After 14 months and some major renovations, the Newport Historical Society has reopened the doors of its Resource Center. Built in 1905 and not significantly updated since an addition in 1915, the building was something of an artifact itself.
“We were both comprehensive and lean with the updates,” says Executive Director Ruth Taylor. “We replaced just about all of the systems.”
That means all the creature comforts we as citizens of the 21st century take for granted: new plumbing, new electricity, climate control, the works. Not to mention a new glass enclosed entrance with an accessible ramp and elevator, and a gallery space which will see the first of many rotating exhibits going up before the end of the year.
“People don’t realize that Newport had a very important role in early national and international history,” Ruth explains, “[and this] is the Smithsonian of Newport.”
Pieces in the Society’s collection can be traced back to the founding of the United States, and even more than a century earlier to the founding of Newport itself. Of course there are documents, photos and artifacts – the usual suspects of any historical preservation society – but there are some truly unique pieces, like a locket containing locks of George and Martha Washington’s hair, and an electrical generator similar to the one Benjamin Franklin had used. “His brother was here running the printing press,” Ruth informs, “So it’s not surprising that that generator was here as well.”
In addition to the multimillion dollar improvements made to the Society’s headquarters, they’ve also received full endowment from the Helen D. Buchanan Trust for their prestigious Buchanan-Burnham internship program, considered to be among the best training programs for graduate students interested in museum studies and public history.
All of this means that Newport’s rich history, which is very much integral to our national history, will continue to be preserved for future generations to experience.