History Bytes: Theophilus North’s Nine Cities of Newport, Part 3

February 13, 2019

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

The Third City referenced in Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North is “what remains of one of New England’s most prosperous seaports.” A thriving colonial port city, Newport was home to all the services and industry that supported a maritime economy. Ropewalks were essential to outfitting ships, and the space necessary to spin, tar and lay cordage was considerable. Rather than take up space along the already crowded waterfront, the ropewalk sheds were built at the edges of the colonial city. By the time Theophilus arrived in Newport the ropewalks were long gone. However, their footprints remained on the landscape after the land used for the long, straight sheds was converted into streets, such as the southern end of Kay Street, and the section of Catherine Street between Greenough and Rhode Island Avenue.

Image: Detail from A plan of the town of Newport in Rhode Island, surveyed by Charles Blaskowitz in 1777. The long shaded rectangle extending from where Griffin Street (now Touro Street) meets Jew Street (now Bellevue Avenue) represents the rope walk later converted into the streets we know today as Kay and Catherine. Image courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center.