2013-12-05 / Front Page

Families at Fort Adams – Then and Now

By Pat Blakeley


Officers and their families gather in front of the original housing at Fort Adams. (Photos courtesy of the Fort Adams Trust) Officers and their families gather in front of the original housing at Fort Adams. (Photos courtesy of the Fort Adams Trust) Perhaps the most anticipated of all the Christmas in Newport events this season is the inaugural Tour of Historic Homes at Fort Adams, offering a peek into the lives of the military officers and their families who lived at the iconic fortress, on Saturday, Dec. 14.

The fundraiser is a joint effort of the Fort Adams Trust and Military Spouses of Newport (formerly Newport Officers’ Spouses’ Club).

A visit to Fort Adams has brought history to life for thousands through the years, but this new experience is specifically designed to showcase how the officers’ families lived during different eras in history. Event chair Peggy Cleveland, of Military Spouses of Newport, notes that the stories you hear from today’s military families are not unlike those of years gone by; the camaraderie, resourcefulness and resilience are constants. “It never ceases to amaze me how similar our stories today are to the military families of the past.”


The interior officers' quarters feature decorative rosettes, plaster and molding, still evident in the unrestored units. The interior officers' quarters feature decorative rosettes, plaster and molding, still evident in the unrestored units. The “before and after” tour will show how officers lived inside and then outside the walls of the fort, exploring both the original interior quarters and the historic homes constructed along Officers’ Row circa 1878. Newport is a Navy town and the fort was a longtime Army stronghold, but today Fort Adams is home to members of all the armed services. The historic homes on Officers’ Row are used for U.S. Naval War College senior staff housing.

Visitors aren’t the only ones excited about the event, reports Cleveland. “Living in a historic home at Fort Adams is a real privilege for our family. The Tour of Homes is an opportunity for us to share our military experiences with the civilian world.” She says the current residents of these historic homes view themselves as caretakers and are honored to serve as such.


Boxed entryways were added to the original quarters to help combat the unrelenting elements. Boxed entryways were added to the original quarters to help combat the unrelenting elements. The original officers’ quarters were inside the fort walls from the 1850s through the late 1870s. Visitors will see rooms staged with historically appropriate furnishings, and two Civil War re-enactors in period attire will portray a lieutenant and his wife. Although the interior quarters are part of the regular Fort Adams tour, they are usually devoid of furnishings and there are no re-enactors present.

After visiting the fort, guests will head to Officers’ Row to tour four historic homes never before open to the public. The houses will be decorated by current military residents, with the holiday décor reflecting the lifestyle and travel experiences of each family. The lower level will be on display at all the houses but two homes on the tour will also open the second floor to guests, Cleveland said. Docents will be available to answer questions at each home.


Soldiers gather in front of the officers' quarters in 1865. Soldiers gather in front of the officers' quarters in 1865. Resident Julie Ramsden is a New Hampshire resident and says her family is thrilled to be back in New England after a recent tour in Hawaii, and they are using many fresh trees, as well as items collected at various duty stations, to decorate their home.

Ramsden reveals she was not expecting how wonderful it would be to live in Newport and at Fort Adams. They are very fortunate, she says, adding, “It’s an honor to live in a house with such historical significance. It ties us to our roots and the military families that came before us.”

Cleveland is decorating with natural greenery, foliage and flowers, plus ornaments the family has collected during their many years of service travel. She observes that decorating this home has been a challenge because the entryway features a two-story foyer, much larger than she is used to. The event has developed into a family affair, she notes, with the preparations becoming an “all hands” effort.

Attendees will begin the tour at the Fort Adams Visitor Center. The spouse group has produced a souvenir booklet which will be handed out at check-in, with an introduction by Tanya Biank, the author of Lifetime TV's "Army Wives" and "Undaunted: The Real Story of America's Servicewomen in Today's Military.” Kathleen Troost-Cramer, author of “True Tales of Life and Death at Fort Adams,” will be on hand at the center to share stories about life at the fort.

Timed tickets begin on the hour, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Advance tickets are $15 and are available at milspousenewport.org or fortadams.org. Same day tickets will be sold for $20 at the visitor center beginning at 10:30 a.m. Advance ticketing is strongly suggested to ensure desired tour time.

Hot beverages, refreshments and gift items will be available in the visitor center and all proceeds from the event will benefit the Military Spouses of Newport and Fort Adams Trust.

Visitors are advised that the tour requires walking on uneven ground in the fort and climbing stairs in the homes.

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