Spring Park officially dedicated

By Helena Touhey

The project, in progress for a decade, is expected to be finished by the end of 2023

On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of people gathered for the dedication of Spring Park at the triangular intersection of Spring and Touro streets in Newport. The project, underway for nearly a decade, celebrates the natural spring found at the site, which was the former location of Coffey’s Citgo gas station, and which was central to Newport’s founding.  

Lilly Dick, who led the Spring Project effort, along with a dedicated committee, welcomed the several dozen people who gathered, despite the cold. And Lynn Ceglie, Newport’s vice mayor, read an official dedication.  

Behind Ceglie and Dick was a large stone carving by Nicholas Benson, engraved with these words: “It is agreed and ordered that… this south west end of the island, shall be called Newport… and that the towne shall be built upon both sides of the spring, and by the sea-side southward,” records of the Colony of Rhode Island, March 16, 1639.  

A crowd gathers for the dedication of Spring Park on Dec. 6. The park is expected to be completed by the end of 2023, after nearly a decade of planning and construction.

Later, during remarks inside The Colony House, where a reception was held, Ceglie noted that the project encapsulates many themes, among them: educating on the city’s history of religious tolerance, beautifying the intersection and downtown area, inviting self-reflection, addressing sea level rise and coastal flooding, improving traffic safety, and invigorating the economy by inviting passerby to better engage with surrounding businesses.  

“This project had big highs, and some very low lows,” Ceglie said. And yet, organizers “waded through.” At those words, she received a loud round of applause, which she responded to by offering congratulations to all involved.  

Ambassador John Loeb was also in attendance. Many will know his name from the Loeb Visitors Center situated across from the park, at Touro Synagogue. “This beautiful park is now a wonderful addition to Newport, and I’m delighted to play a relatively small role in bringing it to fruition,” he said. “This park is dedicated to religious freedom, a cause to which I’ve dedicated a significant part of my life.”  

Loeb said he believes in the practice of any faith, or no faith, and that he respects the right of anyone else to do the same. This, he said, is the lesson Roger Williams taught when he founded Rhode Island. He also spoke of George Washington and his famous letter to the Touro Synagogue congregation, which went on to influence the creation of the Bill of Rights.   

“It was Washington’s letter that inspired me to see Newport as a second home,” he said. “We are here today in the shadow of Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United States,” he added, noting the significance of religious tolerance in the current moment: “I have lived through a number of eras of antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred, [and] it’s easy to be discouraged by its revival here and abroad.” 

“Finally, I want to thank workers who labored to build this park in good weather and foul,” he said.  

Ambassador Loeb spoke at the dedication ceremony reception at the Old Colony House.

Following Loeb’s remarks Benedict Leca, executive director of the Redwood Library, spoke. “The point I want to convey is my excitement,” he said. “I want to salute the ambassador and the committee for having created… a site of memory, a container of collective memory.”  

Leca noted that springs, historically and culturally, remain significant over time, often for centuries. There are three types of springs, and Newport’s is a perennial spring, which means it flows constantly throughout the year. “That spring,” he noted, “has been flowing nonstop for ions.” 

Ron Henderson of LIRIO Architecture spoke next. “This morning, the first tree was placed in the park. Beneath it, I placed a 2023 George Washington quarter,” he said. These trees are the first of 18 trees in total to be planted.  

“I invite Newporter’s to learn, occupy, visit and dwell in the park… this is really your park,” Henderson said, “use the park in a way that you think it needs to be used in order to advance the civic life of Newport.”  

He recognized the stone carvings of Benson, and the sculpture of Howard Newman, which features an exposed pipe that doubles as a way for water to naturally flow through a portion of the park. 

Maureen Cronin, a member of the Newport Spring Leadership committee, along with Dick, showed the group a video about the project, which included footage of the archaeological excavation that took place on the site, and which unearthed the original spring box, which was discovered when the gas tanks were removed. This work was done with the help of students at Salve Regina University, and also a team from Rome.  

Other findings unearthed include several generations of distribution piping, hundreds of items, and a plaque from 1650 recognizing the spring. 

“You can see what fantastic people I have on this committee,” Dick said, noting that the park project delt with five different city councils in its decade-long effort to be completed. The land, which the group purchased from the Coffey’s in 2015, will be donated to the city in early 2024. The site is also under a conservation easement overseen by the Aquidneck Land Trust.  

Dick thanked the donors, of whom there are roughly 140. She also noted there is still about $78,000 left to be fundraised.   

For more information about the project, visit newportspring.org.  

One of the stone engravings by Nicholas Benson that are part of the park’s design.
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