History of Newport, Kentucky
Establishment in the Late 1700s
Established in 1795 by James Taylor, Newport is named in honor of Admiral Christopher Newport. Admiral Newport had led the first English settlement at Jamestown, which is in Taylor’s native state of Virginia. The land had actually been platted twenty years prior by his brother Hubbard Taylor, who at the time was surveying it for his father.
In 1793 it is said that James Taylor laid out the workings for a road to Lexington (U.S. 27) and in 1795 he subdivided 150 acres of land into lots. Newport’s development received a major boost in 1803 when the army agreed to build a military post there. The army purchased five acres of land for $1 from James Taylor. The land was located at the mouth of the Licking River. The army post was later to be named the Newport Barracks.
By 1848, the year of James Taylor’s death, Newport’s population had grown to around 1,000 people. The residents had a couple of churches and several factories that manufactured rope and woolen products.
Newport's military post was the center of activity during the Civil War 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 served tours of duty at the Newport Barracks.
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 became the Green Line bus system and into the present-day Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky.
The turn of the century brought electricity to Newport and a numbering system that caused the renaming of many Newport streets. It was also in that time that Newport native John Thompson invented the Thompson Machine Gun (“Tommy Gun”) that became known nationwide for its use by gangsters. The gangsters themselves would become a part of Newport’s history during the 1920s.
A flood in 1937 left much of Newport underwater and would go down in history as Newport’s worst natural disaster to date. The floodwall that is part of today’s landscape was completed in 1948, as a result of the flood of 1937.
The 1940s through 1980s brought turbulent times for Newport as gambling halls and Vegas-style nightclubs operated in the city. Efforts to clean up the city in response to public outcry led to vast political and social change. Those reform efforts have rewarded Newport with its current stature today.
Today’s Newport is a hotbed of development and redevelopment. The east side has been transformed into the East Row Historic District, a place where homes have been returned to their original historic state. Property values are dramatically on the rise and pride in the community can be seen on every corner. The riverfront area is also being developed and tourist attractions such as the Newport Aquarium, World Peace Bell, and Newport on the Levee have been erected. Newport is also becoming a home for unique shops, cafes, and independent businesses. The riverfront community is now brimming with dining options and festivities. For all that it has become, the best is yet to come for Newport.
There are six National Register historic districts in Newport, as well as one local historic district and numerous individually listed landmarks:
- Cote Brilliante - 290 acres, 125 buildings
- East Newport - 1150 acres, 984 buildings
- Mansion Hill - 500 acres, 384 buildings
- Monmouth Street - 80 acres, 94 buildings
- York Street - 70 acres, 56 buildings
- Newport Courthouse Square - 110 acres, 17 buildings
The East Row Local Historic District is comprised of portions of the Mansion Hill and East Newport National Register historic districts. It has roughly 1,000 properties within its borders. Most of these are residential, with some commercial properties and several churches.