One of the original 13 colonies, Rhode Island is ripe with historical venues that will leave your meeting attendees awestruck. From the Gilded Age mansions in the seaside city of Newport to the artful past of the capital, Providence, America’s smallest state can create a big impact.
“If you have a meeting here, it’s not going to be your average four walls,” said Andrea McHugh, senior communications manager for Discover Newport. “We really have a broad spectrum of historic venues.”
If Rhode Island is on your possible destinations list for future meetings or events, consider these six historic offsite venues in Newport and Providence that will give your attendees a blast from the past.
1. WaterFire Arts Center, Providence
A visit to Providence isn’t complete without seeing WaterFire. The exhibition features more than 80 sparkling bonfires—safe from moisture in metal baskets—installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence. “It’s a beautiful event unique to our destination,” said Tom Riel, vice president of sales for Go Providence.
Photo: WaterFire ceremony; Courtesy of Go Providence
In 2012, WaterFire Providence purchased what is now the WaterFire Arts Center, a historic industrial building that boasts 15,000 square feet of event space. The complex was completed in 1929 for the U.S. Rubber Company. WaterFire Providence refurbished the buildings and reopened the complex in 2017.
“When we renovated it, it was really important for us to keep the old finishes in place,” said Peter Mello, managing director of WaterFire Providence. “The patina, the finishes on the wall are original. But there are still modern, up-to-date touches.” (Photo: WaterFire Arts Center; Credit: Erin Cuddigan)
With high ceilings and large warehouse windows, the Main Hall can accommodate up to 1,200 guests for a cocktail reception, 1,000 guests for a presentation or ceremony, and 700 guests for a plated dinner.
The smaller Visitor Center, which features a roof deck, can host 125 guests for a cocktail reception and 100 guests for a plated dinner, presentation or ceremony.
A WaterFire show also isn’t out of the question for meetings that are headquartered in Newport.
“One of the great things about Providence, or Rhode Island rather, is that it’s so small—the city is an hour away from Newport and the beaches,” Mello said. “The National Speakers Conference was recently in Newport, but the group bused up to Providence to see WaterFire.”
2. ProvidenceG, Providence
The ProvidenceG is a mixed-use building in downtown Providence that mainly comprises apartments and restaurants. But the building—built in 1920 and once home to the Providence Gas Company—also boasts event spaces, including a 4,800-square-foot ballroom in what was once the gas company’s grand lobby. It can accommodate up to 200 guests seated or up to 350 for a cocktail reception.
Planners will find a more relaxed space, the GPub, in the building’s basement. The modern gastropub features the raw materials of the building’s original framework, as well as such amenities as shuffleboard tables, pool and foosball.
“There’s great flexibility,” Riel said. “A group can use the ballroom for a professional dinner, then head down to an after party at the GPub.”
The ProvidenceG also has a rooftop lounge and restaurant that’s open year round, thanks to its glass enclosure.
Photo: Rooftop at the Providence G; Courtesy of Go Providence
3. RISD Museum, Providence
Providence is also home to some major universities and their awe-inspiring campuses, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Riel recommends the RISD Museum as another historic event space.
Photo: RIDS Museum; Courtesy of Go Providence
“The museum is just off of Benefit Street, which is what we call the Mile of History,” he said. “It’s one of the oldest streets in the country.”
The museum has several different galleries, and its Grand Gallery is available for private events. For a cocktail reception, the space can accommodate up to 200 guests and up to 150 guests for a seated and served dinner. For presentations, consider the museum’s Metcalf Auditorium, which can seat up to 200 people and has full audiovisual capabilities.
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Riel said the museum can potentially connect your group with a docent for a tour of the museum and its collections.
4. Marble House, Newport
Complete in 1892, Marble House was built for Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt—a major figure in the American women’s suffrage movement—as a 39th birthday present. At Marble House, Alva held women’s-right-to-vote rallies to raise funds for the movement.
Photo: Marble House Exterior; Credit: Gavin Ashworth
“It’s a remarkable space,” Discover Newport’s McHugh said. The mansion’s design was inspired by the Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles in France.
In 2006, Marble House was designated a National Historic Landmark. Its terrace can accommodate 200 guests for a seated dinner or 250 for a cocktail reception.
Photo: Marble House Dining Room: Courtesy of Discover Newport
Newport is home to a grand collection of Gilded Age mansions, many of which were built as summer homes from the 1850s to 1900 by wealthy tycoons headquartered in New York and Philadelphia. Now open to the public, some of the mansions host special events throughout the year, such as the famed Newport Flower Show at Rosecliff.
If interested in hosting an event at Marble House or one of the many other beautiful mansions, McHugh advises planners to reach out to the Preservation Society of Newport County, the organization that operates them. They can assist with finding the right mansion to fit your event’s needs and alert you to conflicting events or closures.
Photo: Marble House Winter: Credit: John W. Corbett
5. Fort Adams, Newport
Fort Adams, situated on the edge of Narragansett Bay, was established on July 4, 1799 and remains the country’s largest coastal fortification. “It plays a key role in Newport’s story,” McHugh said.
Photo: Fort Adams; Credit: Billy Black
Named for President John Adams, who was in office at the time, the fort served the U.S. Army for many years. After the War of 1812, Fort Adams underwent extensive renovations with more modern masonry fortifications, which became known as the Third System of fortifications. After World War II, coastal defenses weakened and the fort was put to other uses.
Photo: Fort Adams Clambake; Credit: Erin McGinn
The property has an assortment of spaces, both indoor (such as the North Casemates) and outdoor (such as the lawns overlooking the bay) that are suitable for 10 to 350 people. Previous planners have hosted traditional clambakes, corporate retreats as well as luncheons and dinners.
Guided tours are available to complete your event, where attendees can see officers’ quarters, underground tunnels and prime views of the bay and Newport Harbor.
[Read also: 6 Spaces That Mix Storied Pasts With Modern Amenities]
6. Redwood Library, Newport
Newport’s stately Redwood Library & Athenæum was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood, and it is the oldest community library in the country still occupying its original building.
Photo: Redwood Library Athenum; Courtesy of Discover Newport
“It leaves an unforgettable impression,” McHugh said. “It houses original titles back from when it opened in the 18th century.”
Indoor events can accommodate up to 90 guests for a seated dinner and up to 250 guests for a cocktail reception. The library’s garden and grounds can be tented and accommodate up to 350 guests.
From coastal mansions to illustrious buildings transformed, Rhode Island offers meeting planners a plethora of historical venues. There are even a number of ways to experience them, from clambakes to traditional dinners to guided tours—or even a ride on a “rum runner” around Newport Harbor. The Prohibition-era yacht can take you through the harbor to spot beautiful lighthouses and spectacular mansions, including where JFK and Jackie tied the knot. (Photo: rum runner; Credit: Classic Cruises of Newport)
Whichever way your attendees do it, they’ll walk away with a valuable look into the state’s, and the country’s, storied past.
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