Newport, Rhode Island :: The Bells

About 25 years ago when I was in college some friends and I stumbled across The Bells. It is now chained off but it wasn't back then and we were able to go inside and walk among broken glass, pieces of stone, metal and brick that had given way and fallen.I thought there was something spectacularly beautiful in this dilapidated old barn. As I rarely went anywhere without my camera (then and now) we went in and took loads of photos. I had a roll of black and white film in and shot what would turn out to be some really dramatic photographs with the sunlight shining through and casting the most amazing shadows inside the building. 

One can no longer venture inside as the building is now fenced off. Even with my daring, I'll do anything for a photograph attitude, I was not about to risk my well-being... Had I had a hard-hat on, I might have! But I was alone, early morning, armed with only my iPhone, camera and 2 lenses. 

I was as taken by the beauty of this old ramshackle building as I was 25 years ago. In fact I was more taken. Because my photographs were all black and white, my memory was too. I was amazed by all the color within and on the walls. I was taken by the beauty of the destructive vandalism. I happen to love graffiti. I think it's beautiful and those of you who have been following me for a while will know this. I truly believe there is destructive graffiti that is vandalism, and I do believe there is artful graffiti. 

I walked around the building with my camera and I tried to imagine her in her glory. Oh if these walls could just talk! Much has gone on within the four walls and I am thrilled that the city of Newport has kept The Bells in tact and not tried to raze her. She is after all, a great part of the city's amazing history. While not The Breakers or Marble House, she has her own story to tell and her own beauty within. It was here, I believe, that I first fell in love with graffiti. 

Following is a brief history of The Bells.

The Bells is located in Brenton Point which was named after Governor William Brenton, an early settler, who owned the land as a large farm in the 17th century. The area was originally called "Hammersmith" which he named after his hometown in England. (The original name survives in Hammersmith Farm, the estate once owned by the family of First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.)

In 1776, during the American Revolution, a battery was set up on the southwest part of Brenton Point as a coastal defense. About 1876, lawyer and businessman Theodore M. Davis built a mansion known as "The Reefs" which later became known as The Bells. The property was then sold to the Budlongs.

During World War II, Brenton Point was also considered a strategic defense area, as it overlooks the entrance to the East Passage, which allows access to Newport and to Conanicut Island. The home was seized during the war in order to erect the coastal defense battery. When the war ended, the battery was dismantled and the property was returned to the Budlongs, who then donated the land to the State of Rhode Island for a public park.

The original manor house was partially destroyed by fire in 1960, and torn down in 1963. Today, the former laundry/servants' quarters building serves as the park's visitor center, with restrooms and the park ranger's office located inside. Until the mid-1990s, the Rhode Island State Park Police maintained an office in the building. The former carriage house and stables of the mansion still stand on the property.

Image via Preservation in Pink

This last shot was taken from the top of the observation tower behind the old barn. It's not that high but I have a terrible fear of heights that seems to have worsened over the years. I stood in the middle of the tower, shaking terribly and clicked quickly - just for you - and hurried back down to safer ground!

All images save for the one of the inside view of the barn are mine and were taken with my Canon T-3 using both the factory and a zoom lens, as well as my iPhone 4S. The image of the interior is the image of Preservation in Pink.