East Bay Bike Path (1987)
The East Bay Bike Path is the first bicycle facility undertaken by the State of Rhode Island. It was built in four phases by the RI Department of Transportation between the years of 1987 and 1992. It encompasses 13.8 miles and connects eight parks: India Point Park in Providence, Bold Point and Squantum Woods in East Providence, Haines and Veteran’s Memorial Park in Barrington, Burr’s Hill Park in Warren, and Colt State Park, and Independence Park in Bristol.
The nearly fourteen mile East Bay Bike Path offers a fascinating core sample of Rhode Island history while traipsing one of the most scenic, mostly bayside, former rail bed of the Providence and Bristol Railroad. At its northern end, connected by the Washington Bridge between Providence and East Providence, is India Point Park. India Point Park is a ‘recovered’ scrap metal yard. It’s origins was a shipyard for boats destined for the India and China trade begun in Providence in the mid 1780s and flourishing for half a century to the 1840s. India Point is also the location where the Blackstone River, which begins its trip down 45 miles and 438 feet at Holy Cross College in Worcester empties out into Narragansett Bay as the Seekonk River.
India Point was used for ship construction because the larger ships required for the exotic eastern trade were too big to be accommodated at smaller wharves up the inner harbor of the Providence River. The connection with East Providence via the Washington Bridge followed the ancient trails of Native Americans whose paths led to Cape Cod. In 1831, this location also served as a terminal for the Boston and Providence Railroad. Later, as many as seven steamboat lines docked here and made connections to railroads. India Point was also the home to an early resort hotel and an isolated shell fishing community. As the immediate neighborhood took on a more industrial and transportation aspect, it became a working class neighborhood of Irish, mainland Portuguese, Azorean and Cape Verdean immigrants.
Just as India Point was once a junction of trails, rails, sails, and highways, today it is where the Blackstone Valley Bike Path and the East Bay Bike Path will come together, uniting more than thirty miles of bikeway. The first historical site on the East Bay Path, once over the Washington Bridge, is Fort Hill, overlooking Bold Point. Fort Hill is the site of the remains of military defenses dating back to the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Here were once portions of a ring of defensive positions protecting the approaches to Providence. The path itself alternates between the old rail bed and one of the original scenic boulevard designs of the Metropolitan Park Commission of the early 1900s. The Park Commission was a forerunner of the State’s Parks and Recreation Division of DEM. The boulevard skirted the East Providence shoreline and the picturesque Squantum Woods. The Squantum Club is the outgrowth of a private men’s association begun for shoreline clambakes and camaraderie.
At Riverside Square, four miles south of India Point, the bikeway passes the late 19th century community that takes its name from Riverside, Illinois, outside of Chicago, which was famous for its curvilinear system of streets and drives. Riverside in East Providence was famous for its seaside cottages that were equidistant from stores, steamboat landings, summer hotels, and shore dinner halls.
Further south in Barrington, the bike path passes through Haines Memorial State Park replete with playing fields, boat launches, and picnic groves. The park was the gift to the state in 1911 of a farm as a memorial to a local dentist, George B. Haines, by his sister. Next, the path goes by Barrington’s Brick Yard Pond, site of an important local industry and a source of employment to many Italian immigrant families.
Below Barrington, the path winds through the historic ship-building town of Warren. At the boundary of the two towns the path touches the historic Native American camp of Sowams, site of Massasoit’s village where Roger Williams was sheltered in the winter of 1635/1636 in his flight from the Massachusetts’ authorities. Warren, once an important ship building town for American Navy frigates in the age of sail, and Rhode Island’s chief whaling port, it now features small farms and small industries. The path goes through Burr’s Hill Park, an important Indian archaeological site.
In Bristol, the bikeway slices across the entrance road (Asylum Avenue) to Colt State Park, one of RI’s finest. It reaches its terminus at Independence Park at Bristol Harbor. This is the entrance to the Bristol Waterfront Historic District at the union of Hope and Thames Streets. Nearby is the ferry landing to Prudence Island. Bristol is one of the great visitor destinations.
Famous for the oldest Fourth of July Parade in America, the Historic District is filled with museums, restaurants, shops, and a feast of architectural treasures.
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