Blink and you’ll miss it. If you travel from New York to Boston along the I-95 you pass through Rhode Island, but passing through the smallest US State seems to take no time at all. Only 4000 square kilometres (1545 square miles) in size, if you divided Alaska into 400 states each would still be bigger than Rhode Island. The first permanent settlement in Rhode Island was in 1636 at Providence, ironically by a band of people from the Massachusetts Bay Colony seeking more freedom for their worship. More followed, more towns were set up and by 1644 the they were recognised as a separate colony. If you do blink you will miss a lot, not just history but also a coastline rich in islands.
United Congregational Church, Little Compton
On a sliver of land sandwiched between Massachusetts and the eastern shore of the Sakonnet River stands Little Compton. The Old Common Burial Ground on Little Compton Commons dates right back to early Colonial days when this area was part of the Plymouth Colony. The monument on the left marks the grave of Elizabeth Padobie who died in 1717. She was the daughter of two Mayflower pilgrims and in 1623 she was the first white girl to be born in the Colonies. Next to the burial ground stands the 1832 United Congregational Church. It was built on the site of a 1724 Meeting House using material from the Meeting House. The church was modified in 1872 by raising it up and constructing a vestry underneath it.
Main Street & St Pauls Church, Wickford
Another historic town is Wickford, which was established the year after Providence. Main Street still has a remarkable selection of 18th and 19th century buildings, though sadly it has not remained free from unsightly modern overhead electricity wires. St Paul’s Episcopal Church, built in 1848, is one of the youngest buildings in the street. Its predecessor, the Old Narragansett Church, was built in 1707 and is now a National Historic Site, although still used at times for special services. At the far end of Main Street you arrive at Wickford’s attractive harbour.
Surf at Brenton Point State Park
Not all pictures in 50 plus DC have to be 3:2 aspect ratio! Brenton Point State Park is at the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island. Here the turbulent waters of the Atlantic meet the more sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay. A strong breeze was blowing on the day that we visited ensuring that there was plenty of spray.
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The most westerly town in Rhode Island goes by the name of Westerly - it must have taken real spark of inspiration to come up with that name! Westerly is make up from a number of villages of which Watch Hill sits at the westernmost tip of the peninsula formed by the mouth of Little Narragansett Bay. In the 19th century Watch Hill became a resort for the rich and the village still boasts many fine Victorian houses with sweeping views over the bay. There is also a Flying Horse Carousel by the beach dating from 1867 which is thought to be the oldest in the USA. It was securely mothballed when we visited, but it was the end of December.
Former Pier Casino Towers, Narragansett
Narragansett is named after the Indian tribe that lived in this area when colonists arrived. The colonists were attracted by the fertile land in the area so they purchased land from the tribe and set up farms. By the 1840s the beach at Narragansett was attracting tourists and the town began to develop as a seaside resort. The Narragansett Pier Casino was constructed 1883 to 1886 as a centrepiece of the resort. In 1900 the casino burned down, leaving only the granite towers and arch that formed the entrance. They still stand today, now spanning the Ocean Road.
Rhode Island State House, Providence
The long history of Rhode Island is reflected in the retention of the name State House rather than the more pretentious State Capitol. Built in 1895 of Georgia marble, it follows the classic American design with an impressive dome in the middle. A locked vault in the building contains the original Royal Charter from King Charles II of England that from 1663 guaranteed the Rhode Island settlers freedom of religion and the freedom to govern their own colony. How did Rhode Island get its name? In 1524 Italian navigator Verrazano visited the area and noted ‘an island about the size of Rhodes’. He had discovered Block Island but early settlers mistakenly thought he he was referring to Aquidneck Island and hence called it Rhode Island.