The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC), the state agency for historical preservation and heritage programs, has weighed in on the Historic Newport Spring Project, as well as the closure of Court House Street.

{More background on the Historic Newport Spring Project/Court House Street closure can be found here}

RIHPHC operates a statewide historical preservation program that identifies and protects historic buildings, districts, structures, and archaeological sites. The Commission also develops and carries out programs to document and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Rhode Island’s people.

Church Community Housing Corporation, a tax exempt 501(c) (3) charitable organization, holds title of the property, is the fiscal agent for the project, and is overseeing the environmental cleanup of the site.

In a letter to Stephen Ostiguy Asset Manager Church Community Housing Corp, on November 5th, 2019, J. Paul Loether Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Officer at the RIHPHC, shared the following on behalf of the RIHPHC;

The following were copied on the letter; “Ms. Jamie Bova, Mayor, City of Newport Ms. Helen Johnson, Planner, City of Newport Mr. Christian Belden, Executive Director, Church Community Housing Ms. Ruth Taylor, Chair, RIHPHC Mr. Jeffrey Emidy, Deputy Director/Deputy SHPO, RIHPHC Dr. Timothy Ives, Principal Archeologist, RIHPHC Ms. Elizabeth Rochefort, Principal Architectural Historian, RIHPHC”.

“Dear Mr. Ostiguy: 

Thank you for contacting the RIHPHC regarding Church Community Housing Corporation’s (CCHC) efforts to preserve and protect Newport’s “spring box” as part of the project noted above. As you have indicated in your recent emails to Tim Ives of my staff, this archeological site is of immense historical importance in the history of the City of Newport as well as Rhode Island as a whole. The RIHPHC strongly supports the CCHC’s efforts to professionally document this treasure and is keen to provide any assistance it can to your organization in terms of ensuring the spring box’s long-term preservation and protection. 

With regard to the Project, it is also our understanding that, subject to approval by the City of Newport, the planned new public park may subsume the portion of Court House Street running immediately behind the Old Colony House. In that regard, please note the following: 

The National Historic Landmark Inventory-Nomination form for the Newport Historic District specifically references the historic importance of the city’s streets, stating, “The colonial seaport city is defined by an outstanding collection of nearly 300 surviving seventeenth-and-eighteenth century buildings and by an irregular grid pattern of streets which was established in the eighteenth century.” Among the most significant surviving streets in this pattern is Court House Street. 

In combination with its intersecting and neighboring streets, Court House Street represents the meeting of colonial Newport’s public (Old Colony House, 1736), private (18th century residential buildings to the north, south, and east), and religious (Touro Synagogue, 1763) interests. Today, Newport’s existing 18th-century streets also converge to function as an urban gateway to significant neighborhoods that developed just beyond in the 19th century; these include the Kay Street-Catherine Street-Old Beach Road Historic District to the east and the Bellevue Avenue-Ochre Point National Historic Landmark District to the south. 

Historic streets provide continuity, connection, and context for the historic resources around them. As public circulation spaces, they fundamentally root the experience of residents, tourists, and scholars alike in relation to an historic environment. Thus, the RIHPHC strongly believes that any permanent disruption of the historic street pattern resulting from the Newport Spring Project would pose an inadvisable, adverse effect to the historic character, significance and integrity of the Newport National Historic Landmark District. 

Given the historic significance of Court House Street, the RIHPHC greatly prefers that the street remain in its present form and use i.e., fully functional. However, should the City pf Newport allow part of Court House Street to be absorbed into a new park, the RIHPHC strongly recommends that the essential historic characteristics of the street–i.e., those features that continue to visually mark it as a “street–be preserved, even if regular vehicular access to the street is no longer permitted in the future. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. If you have any questions in this regard please contact me…”.

Newport Historical Society Weighs In

Ruth Taylor is the Executive Director of the Newport Historical Society and also the Chair of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. After receiving a copy of the the letter earlier today, we spoke to Taylor on the phone and she offered the following on behalf of the Newport Historical Society;

“With the understanding that I am speaking for NHS only, not RIHPHC, whose opinions are offered by Paul Loether:

I very much want to support any project that honors Newport’s history. But the Newport Historical Society has some significant concerns about the plans for this one:

  • We are concerned about the long-term preservation of the important archeological structure that is the spring box. Trees and a water-feature above it are potential threats.
  • We think that the colonial streetscapes of Newport are a good part of its historic charm and the preserved environment that attracts so many visitors. We would want to see, at a minimum, that Courthouse Street’s presence was not lost in any plan for the site, and think that any decision to close the street should be conditional on this.
  • We remain concerned about the additional traffic down Stone Street alongside the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (1696)”.

Newport Spring Leadership Committee

What’s Up Newp reached out to the Newport Spring Leadership Committee for comment on Wednesday;

“We are keeping Court House Street open for pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles”, Lilly Dick, who heads up the Newport Spring Leadership Committee, told What’s Up Newp..

“As Mr. Loether hopes for, there will be features that continue to visually mark it as a street and recognizes the historic significance of the street,” Dick said.

Dick believe Newport has a unique opportunity here to preserve history and says she recognizes the concerns of both groups.

Dick said that her organization would get a full response to us on Wednesday night. When, and if, we get that response, we’ll add it here.

Moving Forward

City Council members are expected to receive communication on the proposed Court House Street traffic pattern/Historic Spring Project at their Regular Council Meeting on Wednesday, November 13th.

More of our coverage on this topic;

November 6, 2019 – Newport City Council will consider how to move forward with Court House Street on November 13th

October 16, 2019 – Court House traffic pattern to remain in place for Environmental Testing

July 29, 2019 – City to start test of proposed new traffic pattern at Spring Street/Touro Street

June 26, 2019 – City Council will temporarily close Courthouse Street this summer to simulate Newport Spring Project

December 10, 2018 – Letter To The Editor: Council Resolution to endorse plan to close Court House Street

December 20, 2017 – Letter To The Editor: Keep Court House Street closed