Newport History

Newport History


Written by Campbell County Historian Margaret Hartman and reprinted here with the permission of the Campbell County Historical Society


On May 19, 1775, a hot spring day, a rain-swollen current carried ten men in two walnut dugouts around the horseshoe bend of northern Campbell County, past the sandbar of modern Dayton to the terminus where the Licking River pours into the Ohio River.  The canoe men stopped to cook and take stock of the Kentucky shore, which they called "a little hilly but rich beyond conception."   These men had come to survey tracts for speculation and settlement; among them was Virginian George Rogers Clark, who would later use the west bank at the mouth of Licking, modern Covington, as his staging ground for operations against Britain's Indian allies during the Revolution.

Another Virginian was Captain Edmund Taylor of Orange County. He laid out no claim on the future site of Newport because he was interested in a rolling countryside and the terrain was hemmed in tightly on both sides of the Licking.  However, his accounts inspired his cousin James Taylor from Caroline County, and his two sons, Hubbard and James Taylor Jr. to seek their fortunes on the Kentucky shores.  Colonel James Taylor had earned the right to patent land grants for serving in George Washington's regiment, the "Virginia Blues" during the French and Indian War. On February 14, 1780 he obtained three warrants entitling him to locate 1500 acres in Kentucky.

Hubbard assumed responsibility for overseeing the acquisition of the land in Kentucky and set out to find a suitable site.  Since most of the good agricultural land was already taken, he decided the Ohio River was the best place to situate a trading community thinking that farmers would have to export their crops and livestock along the river.  In 1785 he put claim to the present area of Newport, Bellevue and Dayton for his father.

In 1789 David Leitch, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia built a blockhouse on the east bank of the upper Licking about six miles from the Ohio, where he had patented 13,800 acres in 1785.  Leitch's Station marked the beginning of settlement in Campbell County.  William Kennedy soon after built a fortified house near Flagg Spring.

In October 1791 Hubbard Taylor returned to Campbell County to lay out a town opposite Cincinnati.  He chose the name, Newport, in honor of Captain Christopher Newport, the English mariner who transported the first colonists to Virginia and commanded most of the early voyages that kept Jamestown supplied with provisions.  He found one squatter there, Jacob Fowler.  Fowler had built the first permanent cabin at Newport in 1789.  On March 17, 1792, lots were advertised for sale.  Six lots had been sold previous to this ad to:

Nathan Kelly in the winter of 1790, left his home in Augusta Virginia.  He built the first dwelling in Newport that was worthy of being a house, rather than a hut or shanty, on the south side of modern Second Street, between Columbia and Central Avenue.

Captain Robert Benham was the second to purchase a lot in 1791. He built his home on the south side of Second Street between Central and Isabella.

John Bartle was the third to purchase a lot in 1791. He built his home on Second Street at the southeast corner of Central Avenue. 

The three other lots sold were to William Christy of Louisville, William Lytle and Thomas Gibson of Cincinnati, and none of these men ever lived in Newport.  In 1792 the sale of lots totaled 37.  Colonel James Taylor's children James, Reuben, Eliza Taylor Minor,  Ann Taylor Taliaferro, his sons-in laws Washington Berry, and James Eubank had each bought a lot.  Bertrand Ewell, a lawyer from Prince William County, Virginia bought a lot, and would become the first attorney to practice law in Campbell County.  It was at this time that Colonel Taylor asked his son to venture west and manage his affairs at Newport.

On April 1, 1792, just short of his 23rd birthday, James Taylor Jr. left his father's plantation for Kentucky accompanied by his waiting man, Adam, a 17 year old enslaved young man.  They reached Newport June 20 but couldn't find lodging so he stayed at Ft. Washington in Cincinnati.  His enslaved men worked through the summer to clear 16 acres in fields along the Licking, plant two corn crops and build a small cabin on lot no. 6 at the southwest corner of Second Street and Central Avenue.  He became the driving force behind the settlement's development.  He laid out the first road to Lexington in August with Jacob and Edward Fowler.

In 1794 James Taylor tapped his connections with Kentucky's leaders to lobby at Frankfort for acts incorporating Newport and creating Campbell County.  The legislature established the county on December 17, 1794 from parts of Mason, Scott and Harrison Counties.  On December 14, 1795 it approved Newport's charter.

The first county court session was held in Wilmington which had been established by John and Squire Grant, on June 1, 1795.  The next session was held in Newport on March 3, 1796 and Taylor eventually was able to get Newport declared the county seat on April 1802.  The first trustees of Newport were Washington Berry, Thomas Lindsey, Nathan Kelly, Henry Brasher, Daniel Douglas and Thomas Kennedy.

On July 10, 1797, a two acre square now at modern Fourth and York in Newport opened its first courthouse, a log two-story building that also contained a jail.  In October 1800, the county replaced it with a two-story, stone structure 12x16 feet.  The jail was the village's most expensive structure.  The jail's primary purpose was to incarcerate debtors until their relatives managed to pay off the creditors who had them locked up.  Accenting the jail were a "pillery whipping post" and stocks.  Near the public buildings stood a stray pen, where Benjamin Griffith held lost livestock until their owners could claim them.

The 1800 Census counted 106 inhabitants at Newport, of whom every fifth person was enslaved and two others were free blacks.  There were 41 towns and villages in Campbell County and Newport ranked 17th.  Newport Academy was chartered in 1799.  In 1803 Taylor succeeded in obtaining the Secretary of War's approval of a barracks in Newport.  He also obtained the contract to build Newport Barracks.  In October 1814 a drive to subsidize construction of a new courthouse to replace the log one was organized.  The Newport Courthouse was completed by late 1815 at a cost of $3296 and was its most stately building.

The Kentucky legislature chartered the Newport Bank on January 18, 1818 with General James Taylor, John Brown Lindsey, John McKinney, Thomas Carneal and William Caldwell as its directors. It stood opposite the Newport Academy at the northwest corner of Fourth and Monmouth.

Early Newport's most important cultural organization was its lyceum, a community institution that provided facilities for public lectures or other adult education and accumulated a library.  The town's lyceum dated from March 1832, barely six years after the first such center had been organized in New England. Click to see an image of a lyceum note from May 1837.

In November 26, 1831 the Newport Manufacturing Company was incorporated by James Taylor. By 1836 it employed 329 people consisted of a cotton and woolen factory, power looms for jeans, linseys and cotton plains, a machine shop, a rope walk and a hemp mill.  In 1840 Kenton County was formed from part of Campbell and the legislature designated Alexandria as the county seat.  An office was maintained at Newport for convenience in recording land titles and for hearing cases once a month.

By 1850 the manufacturing base contained a cotton mill, a rolling mill, a wire factory, two rope walks, three saw mills, two machine shops, a silk factory, and a "Japanning establishment".  Newport's borders included about 370 acres and property was at such a premium that in 1840 the town fathers closed the Madison Street Burying Ground at Monmouth and York and uprooted their ancestors to a new place, Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate.  In some cases they simply built over the corpses, because Washington Berry and his wife were never reburied.  St. Stephen's Cemetery was established in 1855.

The first immigrant mayor of Newport was George R Fearons in 1853.  The years from 1840 to 1868 saw eleven churches representing six denominations established.  The Civil War saw severe divisions in northern Kentucky but Newport citizens were more in favor of the Union side of the war, providing 635 troops to its cause.

On March 20, 1872 the Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington Railroad Bridge opened at the foot of Saratoga street.  The bridge stimulated rapid growth increasing at a faster pace than Cincinnati's.  It was expanded in 1897.  Central Bridge opened in December 1892 with double tracks to handle the new electric cars.

The February 1884 flood devastated Newport.  It covered 2000 homes, 126 businesses, and left 15,000 people homeless.  Because of the damage to Newport Barracks rather than rebuilt, the Army relocated its base to Ft. Thomas.  The Barracks closed November 11, 1894 and the property returned to the city which created James Taylor Park.

Newport celebrated its 100 year anniversary in quiet way with no city celebration or display.

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