NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — A small underground structure recently discovered in Newport recently unearthed at a now closed Coffey’s Citgo gas station could be centuries old, according to the Newport Historical Society.
Ruth Taylor from the Newport Historical Society said the structure could could back to 1639, which was the year Newport was settled.
Originally, the digging was designed to learn more about the spring which sits underground, which is one of Newport’s historical markers.
“A group of citizens came together, bought the property, and wanted to commemorate the original spring,” Taylor said.
Taylor explained the importance of the spring to the settlers, since it was a primary source for clean drinking water.
“So to come onto this island which was mostly attractive for its saltwater port, and discover that it was also really easy to get drinking water, it made this a very attractive place for this to settle,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the stone structure, or cistern, is about 10 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. It was likely built to capture water from the spring, but Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) instructor and urban spelunker Nick De Pace said he is curious about what it was utilized for.
“It’s like myth-busting, we think we know what it is, we’re excited about that but we have to prove it,” De Pace said.
De Pace said he will actually go inside the cistern around the beginning of March.
“What we do is we go down there in a completely objective way, and document it by photography, and most importantly by measure drawing,” De Pace said.
One of the big questions will be to determine the age of the structure. Salve Regina researchers and students, as well as an Italian association called the Roma Sotteranea, will also help out with the research and exploration.
De Pace said the Italian group is very experienced in this type of work.
“This is a typical occurrence in Rome, here it’s really exceptional, to find something underground, in Rome it’s almost an everyday occurrence,” De Pace said.
De Pace said he will be announcing his initial results from his underground journey in mid March.