Redwood Library & Athenaeum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by zabelle on November 11, 2006

Guided tours of Redwood Library are offered Monday-Friday at 10:30am. We were guided by Elaine. She is an employee of the library and extremely knowledgeable. The tours are free but as you leave the library there is a box for donations and they are greatly appreciated.
Designed by the first American architect, Peter Harrison at the behest of Abraham Redwood, The Redwood is the oldest lending library in continuous use in America. What I found amazing is that the exterior of the original library is made of wood. Peter Harrison is known for this style of splinter finish. It looks like stone from a distance and it was the first neoclassical building in America. Thomas Jefferson visited here and it is believed that he took his inspiration of the building in Washington, D.C. from the style of the Redwood Library.

The library started with a core of 750 titles comprising 1400 volumes. Newport was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War and only about 50% of the volumes survived this occupation. Over the years the library has acquired about 40% of them back, if not the original books the same year of printing and edition. They are able to do this because they have the original invoice for the purchase of the books and original inventory lists. They even have Peter Harrison’s original plans for the building.

Least you think that this is a Library stuck in the past, you need to visit the current stacks. They operate with a button and are state of the art.

The original library is now what is called the Harrison Room. About a 100 years younger is the reading room. It has wonderful lighting and comfortable chairs and a table full of the latest magazines. It is a room you can picture yourself getting comfortable in.

A 1940's addition holds the art gallery, which is why this is also an Atheneum. It isn’t the only place to see art though, there are two early Gilbert Stuart portraits of Mr. & Mrs. Bannister above the door in the Harrison Room. He was a teen when he did them and when you compare them to his later portraits you will see how much he has matured. His self portrait in the style of Rembrandt is quite lovely.

In the gallery is a large sculpture called the dying Gaul which has been at Chateau sur Mer for many years but now has returned to its home at the Library. There are also two works by Gilbert Stuart’s daughter. The Library has never purchased any works of art they have all been received as bequests.

Today you will find a gem of American architecture as well as an amazing amount of historic documents and furniture. The oldest Windsor chairs in the United States belong to the Redwood Library and until recent times were being used. Having just opened after a major restoration and renovation, the library certainly looks ready to survive another 260 years. 
Redwood Library and Athenaeum
50 Bellevue Ave
Newport, Rhode Island, 02840
(401) 847-0292

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