I am going to run the Newport Half Marathon on October 18!
Tyler inspired me because he recently registered for the full 26.2-mile marathon.
Every street along the half marathon route in the city where I was born has meaning and associations for me:
The course starts just off Goat Island in Newport Harbor. My father’s father, a skilled machinist, worked at the Naval Torpedo Station (today’s Goat Island) during WWII when it was genuinely an island (now it’s connected to the mainland by a causeway).
Newport Harbor, with the Newport Bridge in the background. Goat Island, barely visible, off to right
My paternal grandfather, Raymond M. Leary, Sr., (1891-1954)
Left turn onto Long Wharf – a beautiful view of boats in the harbor and home of the Newport Yacht Club
Newport Bridge and Newport Harbor at night
Right turn onto America’s Cup Boulevard — In a small park next to the boulevard, a stone marker commemorates one of my Barrington High School classmates, Jeff Sharver, a first lieutenant in the Marines at the time of the 2003 invasion of Grenada. Tragically, he was killed trying to rescue a fellow Marine.
America’s Cup Boulevard becomes Thames Street (rhymes with games, for native Newporters).
Lobstermen still bring their daily catch in to the wharves along Thames Street.
Aquidneck Lobster Co. on Bowen’s Wharf (Lynne and Troy in 2005)
Many of Newport’s most famous restaurants, bars and shops are also located on the Thames Street wharves. When I was a child, the city’s waterfront was sleazy, but after the federal government closed Newport’s active naval base in the 1970s, the city focused its economy on tourism and Thames Street went upscale.
Tyler, let it be noted here, likes to eat at The Black Pearl or the Clark Cooke House on Bannister’s Wharf. Bryan Waugh, another former high school classmate of mine, is the chef at the Clark Cooke House.
“The Wave,” one of my children’s all-time favorite statues, is located just off Thames Street.
Troy and Lynne climbing on the wave and the bodysurfer’s feet, 2005
Right turn onto Wellington Avenue and into Newport’s Fifth Ward, a locale where I spent some of the happiest times of my childhood.
[Heading straight on Thames, instead of turning off on Wellington, would lead to my current favorite Newport restaurant, Asterisk, 599 Thames St.]
My grandmother, my beloved Nana, lived at 73 Roseneath Avenue, off Wellington. The Fifth Ward is not a political ward (Newport only has three), but a neighborhood, originally settled by Irish immigrants.
My beautiful Nana, Mary Catherine Sullivan Leary Finn (1905-1988)
Am I Irish? Take a look at these names: My grandmother, Mary Catherine Sullivan, was born in 1905. In 1924, she married my grandfather Raymond Moore Leary. Three years after his death in 1954, she married Cornelius Anthony Aloysius Finn, always called Con.
Dashing Con (second from left)
Con was also a lifelong resident of Newport’s Fifth Ward. He served as a Seabee during WWII and returned home to work in the Newport’s public works department.
Cornelius Anthony Aloysius Finn (1913 -1974)
Never previously married, Con began his courtship of my widowed grandmother in the late 1950s at Siggy’s, the Fifth Ward’s favored deli.
“Hello to the prettiest girl in Newport!” he said to Nana, when he spotted her shopping in the deli.
In his job, Con helped maintain Newport’s public spaces, including King Park (we always called it King’s Park) on Wellington Ave at the start of Roseneath next to the harbor. The waterfront park has a playground, a small bandstand and a ballpark. When I was young, the sign over the dugouts read, “A diamond is a boy’s best friend.” At some point over the years, the sign was repainted, corrected and now reads: “A diamond is a kid’s best friend.”
King Park also boasts a statue of Comte de Rochambeau, who arrived in Newport in 1780 and helped General George Washington defeat the British at Yorktown in 1781.
Nana often walked my sister and I down Roseneath to the park when we were children. I have taken my own kids to the park many times, too, when they were young to play on the swings and slides, climb on Rochambeau, hunt for mussels, pop seaweed and gaze out over the harbor.
Continuing along Wellington, the half marathon route passes the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. Lewis, born in Newport in 1842, helped her mother tend the lighthouse and her siblings after her father became an invalid. She was known as the best swimmer in Newport (quite an accomplishment, especially for a woman) and credited with saving at least 18 people. She eventually became a beneficiary of the Carnegie Hero Fund.
Left turn onto Halidon Avenue. No longer fronting on Halidon Ave. is Halidon Hall, former home of the Cowsills, a 1960s family singing group. Halidon Hall is almost directly behind 73 Roseneath. When my family visited Nana and Con during the Cowsills’ brief heyday, my sister and I were thrilled to hear them practicing, despite my father’s scornful teasing about their bubblegum pop.
Right turn onto Harrison Avenue. My sister and I were always reminded that the sculptor of the famous Iwo Jima war memorial, Felix de Weldon lived at Beacon Rock, 147 Harrison Ave.
Also, along Harrison are the fields and pastures of the SVF Foundation, formerly the Beacon Hill estate, known locally as the Swiss Village Farm. The foundation’s mission is to preserve rare and endangered breeds of livestock. Usually some of the foundation’s heritage sheep, cattle or goats are grazing near the road, but the property is only open to the public one day a year, and I haven’t yet had the chance to tour the grounds and buildings, which have been beautifully restored.
The half-marathon route takes a right turn into Fort Adams State Park. Construction of the fort began in 1824, and was completed 30 years later, with the help of Irish stone masons.
Fort Adams, viewed from Newport Harbor, with a rainbow above
My father signed up to serve in WWII at Fort Adams (it didn’t become a state park until 1965).
My father, Raymond Moore Leary, Jr. (1926-1987), with his parents, at 73 Roseneath Ave.
Another right turn out of the park and back onto Harrison Ave., past Hammersmith Farm, originally built by John W. Auchincloss in 1887. He was the great-grandfather of Jacqueline Bouvier’s stepfather, Hugh D. Auchincloss. Hammersmith Farm was her childhood home, as well as the site of the wedding reception of Bouvier and John F. Kennedy, following their wedding at St. Mary’s Church. JFK used the farm as his “Summer White House.” I remember driving by the house when I was a little girl with my family and having the Secret Service and guards at the gates pointed out to me: “The President is in town.”
Hammersmith Farm and its boathouse from the water, 2005
A note about St. Mary’s Church: The oldest Catholic parish in RI, it was founded in 1828. The congregation grew when the Irish began to help build Fort Adams. Nana’s parents were married in the church, and she attended its parochial school. Raymond M. Leary, Sr., my grandfather, was baptized at St. Mary’s. The funeral masses for both my father and grandmother were held at St. Mary’s.
To be continued in my next post …