Redwood Library and Athenæum

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Newport, RI
United States
Redwood Library and Athenæum

Situated on a hill near the Colonial town center on land donated in 1748, this library is the earliest example of Palladian architecture in America. Funded by Abraham Redwood and a philosophical society, the library housed a collection of 1,200 books imported from England. Designed by Peter Harrison following a stay in London where he visited Lord Burlingham’s Chiswick garden temples, the library was completed in 1750. Overlooking the harbor, the land adjacent to the library was used for militia functions, livestock grazing, and recreation, the latter in the form of a bowling green. In the 1830s several donations resulted in the installation of various plants, the construction of a network of paths, and, in 1835, the planting of a fernleaf European beech, still marking the corner of the property.

Over the next century the library grounds flourished with the planting of several specimen trees, including a Scotch elm, a white horse chestnut, European lindens, and sycamore maples. In 1916 a hexagonal pavilion, also designed by Harrison, was relocated from Redwood’s Portsmouth estate. In 1934 the neighboring property was donated to the Redwood and John Russell Pope designed a garden, installed a year later by the Newport Garden Club. Just south of the library, Pope’s garden—comprising an allée of rhododendron, arbor vitae, and mountain laurels—is organized around a cross-axial path system that terminates at the historic pavilion. In 2006 Lucinda Brockway developed a master plan for the grounds and updated the garden. The Redwood was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.