The Mysterious History of The Newport Tower

A contemporary view of The Newport Tower
A contemporary view of The Newport Tower | Source
A markerTouro Park, Newport, Rhode Island -
Touro Park, Newport, RI 02840, USA
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Location of The Newport Tower in Touro Park, on a hill overlooking Narragansett Bay

The Newport Tower

Nobody knows for sure where it came from or who built it or why, but right smack in the middle of Newport, Rhode Island, at the top of Mill Street, in Touro Park, stands an odd, circular stone structure known to locals as " The Old Stone Mill" and to the world as " The Newport Tower."

Most people think it was built as a grist mill, by the first colonial governor of Rhode Island, Benedict Arnold. (No, not that Benedict Arnold--his grandfather) Arnold owned the property on which the Newport Tower stands and mentions his " stone built grist wind mill "in his will-- so it makes sense that maybe The Newport Tower is the remains of Arnold's grist mill, built to grind corn for the growing town of Newport..

That has always been the prevailing theory, Circular windmills of similar construction were not unknown in the part of England Arnold came from. Some historians think The Newport Tower was modeled after the 17th century Chesterton Mill in Warwickshire, and radiocarbon dating seems to point to a 17th century origin as well.

However, there are some important ways in which the Newport Tower differs from most 17th century grist mills. The most puzzling thing is that clearly, there was once a loft or second storey to the Newport Tower and that up there, just above where the joists and floorboards would have been, is a fireplace built into the wall. A fireplace in a gristmill full of flammable grain and dust just does not make sense.

There is also some indication that the structure was already there when English colonists arrived on the scene and the town of Newport was founded. But,more importantly there are also a couple of much more excitingly romantic possibilities.

Source

The Chesterton Windmill

The Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire, England.may have served as a model for The Newport Tower. There are certain similarities but also several important differences between the two structures.

Excavations around the Newport Tower have yielded no items earlier than the 17th century and carbon dating also points to a 17th century origin. Nevertheless, the romance of Viking, Portuguese or even 15th century Chinese origin persists.

The Vikings Built It

Every school child in Newport when I was a kid, knew that the Vikings got to America long before Christopher Columbus because we had the "Old Stone Mill" to prove it. We learned about the Vikings in school and were carefully told about the Viking theory of the Newport Tower We also took field trips to the tower and read the famous Longfellow poem about an imaginary Viking warrior's skeleton in the Newport Tower (The Skeleton In Armor) Like the public at large, we found it all thrilling and much more exciting than the notion of a colonial grist mill.

The theory that the Old Stone Mill was built by Vikings and that Newport might have been the legendary Vinland of the Viking Sagas dates back to the 1830's when a Danish archeologist, Carl Christian Rafn, who was particularly interested in proving the validity of Norse presence in North America as outlined in the ancient Norse Sagas, posited that The Newport Tower was originally part of a Norse settlement on the East Coast of North America. He presented as evidence runic inscriptions he found in Massachusetts.

His ideas were not taken seriously by Anglo Saxon scholars at the time, but the academic community thought again when physical evidence of a Viking presence in North America confirmed Rafn's thinking. The discovery of Viking ruins at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland,and the much disputed Kensington Runestone in Minnesota , as well as the discovery of what purports to be a runic inscription from the 1000's in the Newport Tower itself, have led to new interest in The mysterious structure and a second look at its possible origins.

a 19th century engraving of The Newport Tower from History of the United States, Vol. I (of VI), by  E. Benjamin Andrews
a 19th century engraving of The Newport Tower from History of the United States, Vol. I (of VI), by E. Benjamin Andrews | Source

Who Built The Newport Tower?

The Vikings may be the most popular contenders for builders of the Newport tower, but they are far from the only possibilities. In 1993, former submarine captain Gavin Menzies published a book called 1421: the year China discovered the world. in which he made a case for The Newport Tower having been built in 1421 by Chinese mariners. There is also the Portuguese theory, favored by historian Edmund Delabarre who theorized that the Newport Tower was constructed by Portuguese navigator Miguel Cort-Real who Delabarre thought Cort-Real was shipwrecked in the area while searching for his lost brother, Gaspar, in Narragansett Bay. The evidence for such a theory is flimsy at best, being based on the presence of octagonal rotundas in Portugal which bear some relationship to The Newport Tower. Local historian, Jim Egan, makes a logical and historically documented case for the Tower being the result of an aborted, now forgotten attempt by the English to colonize America fifty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Other investigators have proposed that The Newport Tower is an ancient astronomical observatory, or was built by the Knight's Templar who fled Europe for the Americas in 1398 under the leadership of Henry Sinclair It is said that a vast Templar treasure is buried somewhere in North America. But of all this, there is little proof.

In the meantime, suffice it to say that the jury is still very much out on who build the Newport Tower. It could have been the Vikings.. It probably wasn't the Chinese or the Portuguese. Whoever built it, it remains mysterious to me and a treasured icon of my childhood.

It is often overlooked by visitors who come to Newport for the beautiful beaches, the fine dining and vibrant nightlife, or the history of the place as 19th century summer playground for the very rich. Dazzled by the " summer cottages" of the Vanderbilts and Astors, visitors don't always see the unassuming stone tower in Touro Park that just may be the most amazing and mysterious structure in town. If you go to Newport, be sure to stop by and have a look at it.

Interesting Scholarly Conclusions by JIm Egan

Newport Tower Segment on History Channel Docu-drama

More by this Author


Comments 42 comments

onegreenparachute profile image

onegreenparachute 4 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

I love historical mysteries. They're the best! Great Hub - thanks!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

oh thank you greenparachute-- I love them too and I have loved the Newport Tower ever since childhood. Thanks for coming by. Nice to see you:-)


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Just by eyeballing the Tower from photos, I would say it looks around 12th Century. based on lots of structures and ruins in Britain from that period. The Vikings over here built very little to my knowledge, they were too bust pillaging and deflowering our maidens. A mystery all right.

Bob


CR Rookwood profile image

CR Rookwood 4 years ago from Moonlight Maine

Oh sooooooo cool! I want to go see it now. I did catch that History Channel special on it awhile back. There's nothing cooler than a good mystery. I almost don't want it to get figured out (not soon anyway). Great hub! Thank you.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Fascinating! I'd have to go with diogenes's opinion. The Newport Tower DOES look to be from a period when the Vikings were roaming the seas in search of maidens to deflower and settlements to pillage. ;D


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Bob-- I'm very partial to the notion of a Viking origin for the tower-- I'd actually love to believe the whole Knights Templar thing and the idea of it being a some kind of astral timekeeping machine is also very appealing--we shall probably never know the truth, but the speculation is entertaining and keeps the History channel in business and Newport school chidren off the streets and out of trouble. :-) Good to see you as always.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Rookie and Jama good to see you both and glad you liked the hub. I knew it would appeal to both of you. Spooky history and a mystery too-- what more could a girl want:-)


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

Fascinating!


whowas 4 years ago

Hi Robie2, what a great read, thank you so much!

I'm sorry to be a damp squib but my money is on the boring 17th Century Gristmill just because there is evidence for that. Also, I did a little research because I was curious about the assumption that fireplaces in mills just doesn't make sense. I found this reference to Wheatly Mill in Oxfordshire, England:

'The octagonal shape of this 18th Century tower mill is distinctly unusual, there are only two or three such towers in the UK. The tower has three storeys. There are two fireplaces on the ground floor (some mills only had one, and others none at all) and a properly framed staircase leads to the 'stone floor', i.e. the first floor where the mill stones are set.'

Clearly the implication is that, yes, it was reasonable to have a fireplace, or even two, in a mill back then. I guess it was before the current health and safety regulations really kicked in!

Evenso, I'm delighted to 'suspend disbelief' for the sake of a good read such as this was. A great hub, beautifully written - and even though I had decided pretty fast what I thought about the mill, I was still totally intrigued by the rest of it. That, I guess, is a sign of what a good writer you are. Thanks!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, I would be great if it was Viking wouldn't it? It looks to me like something we would have built over here in England maybe back in the 16th Century. It may well have been built in a slightly different shape for some reason, but it does look familiar, but what a fascinating place!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi bethperry-- glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by

Hello whowas and thanks for the kind words.All I can say is " awww shucks"I agree-- the sensible explanation is the grist mill-- but you must admit that the only thing better than a good mystery is a good conspiracy theory so I'm kind of liking the Knights Templar thing and I'm hoping a case can be made for Ancient Aliens as well. Vikings are more interesting than colonial governors any day of the week. I thought so at the age of 9 and I think so now--so I'm going with the Vikings no matter what the facts of the matter are:-)

Hi Nell Rose--- oooooh I so much want it to be Viking

(and so does the History Channel-- Vikings get higher ratings than Colonial officials) but of course I know that it probably is just the ruin of an old grist mill. Thanks for commenting. You are the second English person who has said it looks English (daubing my eyes with my hankey) so I guess that's it for the Viking theory. You have no idea how we loved the idea as kids.


whowas 4 years ago

Dry your eyes, Robie2!

Just did a little research (inspired by the knowledge that Britian is just about the most invaded island in history) and found out that, according to some recent genetic studies:

"They find that around 50 percent of northwest English men once descended from Viking patrilines."

So there you go, half of us are Vikings anyway. So English architecture is just Viking architecture once removed, looked at in a certain light. :)

This website might interest you (I have no personal connection with this site, just found it whilst exploring)

http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/genetics/ancie...


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Roberta, have you ever thought about writing this as part of a review for travel websited like trip advisor? Very well written and great pictures! Rhode Island looks pretty interesting through your words. Voted up!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello whowas-- that is very interesting-- so the Tower is Viking " once removed" I'm doin the happy dance again-- and thanks for the link too. That blog is absolutely fascinating. I need to spend some time there. BTW I guess genetically I might be Viking once removed myself. My father's family came from Norway and my mother's family came from England sooooo you never know:-)

Hello Audraleigh-- I hadn't thought about turning this into a TripAdvisor review, but maybe I will-- thanks for the idea and for reading and voting up--really glad you liked it... Newport really is a great spot. You should get there if you can some day. There is lots to do and the climate is wonderful.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello whowas-- that is very interesting-- so the Tower is Viking " once removed" I'm doin the happy dance again-- and thanks for the link too. That blog is absolutely fascinating. I need to spend some time there. BTW I guess genetically I might be Viking once removed myself. My father's family came from Norway and my mother's family came from England sooooo you never know:-)

Hello Audraleigh-- I hadn't thought about turning this into a TripAdvisor review, but maybe I will-- thanks for the idea and for reading and voting up--really glad you liked it... Newport really is a great spot. You should get there if you can some day. There is lots to do and the climate is wonderful.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello whowas-- that is very interesting-- so the Tower is Viking " once removed" I'm doin the happy dance again-- and thanks for the link too. That blog is absolutely fascinating. I need to spend some time there. BTW I guess genetically I might be Viking once removed myself. My father's family came from Norway and my mother's family came from England sooooo you never know:-)

Hello Audraleigh-- I hadn't thought about turning this into a TripAdvisor review, but maybe I will-- thanks for the idea and for reading and voting up--really glad you liked it... Newport really is a great spot. You should get there if you can some day. There is lots to do and the climate is wonderful.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

What a wonderful read, Robie! For all the times I'd been in Newport, I'd never seen the Newport Tower, let alone heard of it. Like most visitors, I let the opulence of the summer cottages guide my itinerary and stoke my imagination.

I've been watching the Ancient Aliens series and have been struck by how much knowledge humans had that was eventually lost and then "discovered" later. Clearly, the origin of the tower was once known but became lost, and now it's time to discover it anew. That's pretty exciting. I think I'm in the "Vikings once removed" camp for now. :)

As always, a wonderful article full of information well worth absorbing.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks ST-- Actually, I don't think anybody really knows the origin of the tower. Check out some of the links I included-- there is always new archiological work going on and new theories abound. It really is a lot of fun. Governor Arnold mentioned a grist mill in his will, but he didn't way where it was or identify it as the tower in any way, so even the most logical explanation of who built it and why is really up for grabs. Glad you liked it and next time you are in Newport go have a look at it ( There is a fence around it, but you can pretty much see everything from outside the fence.)


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 4 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Very cool. Never heard of this before. A great mystery!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks Frieda--people are still working on it and trying to figure it out. Isn't it fun?


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Great yarn, robie2, and you've stirred up lots of really interesting speculation.

My money is on a mill as the Vikings were last active around the 11th century (1000's) and they did not usually build in stone.

A link to The Templars is a real flight of fancy as they were active from around 1119 onwards and had their hands full in the Holy Land until they were massacred.

Sorry to rain on your parade, robie, m'dear ... (I'm boring, I know!)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

HI Angie, Yes, you ARE boring :-)))))) Come on-- put a little romance in your life......it's not my parade you are raining on but that of the various scientists, historians and archeologists investigating the tower. Check out some of the links I included in the Hub plus that video and you will see. The Vikings and KNights Templar aren't the only contenders. There are scholars who have written whole papers on how the tower was built by shipwrecked Portuguese explorers or the Chinese when they came to America in the 1400's( before Columbud of course)

The Viking theory is the oldest and has been around since 1837. Longfellow popularized it in the late 1800's with his " Skeleton in Armor" epic poem. Scientists went poo poo till the 1970s when the discoveries at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Canada, made it clear that the Vikings were in North America in the 11th century and the Sagas really are historically accurate.

Of course, you are right that the Vikings did not usually build round stone houses-- they tended towards long houses with turf roofs....and I would add that on top of that there have been several bona fide archeological digs which have not found any artifacts older than 16th century--the most recent was in 2007 http://www.chronognostic.org/over_touro_park.html and involved the University of Minnesota.

Don't dismiss The Knights Templar out of hand though. I know they were massacred in France in 1307 and officially disbanded by the pope soon thereafter, but ever since then, there has been a lot of speculation about what happened to them and their treasure.There have been lots of theories about them fleeing to Scotland and coming to North America and burying treasure here. It is all very DaVinci Code, I know, so I didn't include a lot of it in the Hub, but just Google Newport Tower, Knights Templar and you will find all kinds of theories, most of which tie in with the Kensington Rune Stone in Kennsington Minnesota -- whatever-- there is even a drawing of the tower as the remains of a Templar round church. Go on-- google it, you'll have fun:-)


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Sorry for being boring, robie ... it's the amateur archeologist in me ;)

I just couldn't see how a radiocarbon dating of the 17th century could fit in with the Viking thing or even the Templars about whom I know quite a lot.

I love romance as much as anyone (see my hubs on mistresses in history!) but I find the actually truth of some things is much more interesting.

It is a great building and the mystery surrounding it is fascinating ... so maybe we shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story ... lol.

(Note to self: stop being a boring old fart).


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

......and I am being a crusty old curmudgeon petulently insisting on the romance of it all at the expense of reality-- oooooh well, maybe the Newport Tower has something for both amateur archeologists like you and incurable romantics like me. I'm a sucker for conspiracy theories too-- I loved the Da Vinci Code, even though I knew in my heart it was all nonsense. It was sooooo much fun :-)

In any case, I am delighted you stopped by and took the time to comment-- much appreciated:-)


rjsadowski profile image

rjsadowski 4 years ago

It is always fun to speculate when there are very few facts available.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

very true, sj-- thanks for stopping by :-)


prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 4 years ago from Tumkur

A 'vote up' hub. Very well written, beautifully formatted. This gives us the interesting history of a neglected architectural structure.Good.Keep it up!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

thanks so much prasadjain. Glad you enjoyed the hub and thanks for the kind words.


Hubert Williams 4 years ago

So much intrigue. I have ever heard of the Newport Tower. Now that I have, I find it quite interesting and the video with JIm Egan made the subject even more interesting. Thank you for sharing story. up and across including funny, because I found it funny that they had to resort to secrecy and code in the attempt to accomplish their goal.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Hubert, yes there is something amusing about conspiracy theories, isn't there? And there the old tower stands, just laughing at everybody:-) thanks for reading and commenting.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Well, I think this is fascinating! Our own "stonehenge" in America. I love a good mystery and this tower has been and will keep everyone wondering for a long time. Somebody has certainly left their mark! I had no idea about his tower and I have been to Newport. Let us know if the mystery is ever untangled!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

What a great way of putting it, suzette--our own "stonehenge" it is indeed -- and just as mysterious I'll actually be a little disappointed if they really do definitively discover its provenance:-)


wrenfrost56 profile image

wrenfrost56 4 years ago from U.K.

What a fascinating mystery and an interesting account of a piece of newport history.

Once again a great read and rated up. :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Once again a comment that really warms the cockles of a writers heart-- thank you so much wrenfrost. Glad you stopped by and soooo glad you enjoyed this.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 4 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I love this and wanted to vote it up, but... where???

Anyway the video is illuminating me, although I loved the thought that Vikings may have built it, being of Norwegian heritage!

Thanks for the fun story- I have yet to visit your small state, though my husband has wonderful relatives there.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Storyteller-- what a lovely surprise to see you-- like old times:-) I too was rooting for the Vikings, especially as a child. I have to say that I lived in Newport on and off for about six years as a kid-- My father was a career Naval Officer and we moved around a lot. Once out of college I headed for the big Apple and lived there for many years before moving to Central New Jersey about a decade ago. I haven't been back to Newport in many years, but I always loved the story of the Newport Tower. I too was always rooting for the Vikings and probably part of it was my Norwegian background too. For more on that see this hub :-) http://hubpages.com/family/A-Childhood-in-the-Mili...

Anyway, thanks for stopping and commenting. It's really nice to see you.


Olde Cashmere profile image

Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

I enjoyed the research and writing you did for this, very well done. Learned something interesting and found this article fun, great work. Voted up, interesting, and awesome :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thank you Cashmere-- glad you enjoyed the hub and thanks for stopping by.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago

Wow, thanks for this really great hub. I am one of those people who overlooked this site when visiting Newport. I will definitely check this out on my next visit. I really appreciate this fascinating info. All the best and I love your hubs.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Why thank you, toknowinfo. There is nothing a hubber likes to hear more than " I love your hubs" and do check out the tower next time you are in Newport. You can't go in it, but you can see it right in the middle of Touro Park. There is a little museum nearby with info and exhibits which is kind of fun too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


somethgblue profile image

somethgblue 21 months ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

As you may well know 'his story' is written by those that are the ruling elite of their respective countries, this is no different here in America.

While you may put little stock in the concept that the Portuguese could have created colonies here in North America long before Spain arrived on the scene there is much evidence that has been written out of our 'his story' that shows that this is indeed the case.

This is well written article and I enjoyed it however I would like to point out an avenue of research that has been systematically censored from our 'his story' and that is the influence the Moors had on developing America long before Columbus got here in 1492.

There presence here in America is reflected in the names of town/cities such as Memphis, TN and Cairo, IL. They are considered as being a great seafaring race with incredible liberalized politics and social structure, which lead to the Spanish Inquisition.

I submit to you that the historical expungement of the Moorish Empire (which coincidentally lasted from 711 A.D. to 1492 A.D.) didn't end with the Spanish Inquisition and was carried on here in America as well. Their intellectual influence lifted Europe out of the Dark Ages and into Renaissance.

All that being said two of the greatest achievements they brought to Europe and many other countries was the knowledge and architecture of building grain and paper mills (introduced in 1100 A.D.) these structures were round and resembled modern day silos, not unlike your mysterious Newport Tower.

As for the censorship of their great empire . . . well you don't want the slaves getting the notion that their ancestors once ruled the world and colonized America 700 year before Columbus did, now do ya.


robie2 profile image

robie2 21 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

Lots of people got here before Columbus so maybe the Moors did too. The Barbary pirates of North Africa had ocean going vessels and certainly got to the British Isles and as far afield as Iceland. Who knows, maybe they got to Newport as well. The names Memphis and Cairo provide no evidence as Memphis was named by English settlers in the 19th century for the capital of ancient Egypt because it's position on the Mississippi River was like that of Memphis on the Nile. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Memphis,_T...

Ditto Cairo, IL http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/88546/Ca...

But the Barbary Pirates? why not.... let's add them to the list of possibles. The more the merrier, I say.

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