The monument has become almost as much a part of Brenton Point on Ocean Drive as the jutting rocks that slice the edge of the ocean.
It has been there for more than 30 years, despite its original sandstone, which crumbled away under the harsh ocean winds until it was removed and rebuilt in granite. If a local nonprofit can raise enough funds and awareness, it will stand for another two decades.
The Middletown-based Portuguese Discovery Monument Foundation, which has informally existed for years, has recently become a 501(c) (3) nonprofit that can accept tax-deductible contributions.
It will need quite a few. The group is looking to raise between $750,000 and $1 million over a five-year period to maintain the Portuguese Age of Discovery Monument at Brenton Point State Park. The money would be used to maintain the 16-point stone structure, while creating a viable education outreach component.
“We have formalized the foundation with five board members and with other contributors,” said Middletown attorney Robert Silva, who heads the board.
In 1988, the nonprofit Providence based Portuguese Cultural Foundation erected the monument.
“Arthur Raposo from Middletown came up with an idea,” Silva said. “He wanted to honor the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. What Arthur started with us morphed into a significant design. We built it.”
With the help of local agencies and the Portuguese government, noted sculptor Joao Charterers de Almeida was retained for the project. He met with Peter Calvet of the Portuguese Cultural Foundation and approved the Brenton Point site as a testament to the exploration point of demarcation, Ponta de Sagres, Portugal. The sandstone design was conceived and dedicated to the Portuguese explorers and navigators, made legendary by Prince Henry’s School of Navigation.
The monument was dedicated in 1989, a modern sculpture incorporating elements central to Portugal’s maritime experience, such as the Landmark, Compass Rose and Armillary Sphere, in a composition arranged symbolically on the most seaward point in Newport.
Originally, some called it ugly. Others didn’t understand it. Eventually, it won praise.
It cost $200,000 to erect, with the work done by a Portuguese contractor, Anthony Nunes Construction of Bristol. But the original sandstone, which was mined, milled and fabricated in the old country, then shipped to New Bedford and assembled here, blew away over time in tiny bits.
“The Brenton Point environment was not conducive to longevity, especially in winter,” said Silva of the cracks that split all of the vertical stones, except the remarkable obelisk compass that endures.
By 1998, the cracks were repaired. “It ended up being a Band- Aid approach,” said Silva.
Continued deterioration forced RIDEM to remove the monument’s components in 2006. “DEM called it a public hazard. They didn’t want to be responsible,” Silva said. “For four or five years, there was no monument there.”
In 2011, it was rebuilt at Maine North Jay White Granite and reconstructed there. But the Portuguese Cultural Foundation, the inspiration for the work, was inactive by that time.
“A number of local Portuguese Americans said something has to be done to resurrect this monument,” Silva said. “We said, ‘We cannot allow the monument to be taken down. If we don’t put something there, and replicate the monument, someone else is going to come along and put something on this magnificent site.’”
Over three years, the group managed to receive state money to rebuild. New elements were added to improve the public’s understanding and visitor awareness. A seat-wall with engraved letters and interpretive graphic panels explaining the monument with an accounting of its history were complemented with eight cast bronze international way-finding markers placed within the compass quadrants. In 2014, the monument was rededicated.
Five years later, locals are trying to discover new sources of revenue to maintain it. “Not to let what happened before, happen again,” said Silva.
“There is also some work that needs to be done,” said board member James Reed, “[such as] the engraving of all the Portuguese navigators on the 30-foot sphere.”
New blood is needed along with deep wallets.
“We are looking to attract membership, as well as charitable contributions to continue the work … as well as establishing a fund that will allow us to maintain the monument in perpetuity,” Reed said. “We need to take a step forward. We need to become more visible. We need to do outreach and awareness.”
Silva said his group has procured a 10-year deed extension on the land, with another 10 years added, with easement responsibilities.
“We have to ensure the site, maintain it, seed it, oversee it, fertilize it, mow it, making the site very, very nice,” he said. “We have the right to be there for another 20 years.”