in the truck and the trailer all hooked back onboard, it was on to Hammonassett State Park in Madison, Connecticut.