A very scarce and extraordinarily-detailed atlas of Newport, Rhode Island in the Gilded Age, when old and new money competed to build extravagant “cottages” along Atlantic-facing Bellevue and Ocean Avenues.
Though it had been a thriving commercial port during the Colonial era, Newport’s economy suffered badly during the Revolution, and thereafter it was eclipsed by Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other coastal entrepôt.
“Faced with a bleak future, Newport in the early 19th century was forced to re-invent itself. Newport had been bypassed by industrialization and its landscape became frozen in time. Ironically, this became an asset for the town as it transformed itself into a summer resort and used its picturesque qualities to advantage in attracting summer visitors. In the antebellum period, Newport became a center for an influential group of artists, writers, scientists, educators, architects, theologians, and landscape designers….
“Later summer colonists during the Gilded Age included elite families from South Carolina, the King and Griswold families of New York, and later the Vanderbilts. These families and many more whose presence here helped transform Newport into the Queen of the Resorts, built the mansions for which Newport has become famous, employing architects Richard Morris Hunt, McKim Mead and White, Peabody and Stearns, and others.” (Newport Historical Society, “A Brief History of Newport”, accessed on line March 2021)
The atlas offered here depicts Newport nearing the apogee of its Gilded-Age grandeur. The volume consists of a title page, index map and 24 double-page plans executed at a scale of 300 to 100 feet to the inch, depending on the density of the area depicted. Even at the smallest of these scales, the maps depict not only the street plan, but also property lines and owners’ names, the footprints of individual structures, and even driveways and walking paths. One of the primary uses of the atlas was to inform the underwriting of property insurance; accordingly, structures are color coded to indicate the mode of construction (pink for brick or stone, yellow for frame), and the locations of water lines, sewer lines and hydrants are also shown.
Among the many highlights are the complex of wharves and businesses along the harborfront (maps 2-5 and 10-11); the Touro Synagogue, completed in 1763 and the oldest in the country (5); the fine estates along Bellevue and Ocean Avenues, including for example that of John Jacob Astor (20-21); and the facilities at the “Torpedo Station” on Goat Island (24).
G. M. Hopkins
Philadelphia civil engineer and surveyor Griffith Morgan Hopkins, Jr. began his career in the mid-1850s conducting surveys for wall maps of cities and counties as far afield as Maine and Ohio. In 1865, he and his brother Henry founded G. M. Hopkins Company at 320 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Just at this time, the market was shifting from large, unwieldy and fragile wall maps to the more-manageable atlas format, and the Hopkins brothers followed suit. Over more than three decades they published dozens of atlases of counties, cities and towns in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. Griffith retired in 1900 and Henry in 1907, but the firm continued in operation until 1943, when it was purchased by the Franklin Survey Company.
Hopkins had previously issued a City Atlas of Newport, Rhode Island (1876, see Rumsey Map Collection #4831), also with 25 maps. The two atlases are very similar, and comparison is instructive for revealing both the pace and nature of development in the intervening years.
As of March 2021, OCLC 40949861 records five institutional holdings (New York Public, Redwood Library, Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst, Wisconsin Historical and Yale). Another is held by the Library of Congress (see Phillips, Atlases, #2565), and no doubt others are to be found in Rhode Island public and private collections.