Newport, Rhode Island – a Love Story! by Alyssa Maxwell
The first book in Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Mystery Series, Murder at the Breakers, features 21-year old Emma Cross who is reporting on a grand ball at the Vanderbilts’ summer home for the society page of the Newport Observer. But that takes a backseat when she witnesses a murder and her black sheep brother is framed as the killer. Emma must find out what really happened no matter what the cost. The author fills us in on her love for Newport, the setting for this fabulous and fun new series.
Streets lined with colonial saltbox homes. Corners lit by gas lanterns. Buoy bells tolling in the nearby harbor. Mist rolling in off the water. This is what greeted me on my first trip to Newport, RI, when I visited friends who moved there after high school. But even if I hadn’t had friends there, the charm and history of the city would have kept calling me back. I’ve always loved the idea of traveling back in time, and Newport brought that fantasy alive. I was in love – head over heels!
But what has really made setting my mystery series there special is my personal connection with the city. Read on to see how I’ve blended fact with fiction in creating my Gilded Newport Mysteries.
This is a typical colonial home in the Point section of Newport, and what I imagine and describe as the childhood home of my sleuth, Emma Cross. My friends lived on the Point in an original 1700s saltbox, not as large as this one, but complete with a ghost in the basement, or so they said.
What I didn’t know on those early trips was that I would fall in love again – and eventually marry a guy from one of those old Newport families, the kind that settled generations ago and barely even know or care that the mainland exists. Suddenly I was no longer just a tourist or occasional visitor. (The blue house above, incidentally, is also similar to the house my husband grew up in, and is even on the same street. Unfortunately, his house was one of several that were torn down when the Newport Bridge was built in the 1960s)
I began to see Newport with an insider’s view. The historic mansions lining Bellevue were no longer just museums to me, they were the homes of very real people who, in summer months, shared the same island and walked the same streets as my husband’s ancestors. Places throughout the city took on new significance, no longer merely points of interest listed in the tourist guides, but places where my husband and friends swam, rode their bikes, shopped, worked, etc. I learned about the real lifestyles and attitudes of the people who lived there year round, and how they perceive the summer crowd that swells the population from June through September (just between you and me, it’s not always a glowing opinion).
This is Bowen’s Wharf, a scenic example of how Newport has blended the old with the new. My husband worked here as a teenager, when he helped lay those bricks you see lining the walkway. The shopkeepers were friends, and he also parked cars for more than a few celebrities who came to dine at the famous Black Pearl and Clarke Cook House restaurants. But during the Gilded Newport Mysteries, set in the 1890s, this didn’t exist yet. It was underwater, part of the harbor.
In Book 2, Murder at Marble House, sleuth Emma Cross has dinner here at the White Horse Tavern, the oldest tavern in New England, which has been open for business since it was built in the 1700s. Years ago, my husband’s grandmother, a seamstress, made their waitress uniforms. Incidentally, she also inspired one of the secondary characters in the series, Emma’s “Nanny.”
Emma attends St. Paul’s Church, the same church my inlaws attended for decades, where my father-in-law was the organist, and where my sisters-in-law were married. The family will still gather on Sundays, when in Newport, to attend services with my father-in-law and sing in the choir.
In book 1, Emma’s brother Brady is held right across the street from St. Paul’s, at the Newport County Jail, which is now an inn! Can you imagine staying in that had once been a jail? Looks nice to me, actually, and we’re thinking of staying there on our next trip up. My husband tells me he never spent any time at this or any other police station as a boy.
This house, called The Waves, is one of the most dramatic sights along Newport’s Ocean Drive, where my husband and I used to love to walk at the water’s edge and climb around on the rocks. I used this house, albeit a smaller version in my imagination, as the inspiration for Emma’s present house, which she inherited from her Aunt Sadie (also inspired by one of my husband’s relatives, his great aunt Sara).
As I hope you can see from these few examples, for me Newport is so much more than a destination or a story setting, it’s an important part of what defines our family, with roots so deep they extend all the way to South Florida, where my husband and I now live and where we raised our daughters. Although we live far away, there will always be something of a Newporter in each of us. That’s why I wrote Murder at The Breakers and, so far, two other Gilded Newport Mysteries, a true labor of love if ever there was one!
Alyssa Maxwell began a love affair with the city of Newport while visiting friends there back in her high school days. Time and again the harbor‑side, gas‑lit neighborhoods drew her back, and on one of those later visits she met the man who would become her husband. Always a lover of history, Alyssa found that marrying into a large, generations‑old Newport family opened up an exciting world of historical discovery. From the graveyards whose earliest markers read from the seventeenth century, to original colonial houses still lived in today, to the Newport Artillery Company whose curator for many years was her husband’s grandfather, Newport became a place of fascination and romantic charm. Today, Alyssa and her hubby reside beneath the palms and bright skies of Florida, but part of her heart remains firmly in that small New England city of great historical significance. The first in the Gilded Newport Mysteries, Murder at the Breakers, will be released in March, to be followed by Murder at Marble House in October of this year, and Murder at Beachwood, release date to be announced. You can find out more on her website.
Is there a place you’ll always call home, no matter where else you might be living? We’d love to hear about it! A random commenter will win a signed copy of Murder at The Breakers.
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