The history of Middletown as a pretty farming area adjacent to Newport is similar to that of Portsmouth, except that its very substantial farms never developed to estate proportions. It was part of Newport until the differences between the two, and charges that Middletown's rural interests went unheeded in the more worldly concerns of Rhode Island's southern port, led to a split in 1731. It was its peace and remoteness that drew George Berkeley, Dean of Deny in Ireland, to Middletown, where he sojourned at his farm, Whitehall, from 1729 to 1731, while he waited in vain for funds to establish a college in Bermuda. It was testimony to the reputation of the area's agriculture, even then, and of the coastal shipping that spread its bounty, that he envisioned the farm as a supplier for the college. As with Portsmouth, summer residences came to Middletown toward the end of the nineteenth century. A number of these remain, especially on the Sakonnet side of the town, modestly large houses for the most part, comfortable rather than showy, with a secluded quality which has persisted to the present. Those built on the bay side of the town were swallowed up by naval installations, which during World War II came to usurp Middletown's western shore almost completely, dominated by the piers at Coddington Cove for destroyers. Areas devoted to naval housing, vaguely Neo-Colonial, exist along streets off Route 114 from Constitution Avenue south to Coddington Highway. High-tech marine industry has come to the vicinity of the naval base or on land vacated by the navy. Newport Airport has taken over fields between Routes 114 and 138. Farms have survived to a surprising degree down to the present but are increasingly moribund (except for some active nursery establishments). As in Portsmouth, the pressures of development and of traffic along major arteries are current concerns.
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