Newport :: History
Newport was settled around 1791 by James Taylor, Jr., whose father, James Taylor, Sr., had been awarded the 1,500 acres for having served in the Revolutionary War in the Virginia Militia. James, Jr. married his sophisticated and wealthy wife, Keturah Moss Leitch, in 1795. This marriage united the two largest landholders in the area, and together they owned most of what is known today as Newport, Bellevue, Southgate, Wilder, Fort Thomas, Highland Heights, Cold Spring, and Alexandria. They were politically well-connected, as Taylor was a cousin of President Zachary Taylor, and both were friends of President and Mrs. James Madison.
The town was named in honor of Admiral Christopher Newport, who had led the first English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, which was Taylor's native state. In 1793, Taylor laid the plans for a road to Lexington (U.S. 27).
The town received a major boost in development when, in 1803, the Fort Washington military post was moved from Cincinnati and became the Newport Barracks. The Barracks were located on 6 acres at the mouth of the Licking River and supplied soldiers in the War of 1812. Newport's military post was the center of activity during the Civil War (1861-65) and recruiters from both the Union and the Confederate Armies recruited there. It is also said that Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant had done tours of duty at the Newport Barracks. In 1893, military operations were moved from Newport to a hilltop a few miles away in Fort Thomas.
Richard Southgate, a lawyer, politician and silk manufacturer, built the Southgate House in 1814. The house was reportedly built by British prisoners of the War of 1812. John T. Thompson, inventor of the Thompson Machine Gun, was born in the house in 1860. The "Tommy Gun" became famous nationwide during the Prohibition and Depression-era years and was the preferred gun for police, soldiers, and gangsters. It was used in many Hollywood movies.
Steam-powered riverboats in the early 1800s accelerated Newport's development. The Victorian era (1837-1901) was the most affluent period for the city, as evidenced by the elegant houses in the East Row Historic District. East Row was established when James Taylor's son subdivided the family's estate as Taylor's Row Addition, which quickly became popular with wealthy business owners and merchants.The East Row Historic District displays architectural styles as Italianate, American Four Square, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, Second Empire, and Queen Anne.
The East Row District is divided into two neighborhoods, Mansion Hill, and Gateway. Mansion Hill derived its name from the James Taylor Mansion, which was built in the 1840s on top of the small hill that used to be the vast Taylor family estate. Another fascinating building is the Beaux Arts Building at 6th and Linden Streets. It was built as a Catholic girls school in 1898, and has now been converted into 40 modern condominiums. In the 1890s, the neighborhood was subdivided for residential use.
The older East Row neighborhood is Gateway, to the south of Mansion Hill. The name may have come from a toll gate that once was situated at 6th and Linden Streets in the early 1800s. It was also once part of the vast Taylor family estate, and began to be developed in the 1870s along Washington Street and eastward. Homes were developed in a unique way, called the Newport Plan. According to this design, the entrance was moved to the building's side, to allow more privacy on the narrow lots, and to allow more space for decorative flair on the facades.
By 1848, the year of James Taylor's death, Newport's population had grown to around 1,000 people. Newport was incorporated as a city in 1850.
The 1860s brought Newport mass transit in the form of mule-driven streetcars. The Newport Street Railway, which operated routes on York Street and Washington Street, later merged into what first became the Green Line bus system and later became the present day Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky. Electricity came to Newport around the turn of the 19th century, and a numbering system caused the renaming of many Newport Streets.
In 1870, following the close of the Civil War, The Southgate Street School Elementary and High School was erected as Newport's first Black school. It is located on Southgate Street between Saratoga Street and Washington Avenue. The high school closed in 1921, but it wasn't until 1955 that the elementary school closed for desegregation. The building is currently being restored under the Northern Kentucky African American Heritage Task Force.
The Newport and Cincinnati Bridge opened in 1872, spanning the Ohio River between Newport and Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the first railroad bridge in the area. It was soon retrofitted to accommodate pedestrian, streetcar, and automobile traffic. In 1904 the bridge was renamed the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Bridge. It was closed to railroad traffic in 1987 and to automobile traffic in 2001. It re-opened as a pedestrian bridge in 2003, and is now known as the Newport Southbank Bridge, or more popularly, the "Purple People Bridge." It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A flood in 1937 left much of Newport under water, and would go down in history as Newport's worst natural disaster. The floodwall that is part of today's landscape was completed in 1948 and has protected the city from several other floods.
Influenced by a variety of socio-economic factors, including Prohibition, the Great Depression, and the '37 flood, Newport's economic focus in the 1940s shifted to gambling halls, adult entertainment, prostitution, and Vegas-style nightclubs and casinos. Most of these businesses were operated, or at least influenced, by gangsters. Newport gained national recognition as "Sin City." Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were commonly seen walking the streets of Newport. But soon, Las Vegas replaced Newport as the favorite "Sin City" playground and Newport fell into a rapid decline. In the 1980s, community activists began reforming Newport's corrupt city government. In 1982, nude dancing was banned. Investigations for racketeering pushed out casinos. Doctors, lawyers, artists, and others, including many longtime Newport residents, began restoring the East Row's historic homes.
Newport is now Kentucky's second largest historic district, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city's riverfront and northern business district is experiencing a renaissance. The Newport Aquarium opened in 1999, and the following year Newport on the Levee opened and the World Peace Bell was installed. Newport is one of two county seats of Campbell county.