History Bytes: Theophilus North’s Nine Cities of Newport, Part 1

January 30, 2019

The following History Byte is the first of a nine-part series. Click here to read them all.

On April 4, at 5:30 pm, the Newport Historical Society and the Thornton Wilder Family invite you to an event to celebrate the reissue of Thornton Wilder’s novel Theophilus North. The last of Wilder’s works published during his lifetime, the novel is part autobiographical and part imagined. The story is framed by what Wilder coined: the Nine Cities of Newport.

This History Byte is brought to you from the First City, the one that “exhibits the vestiges of the earliest settlers” and contains Newport’s famous Stone Tower. Theories abound as to the origins of the tower, but one of the most popular beliefs is that the tower was built by Vikings. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow perpetuated this story in his 1841 poem “The Skeleton in Armor.” Longfellow wasn’t the only one inspired by Vikings. Tobacco heiress and philanthropist Catherine Lorillard Wolfe summered in a home overlooking Touro Park. She must have drawn inspiration from the Stone Tower and Longfellow’s poem, for in 1882 she commissioned a new summer residence built on Ochre Point that she named Vinland and decorated with Viking inspired motifs. The building is now known as McAuley Hall and is part of Salve Regina University. Please check back for History Bytes on the rest of the Nine Cities.

Image: Vinland, circa 1886. NHS, P2759.