August 2017: The Nine Cities of Newport

August 2017

The Nine Cities of Newport

Theopholus North – Thornton Wilder

Wilder is probably best known for a play – Our Town. Theopholus North was his last novel in 1973. It was made into a movie in the 1980s. Wilder spent a lot of time in Newport researching, especially at the Redwood Library. The book was a Pulitzer Prize winner written in the 1970s and set in the 1920s.

There are many good micro studies regarding Newport and its founding, colonial history, triangular trade, architecture, military presence, John Hattendorf’s History of Trinity Church, the catboat era, Crane’s Newport in the Revolutions Era and a number of macro-studies such as Rocky Stunstrudts’ massive work. But Wilder’s work presents a unique view on how does Newport really work or a pulse on it ticks, its formal and informal power flows.

I know of no other single work that could explain the nuances of Newport Society to a newcomer than Theopholus North. The nine cities, as I see it, are still here, with maybe an addition or two.

The Nine Cities

First City

What remains of the town’s earliest life

Historic homes with cornices and clapboard built by English settler (founded in 1639)

More drama – The Old Stone Mill -24-foot fieldstone structure in Touro Part: Vikings, Knights Templar, Gov Benedict Arnold, Runic stones

An 18th Century Town

Touro Synagogue – US Oldest

Quaker Meeting House

George Washington Letter – Peter Harrington – Brick Market – Redwood Library – Palladium style

Houses, especially Historic Hill, the Point

Furniture – Townsend Goddard – “best US”

Silver – Ralph Carpenter’s Arts and Crafts of Newport, 1954

Newport Restoration Society

Yachts and Regattas

2015 Volvo Race – NY Yacht Club – others

America’s Cup – Yachting Capital – Boat Shows

Local races – Boat builders, restoration

Military Presence

Naval War College, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Officer Candidate School, other Navy schools

Fort Adams, nation’s largest coastal fortification – Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, now a music mecca


Greenwich Village artist style colony

Henry James, Julia Ward Howe, Boston/Cambridge Literati

Channing, Longfellow, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, Summer Cambridge Profs, Castle Hill and Labs

Today’s music festivals

Gilded Age

Mansions, Astors, Vanderbilts, etc. Breakers and others

Newport Reading Room, The Casino, Newport Preservation Society

Major tourist drive

The Servants

Cliff Walk, 40 steps

Preservation Society behind the scenes

Builders, Irish and Italian stone workers

5th Ward

Butler and footmen – 2 snippets from movie, Mr. North: English butler and Fish Stew

Many descendants are still here – 5th ward largely dispersed.

Gate Crashers

Fortune hunters and “prying journalists” or gold seekers

At Bannisters Wharf – Clarke Cooke House – but more likely to find at Newport Creamery

Fall River debs

American Middleclass Town

“American middle-class town – with little attention to spare for the 8 cities so close to it.”

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