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Opinion letter: Newport, Rhode Island to lose one of its hidden gems



On May 29th of this year A tragic accident took place. Four youths entered the Bells at Brenton Point State Park. One somehow accessed the roof which had to be a daunting task. He fell thru when one of the 117-year-old cement slabs where the roof gave way to his weight. He and his friends within the structure below him were hurt and rushed to Hasbro hospital. They have recovered as best can be expected and lawyered up to sue Rhode Island and the park for this tragedy. Prayers to them and their families.

There have been no trespassing signs and fencing up for well over 10 years now to stop these incursions. People do go in but with the knowledge it’s illegal and dangerous. I have researched and chronicled this site for over 35 years, so I know the risks involved.

My name is Jesse Correa Jr., and I am an amateur film maker and historian who has specialized on the Brenton State Park for over 35 years. This is the story of this site and why it’s important to Newport history.

The bells were the 2nd stable built by Theodore Monroe Davis there completed in 1906. This stable was built to replace a wooden one that had burned down and all the horses within died horribly. This is important as Davis had his nephew Terry Boal design and construct RI 1st concrete, steel support and asbestos structure. It was a magnificent sight and housed stables, carriage house, hay and a supply area as well as help housing. It also had a 4-faced clock atop it that rang out the hours for all to hear. This was where the name the Bells came from.

It was a triumph of architecture and magnificence to behold. He also built at this time a windmill in the rear of this location that housed water and was able by the turning of its blades to propel water through a hose. This was to ensure no other fires could ever threaten his estate, The reef. The reef was one of the 1st on the drive and finished in 1881. It housed rare art and Egyptian artifacts he collected.

Mr. Davis had been a lawyer, banker, and amateur Egyptologist. He weas one of the 1st allowed to explore the valley of the kings not from Egypt. He discovered more tombs there than any other person and found Akhenaten’s tomb as well as being mere feet from king tuts.

He was not the 1st to know this spot’s special and majestic location. The native Americans shared this sight before colonization as it was so important. It had rich soil, and they say you could run a basket through the surf, and it would be full of fish then. They loved and revered this site. There is a Marking tree there. There were trees twisted to grow weird to show this sight represented importance in location or an event, a native street sign or marker. It still stands adjacent to the Bells on the right. This is an important native landmark older than Europeans here in America, that must be saved from the coming demolition on the bells.

There is another family who, after the Davis family left, lived here and were of importance. The Budlong. Milton J. Budlong lived here with his family, He was a Packard cars leader and had in fact invented the 1st electric car. His divorce and the spectacular fights were legendary in Newport then also.

The state received it when, after the house burned in 1962 for still unknown reasons, it was declared unsafe. The remaining Budlong wanted no compensation for it and just wanted to be rid of it.

The state was asked, once it took control of it, to care for it and make sure of its upkeep. This was not the reef which burned, but the bells and windmill. Both were historic and important sites. The state at the time cared little for this site or its meaning and let the bells fall apart, never fixing it or keeping it up to standards. This is no reflection on the current people there but the ones who were in charge then.

I am asking all who read this to contact the RIDEM and ask to save the tree and tower as the last real remains of this site’s history and legacy.

I will be doing an informal walking tour this September 17 between 1 to 2 pm retelling its history and answering any question people may have. Please join me by the bells then if you wish to know more or show support to save the remaining landmarks.
Let’s tell RI that our history matters and to not say goodbye to an old friend. Celebrate its life.

Jesse Correa

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