2015-07-30 / Front Page

Salve Revives Colorful History of Square

By Olga Enger

A volunteer planting project has brought Washington Square a step closer to its historical roots.

Through Newport’s adopt-aspot program, Salve Regina University has planted flower beds around a historic water fountain, mirroring 19th century postcards of the site. The university will swap out the flowers three times a year and plans to maintain the beds twice a week.

Begonia Whopper flowers were purchased from Mello’s Farm and Flower Center in Portsmouth and planted in July. Whoppers are known for their large, colorful flowers and glossy green leaves.

“These flowers are similar to the perennials, previously existing around the garden, preserving the historic nature of the park,” explained Salve’s Community Service Director Kelly Powers .

Salve Regina’s Community Service Office and Grounds Department prepared the grounds for planting, and all members of the Salve Regina community were invited to plant, mulch, water, weed and sign up to maintain the beds.

“Salve actually takes care of it, which is huge,” commented Lily Dick, chair of the Washington Square Advisory Commission.

“Right now we are two weeks booked out, which is great. I hoped I wouldn’t be out there watering it everyday,” Powers laughed. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a big project, but Salve is a big university.”

The flowers are helpful to dress up the area, because the fountain is inoperable, Dick explained.

“Now we just need to find the funds to replace the fountain and basin, which in its current condition leaks so much that we cannot put water in it,” she said. “A new fountain display and new basin will make a big difference, and the beautiful flowers there now help us see how really lovely the fountain area and a working fountain could be.”

The site was chosen because it complements a $6.7 million Broadway streetscaping project, updates Washington Square and is conveniently located on a trolley route, which is free for students and staff, said Powers.

The plantings are timely because the park recently lost several trees.

“They were in decline. We took them down for reasons of health and safety,” explained Dick.

The flowers are not the only change expected for the park. As early as this fall, the gas lit lamps will be converted to electrical lamps and the city will explore replacement material for the bluestone pavers that are cracking. A young evergreen tree was planted in the square, which is the heart of Christmas in Newport.

The adjacent Opera House is undergoing a multi-million dollar capital campaign to restore the building to a live performance arts center. Additionally, public workshops are planned to discuss ideas for the site of Coffey’s garage on Touro Street.

Washington Square dates back to Newport’s settlement of 1639, and developed into a park (known as “The Parade”) in the 19th century, with the installation of trees, the fountain and a sculpture of Newport’s military hero Oliver Hazard Perry.

Powers hopes to expand the volunteer efforts to include grass re-seeding around the benches.

“Together, we will do our part to help beautify Newport, for Salve students, tourists, and community members to all enjoy,” said Powers.

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