Newport Tower // c.1670

No structure in Newport is as hotly debated than the “Newport Tower” located in Touro Park. The old stone, cylindrical tower stands like an ancient relic of ancient Europe, just dropped in downtown Newport. For centuries, people have debated the structure’s history and use. Some say this structure was built by Viking masons who visited North America 1,000 years ago, while other theories (more rooted in fact) share another story. The tower was located at the upper end of the plot behind the now-demolished mansion built by Benedict Arnold, the first colonial governor of Rhode Island (his grandson was the infamous Benedict Arnold, the traitor who switched sides to fight with the British. In 1677, Arnold mentions “my stone built Wind Mill” in his will is evidence that the tower was once used as a windmill. However, some state that there is no reference to Arnold ever having the structure built, with some stating that he simply repurposed the building to be used as the base of a windmill. In 1837, Danish archaeologist Carl Christian Rafn proposed a Viking origin for the tower in his book Antiquitates Americanæ. This hypothesis is predicated on the uncertainty of the southward extent of the early Norse explorations of North America, particularly in regard to the actual location of Vinland, where Leif Erikson is believed to have first landed around 1000 CE, nearly five centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.. Rafn’s popularization of the theory led to a flurry of interest and “proofs” of Norse settlement in the area. Mortar tests completed in the 20th century basically prove this theory to be false, and date the structure to the middle of the 1600s, but it is fun to imagine it is much older!

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