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This wedge contains the major cemeteries of the city, to which Farewell Street is the cortege artery. Toward the tip of the wedge is the Friends Meeting House, the largest Quaker meeting house in the state and, crossing its tip, immediately behind Washington Square, Marlborough Street, on which fronted major colonial houses, taverns, and businesses. Although the rest of the wedge also contains some seventeenth-century houses and was one of the earlier African American enclaves in the colonial city, during the early nineteenth century those were overrun by small, closely packed wooden dwellings for the first wave of Irish immigrant workers. For this reason the area acquired its alternate name of Kerry Hill. In the dense old seaport section of Newport, its streets are the most densely built up. Gradual dilapidation encouraged landlords to purchase houses here en masse for low-priced rentals after World War II. It is the last area of the old town to feel the impact of the restoration and gentrification movements that have transformed the neighborhoods around the harbor. Because only scraps remained on which “restoration” could build, it is less interesting for the individual quality of specific buildings than for the overall effect of what is good and what may be questionable in all such efforts to transform the shabby into the “old.” On the periphery of the area is Van Zandt Avenue, where nineteenth-century houses were for years just beyond the reach of the Irish incursion.

The most remarkable of the cemeteries is the Common Burying Ground, which contains about 4,500 markers dating from 1660 to the present. In addition to key works by local cutters such as the Stevens shop and the Bull family are other markers from a variety of Boston and Narragansett Bay area carvers, including William Mumford, the Emmes family, and the Tingley and Cooley shops. At the north corner, farthest from the eighteenth-century town, is the largest collection of colonial African American grave markers in the United States. Dating from 1720 to the American Revolution, these (and later stones) represent the strong presence of African Americans, both slave and free, in the history of Newport more clearly than any other aspect of the built environment. One stone from 1769, for Cuffe Gibbs, is inscribed as having been cut by his brother, Pompe Stevens, a black slave in the Stevens shop, making it one of the few artifacts of precolonial American craftsmanship “signed” by an African American.

At the crossing of Van Zandt Avenue and Farewell streets are the North Burial Ground and Island Cemetery. They are not pretty, being more field than arcadia; but Island Cemetery, which was fashionable in the late nineteenth century, contains plots of many of the leading families of the city, with some interesting Victorian monuments. Exceptional is the collaboration of the architect Richard Morris Hunt with Karl Bitter on the August Belmont tomb, in the northwest corner of the cemetery in front of the chapel, designed by Hunt. Other markers by Hunt for the Marquand, Russell, Shepard, and Wetmore families and two other works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the King monument (with John La Farge, 1877) and the Amor Caritas figure for the Ann Maria Smith monument (1886), are also notable.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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