2017-12-14 / Front Page

Historic Cistern Discovered at Spring Site

By Olga Enger

Looking south with camera aimed down, showing intersection of the straight and curved walls. The arrow indicates what appears to be iron staining resulting from water flow. (Image from Newport Environmental) Looking south with camera aimed down, showing intersection of the straight and curved walls. The arrow indicates what appears to be iron staining resulting from water flow. (Image from Newport Environmental) An antiquated stone cistern-like structure has been discovered at the site of the former Coffey's Citgo gas station on Spring Street in Newport, the location of the historic Newport Town Spring design project. The stone structure was unearthed this fall when an excavator struck it while removing two 10,000-gallon gas tanks and contaminated surface materials.

A group of residents, now known as the Newport Spring Leadership Committee, purchased the gas station and land from Neil Coffey in 2015 in order to convert the site to public open space that celebrates Newport’s history. They say the land should be preserved from development because it was “likely seen as the center of town,” according to their research.

Lilly Dick, Newport Spring Leadership Committee chair, maintains that the committee has conducted their “due diligence” along with the Newport Historical Society. “It’s a historically significant site,” she said.

Although a final design had not yet been approved, the committee began environmental remediation work in October, which the Department of Environmental Management required to be completed before Dec. 22 to avoid fines totaling $25,000 per day, according to the Newport Spring Leadership Committee website.

“It’s Newport’s history come to life,” said Tanya Kelley of L+A Landscape Architecture, about the cistern, at a Dec. 6 workshop with Newport City Council. The large, semicircular stone structure appears to be built without any mortar and contains water, according to a Newport Spring Leadership press release, and prompted the leadership committee to investigate the discovery with help from Ruth Taylor, executive director of Newport Historical Society.

“We were put in touch with experts in the field of archeology and specifically underwater archeology who were available to visit the site and make some preliminary observations,” the statement reads.

“Given the history of the spring site, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document this area,” Dick said. “This discovery of such a potentially important piece of Newport history will strongly influence the site design.”

The committee hopes to begin the investigation in February, pending a fundraising effort to raise $15,000 the group estimates it will cost, Dick wrote in a Dec. 12 email to Newport This Week.

Other proposed design elements include adding trees and grass, and closing off a section of Court House Street behind the Newport County Courthouse.

At an Oct. 19 meeting at the Newport Public Library, Kelley told the crowd, “There may be a water feature incorporated into the final design,” introducing that groundwater contamination in the area makes a natural spring impossible to include. (Newport This Week, “Historic Landmark Plan Springs Forward,” Oct. 26, 2017).

While the land was privately owned for a span of 200 years in recorded history, a public function was also likely fulfilled as it may have served as a spot for collecting fresh water, the committee said.

Brian Stinson, a local historian from Newport, attending the December workshop, questioned the historical claims of the project.

“There is no evidence to support this was part of the downtown area,” Stinson said. “The public spring is not mentioned in any documents.”

Mayor Winthrop told Stinson he would look at his research at a later time. “This is a public workshop; this is not a debate,” Winthrop said.

with contributions by NTW Staff

Spring Site Debate: Traffic

During the Dec. 6 City Council workshop, residents packed the chambers to voice concerns about the new traffic pattern.

“You don’t want that kind of traffic on side streets,” said Paul Bannon, senior project manager at Beta, the project’s traffic engineering and landscape design firm. “You want cars on the major roads such as America’s Cup and Memorial Boulevard.”

With additional signage, traffic could be easily rerouted to the larger streets, Bannon said, adding that the pedestrian-friendly concept will extend the newly designed Broadway district.

Mayor Harry Winthrop said there is still is not enough information on traffic for council to approve a design. “Right now, we only have data,” he said. “There is nothing that simulates the predicted traffic patterns. We need a traffic model.”

After the meeting, Stinson told Newport This Week that he found no evidence supporting that the site was used by the public.

“So, what are we celebrating? The site is no different than any other piece of land,” Stinson said. “The committee is using secondary historical sources, but you need to go to the primary source for historical facts.”

Although the council has not yet approved a design, it has formally embraced the project.

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