Forty-five years ago this week a young man drove up to New Hampshire with a backhoe trailer and returned with a giant tree for Bowen’s Wharf.

Christmas in Newport was born that first week in December, along with that young man’s first son. “Americas’ Cup Avenue was dark and unfinished, there were loads of boarded-up buildings but we had a sense that a bright future lay ahead,” recalls Bart Dunbar, president of Bowen’s Wharf Company. “The white lights and a huge tree as a centerpiece on the waterfront struck a chord with a lot of Navy people. Also, a lot of civic pride emerged from that celebration.” The celebration continues today!

In the 17th and 18th centuries the commercial center of town was exactly where Bowen’s and Bannister’s Wharves are located today. In the intervening centuries Newport fared rather well but by the mid-1950’s Newport faced infrastructure challenges aplenty. Hurricanes and economic setbacks resulted in more than just a few signs of decay.

“The obstacles were enormous, arguments bitter, and the heaviest decisions concerned the condemning of properties in order to create a viable commercial center and an arterial road,” writes Rockwell Stensrud in his recently released paperback edition of Newport-A Lively Experiment: 1639-1969. There was good reason to devise a joyful waterfront celebration in 1971 and today the merchants of Bowen’s Wharf continue the tradition.

This Saturday, December 5th, at 6pm sharp, thousands of sparkling white lights will illuminate the 30-foot tree at the historic wharf during the 45th Annual Bowen’s Wharf Christmas Tree Lighting. The whole family can join in caroling, meeting Frosty the Snowman, Santa, and Mrs. Claus at ‘The North Pole’.

Visitors and locals are encouraged to make a day of it with lunch or dinner reservations or by taking a walking tour through Newport’s Old Quarter.

Shop Saturdays at Bowen’s Wharf starts this weekend. Local business owners offer in-store promotions, gift-wrapping and other perks. Meander through the waterfront where businesses and galleries are open until 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays through the month.

Festivities begin at 4:30 pm with Frosty the Snowman. The Christmas Carol Sing-a-long begins at 5 pm, the Mayor lights the tree at 6 pm immediately followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving by boat (weather permitting). Join us for a magical evening of charm, fun, and good cheer. Some businesses will offer free refreshments, early afternoon caroling, and shopping specials — all are decorated for the season! The Bowen’s Wharf parking lot will be open until 4 pm the day of the tree lighting.

During the rest of the winter season two hours of validated parking on site are available from participating Bowen’s Wharf merchants. There is free parking at designated locations throughout the city of Newport.

Holidays by the Sea: Shop, Dine, Stay & Explore. Complete list of businesses and event details at www.BowensWharf.com.

Call Bowen’s Wharf Pilot House (401) 849-3478 for tickets to mansions, museums, forts, seal watch tours and event information. All books sold at the Pilot House are 15% off this month, and 10% off ornaments.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).