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Postcards from the past: a look at Narragansett in the Gilded Age

August 21, 2012

Photos courtesy Federico Santi

The Narragansett Pier looked vastly different at the turn of the century than it does today, with elaborate structures, such as the old Casino (forefront) enjoying prominent stature among the state’s and country’s upper-class elite.

NARRAGANSETT—Much of Narragansett’s physical past today is manifest in monuments such as The Towers and Kinney Bungalow, throwbacks to a town which saw the most wealthy and influential icons of the Gilded Age pass among its streets. There were numerous structures, however, that have been lost to present generations, and their memory exists only in the minds of nostalgic historians or, more commonly, on postcards.

Federico Santi and John Gacher, co-owners of The Drawing Room Antique Shop in Newport, discovered a number of postcards depicting Narragansett’s past, and decided upon displaying them for the public to see on their website.

“We purchased these (Narragansett) post cards earlier this past year and thought they were so interesting that I created a web site for them,” said Santi. “We have listed Newport Mansion postcards online for years as a public service and have created YouTube videos of turn of the century downtown Newport, Newport Beaches, snf Newport's Washington Square.”

The grandeur of Narragansett’s once world-famous hotels are fully depicted on the four by six message cards. There is the old Casino, where tennis matches were once played on fertile lawns as Towers stood nearby. The Matthewson Hotel, built in 1868, could hold up to 500 guests. The Imperial Hotel was considered one of the most luxurious hotels around. That history remains apparent in the many postcards that Santi and Gacher have collected and displayed on their website.

“Post cards are really photographs, often of places and buildingsthat no longer exist,” said Santi. “Urban renewal, demolition, and changes in economic climates all can change the face of a resort community like Narragansett.”

“Some people are surprised to see the large hotels, tourist venues and mansions that once 'made' the community an important tourist destination,” he added.

The buildings of turn-of-the-century Narragansett are long gone, grasped by destructive fires or time-worn neglect. Their images, however, persist to the present day, a reminder of the past which the town has borne.

If you go

The Drawing Room Antique Shop is located at 152 Spring St., Newport, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the year. The poscards of Narragansett can be views at www.drawrm.com/narry.htm.

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