September 25, 2018 – Newport, Rhode Island
Address: 5 Touro Park St W, Newport, RI 02840
Also called the Old Stone Tower, Touro Tower, Old Stone Mill or, simply, The Tower, standing near the west end of Touro Park in Newport, Rhode Island. The round stone structure and its park owe their existence to the generosity of Judah Touro, who in 1854 gave the City of Newport $10,000 to buy the land so that it would not be developed into home sites. Founded in 1639, the town of Newport had grown, up the hill from Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor to engulf the meadows that lay above the shore. Judah Touro and others ensured that this tiny scrap of land was preserved and the Newport Tower has stood in Touro Park, undisturbed since.
In 2004, a member of the Newport Historical Society explained, “We’re 99.9 percent sure the tower was built as a windmill by Governor Benedict Arnold in the 17th century.” This 17th-century windmill near Chesterton, England shares many characteristics with the Newport Tower.
This curious structure is circular, constructed of mostly unworked local stones set in mortar of several different types, owing to repairs over the years. At ground level are eight round columns connected by eight round arches made of flat stones set on edge so that the bases form a smooth curve on the arches’ undersides.
Its inner face includes beam-holes for at least two floors above ground level; four windows, three of which are double-splayed; seven niches; and a fireplace built into the east wall, with one large, blackened stone as a hearth, and an overhead arch resembling the eight main arches. Nothing remains of any interior wooden structures.
Subject of great controversy and debate, the 28-foot tower’s origins remains mysterious. No one knows who built the tower or when it was constructed. Several theories have been put forward. Some have suggested the tower was built by the Norse as a church between the 11th and 14th centuries, citing many architectural features obsolete by the 17th century.
Other theories include:
- That it was built by the Chinese in 1421 as either a lighthouse or an observatory.
- That it was built in the late 15th century, by lost Portuguese navigators Miguel Corte-Real and his brother Gaspar, as a watchtower.
- That the the Newport Tower was built by medieval Scottish Templars led by Scottish earl Henry Sinclair as part of an alleged voyage to New England about a hundred years before Columbus, but such a voyage has been vigorously disputed.
The precise origin of this tower remains unknown.