The Southern Thames Street Neighborhood
Arriving in Newport between 1820 and 1920, the Irish population provided an important source of labor for the neighborhood’s mills and industries, also building and founding local businesses. According to Between the Golden Age and the Gilded Age: A History of the Southern Thames Street Neighborhood, the resulting commercial and residential neighborhood was not only a vibrant immigrant community, but also an important factor in the development of Newport’s reputation as the “Queen of Resorts.”
To be specific, the Southern Thames Street Neighborhood was located on the west side of Newport and occupied the southern half of its harbor. Drawing its name from a one-mile section of Thames Street, the neighborhood is bounded by Memorial Boulevard at Perry Mill on the north, Morton Park and Connection Street on the south, the waterfront and Marchant Street on the west, and Spring Street on the east. In its day, this area included a thriving commercial waterfront, a residential district, and the social corridor of Spring Street, which backs up onto The Elms mansion.
Most often these days called “Lower Thames”, the Southern Thames Street area was then known as the “Court End of Town.”
Taking a stroll or drive down Lower Thames today you will still see some of the original architecture built between 1820 and 1920. And while the businesses those buildings housed have changed, Lower Thames still represents an important part of Newport’s commerce and hospitality.
Here are a just few points of interest:
The International Yacht Restoration Foundation (IYRS) was founded 1993, and operates out of the Aquidneck Mill, which was built in 1831 when Newport was interestingly, in the process of repairing its economy and welcoming new residents.
Constructed as waves of Irish immigrants came to Newport, the mill was built for a whopping $40,000. As a cotton mill, it originally housed 4,356 spindles for weaving cotton into thread, and employed some 100 workers. Under the later ownership of the Richmond Company, the mill was expanded with a four-story brick addition and grew to house 9,632 spindles and 175 workers.
In 1884, cotton manufacturing hit another depression and the Richmond operation was closed down. The building was subsequently owned by a series of companies—including the Burnham Elastic Webbing Co., the Edison Illumination Co., and the Newport County Electric Company.
The International Yacht Restoration Foundation (IYRS) purchased the property in 1995 where it operates its internationally recognized yacht restoration school. Among the current residents at the Mill is technology company Drupal Connect. Drupal was recently named one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation by Inc. Magazine. President and CEO of Drupal Connect, John Florez is a Newport resident.
FROM CLEANING TO COFFEE
Established in 1929, the Valeteria Cleansers and Dyers Company building now houses the Mokka Coffeehouse owned and operated by Jack Corey. Jack, also a Newport resident, started Mokka in 2012, set on establishing a great coffee house with a very local focus.
FROM AUTOS TO ASTERISK
Formerly known to many long-time Newport residents as a service garage, this property has been transformed into a go-to social and dining hot spot. In 1995, when Danish born chef John Bach-Sorensen arrived to settle in Newport, he had a vision for the old garage. Using the 12-foot overhead doors and open floor plan he created which is now known to have one of the most unique restaurant atmospheres in town...along with what some consider to be the “best” martinis.
ALWAYS A PARADE
Everyone loves a parade, and Lower Thames has long parade route history. Today it is host to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a fitting tribute to the Irish immigrants that helped build this “Court End of Town”. The parade organizers, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, reside in the old Presbyterian Grace Chapel, which was built before 1891. Located at the corner of Wellington and Thames St. the Chapel was originally a one- story structure with a two-story tower. It was purchased by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the 1900’s. Fondly referred to as “The Hall” it is where the AOH hosts many fundraisers for the community. As for the parade, this 57th parade year’s Grand Marshall honor goes to AOH member George Jones, co-owner of O’Brien’s Pub (also on Lower Thames) and 26-year veteran of the Newport Fire Department.
Historically the diversity of businesses demonstrated the different ways the population of Lower Thames Street contributed to Newport’s thriving, non-maritime economic interests effectively ending Newport’s Post-Revolutionary depression. Today, amidst all of the changes and with our support, this “Court End of Town” will continue to aid in the economic growth and stability of the City.
For more history visit: the Newport Historical Society and the Irish Heritage Museum.
For a comprehensive history: Between the Golden Age and the Gilded Age: A History of the Southern Thames Street Neighborhood http://tinyurl.com/d7fq5xp
For parade information visit: www.newportirish.com
Do you recognize any of the photos? Have some to share? Have some history or stories to add? We’d love to hear from you!