The perfect walking town turns 225 years old
A historic gem on the Ohio River, Newport needs little introduction as a north-ern Kentucky fixture. Even so, many families don’t realize just how much the city has to offer in a tidy space.
Newport’s Historic Preservation Officer Scott Clark is the first to point out that while Newport’s history is valuable and extensive, it’s still a work in progress after 225 years.
“For our anniversary, we have a tag line: ‘Proudly celebrating our diverse past and making history every day,’” Clark says. “History is all about stories, and you need to be telling the whole story so that people can see themselves in their community. We’re not just talking about what happened a century ago; it’s also the visionaries who wanted to see a different identity for our city 25 years ago.”
A day spent roaming Newport proves this statement true. All throughout the city are seasoned landmarks and modern marvels alike, and you don’t even need a car to take it all in.
Start the day with a reserved visit to the Newport Aquarium, which re-opened in June with capacity limits and mandatory pandemic safety precautions.
Visitors can enjoy the new Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels exhibit, which was unveiled just days before the aquarium closed in March and represents an investment of over $1 million. Shipwreck makes guests feel like they’re walking through a felled ship on the seafloor, now inhabited by a pair of green moray eels up to 5 feet long.
For lunch, choose from options at Newport on the Levee, including vendors at the new Bridgeview Box Park. The open-air space uses colorful shipping containers where visitors can find coffee, an adult drink and savory street food. General Manager Justin Otto says the Box Park has the best view on the property, supplemented by green turf and bright furniture.
“You could build a Newport on the Levee in other towns, but you can’t build an Ohio River, a Purple People Pedestrian Bridge, an aquar-ium and a Cincinnati skyline in the same place,” Otto says. “We’ve embraced the community around us to make a destination that serves as a front porch to the South from Cincinnati.”
Guests also are welcome to get takeout from surrounding Levee restaurants to enjoy in the weather-friendly Bridgeview Box Park space, where employees diligently sanitize each surface. Second Sight Distillery, a local fixture and Box Park vendor, supplies distillery-made hand sani-tizer throughout the venue on artis-tic, repurposed bourbon barrels.
While you eat, listen for the World Peace Bell to ring at noon from the Millennium Monument. Recognized as the world’s largest free-swinging bell at 66,000 pounds, its daily chime has been a far-reaching reminder of human rights since it was first rung in Newport on New Year’s Day 2000.
Black history landmark
After lunch, a five-minute walk will take you three blocks to the Newport History Museum at the Southgate Street School. The indoor displays may not be available as the space doesn’t permit adequate social dis-tancing, but the building itself is a significant artifact worth passing.
Opened in 1866 as the only school for Black residents of Campbell County, it was initially run by the Freedmen’s Bureau until funding was cut after only a couple years. The city of Newport then picked up the baton to keep the school open and expand-ing until it finally closed in 1955, when Brown vs. Board of Education permitted Black students and educa-tors to enter other schools.
“When schools desegregated, the Newport School Board embraced the law peacefully,” Clark says.
In 2016, he spearheaded the building’s transition to a local his-tory museum. Owned by a Masonic lodge chapter, the building has been well-maintained long past its pre-viously segregated counterparts. Former Southgate Street School students gave invaluable insight
on their time within its walls, while the Public History Program at Northern Kentucky University helped with historical displays.
While some events commemorating the city’s anniversary in 2020 were postponed, COVID-19 did not halt the start of a mural project along the Dave Cowens Drive floodwall. The inaugural mural by NKU graduate Gina Erardi celebrates the Southgate Street School, depicting a Black student’s journey to higher education. Future murals will showcase other pieces of Newport’s history, with space saved for years to come.
Walking or biking will take you along the border of the East Row Historic District, the second-largest historic district in Kentucky, combining the picturesque charms of two neighborhoods.
Continue east until you reach New Riff Distilling. New Riff
has launched a special community bourbon barrel program that donates $20 of every bottle sold from the community barrel to a local organization—among them, the History Museum, according to New Riff’s Director of Communications Amy Tobin.
“We have a mission to be one of the great small distilleries of the world, but closer to home is where our purpose is,” Tobin says. “The community barrels are something we can contribute as a new distillery to raise funds. We’re making good whiskey and a good commu-nity. It comes together in a beautiful way.”
In 2021, the city will continue celebrating the 225th anniversary of incorporation and welcome new attractions.
Phase I of the multi-use Ovation development on the riverfront will see the completion of a music venue and parking structure. Safety accommodations will be evalu-ated once it opens, but under best circumstances, the venue will be able to schedule 180 events a year in indoor or outdoor settings, attracting smaller but more frequent crowds than a large stadium and increasing foot traffic in the area.