Located at the tip of the island known as Rhode Island, Portsmouth claims to be none other than the “birthplace of American democracy.” The claim is a strong one; founded in 1638 by religious heretics banished from Massachusetts Bay, the town was the first to be ruled by its own members instead of the crown of England—at least until Rhode Island colony was consolidated under royal charter. A bronze tablet erected on a pudding stone rock at Founders Brook memorializes the so-called Portsmouth Compact that founded the independent community.
A peaceful coexistence between the worlds of humanity and shrubbery is on display at Green Animals Topiary Gardens (380 Cory’s Lane, off Rtes. 114 & 24, 401/847-1000, www.newportmansions.org , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Apr.–mid-Oct., $12 adults, $4.50 children 6–17), a menagerie of some 80 shrubs and trees sculpted into whimsical shapes, some of which have been intriguing visitors for almost a century. Among them are teddy bears, a giraffe, a unicorn, and an elephant.