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.
On Saturday, December 5th the tradition continued when thousands of sparkling white lights were illuminated on the 30-foot tree at the 45th Annual Bowen’s Wharf Christmas Tree Lighting.
Hundreds showed up on the historic wharf and joined in caroling, meeting Frosty the Snowman, Santa, and Mrs. Claus at ‘The North Pole’.