RI State Parks
For more than 100 years, RI’s state parks have lived up to the ideals on which they were founded when Lincoln Woods State Park was established in 1905. This vast system of parks, beaches, campgrounds, and bike paths are some of our most treasured places. They’ve provided countless families with memories and opportunities to breathe fresh air, enjoy nature, and have fun.
Rhode Island’s state park system has expanded to include over 8,200 acres of land, including parks, beaches, campgrounds, bike paths, historic sites, picnic areas, trails, athletic fields, dams, fishing access, and boat ramps. This network attracts upwards of nine million visitors each year and hosts high-profile national and international events such as the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival, and Volvo Ocean Race. They also are an important contributor to the state’s economy and ability to attract new people and businesses to Rhode Island. Each year, our parks contribute an estimated $312 million of economic output and support over 3,700 jobs. The state park system today represents a commitment by the State of Rhode Island to the preservation of its scenic natural resources and the provision of outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities for Rhode Islanders and visitors.
Discover the history of your favorite RI state park:
Beavertail State Park
Brenton Point State Park
Charlestown Breachway (Beach & Campground)
Colt State Park
East Beach State Beach
East Matunuck State Beach
Fort Adams State Park
Misquamicut State Beach
Roger Wheeler State Beach
Scarborough North State Beach
Scarborough South State Beach
Salty Brine State Beach
Beavertail State Park (1980)
The State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Parks and Recreation has worked with the Town of Jamestown toward the creation of Beavertail State Park, which is comprised of Federal Surplus Land. In moving toward this goal, the Department and the Town have analyzed the characteristics of the land in question and have developed a park which will meet the needs of the users while preserving the fragile ecological, scenic and historical attributes of Beavertail. Over the past few years, this area has seen a major increase in attendance with park visitors. It appears that Beavertail has a lot to offer the public with both its low-key development and pristine environment. Beavertail's most popular activity has been sightseeing, whether done from the comfort of a vehicle, or from one of the four scenic overlooks or from the rocky coastline. Also, Beavertail boasts some of the best saltwater fishing around, hiking trails, and a Naturalist Program which attracts hundreds of people each year.
BEAVERTAIL LIGHTHOUSE HISTORY
The first Beavertail Lighthouse was built in 1749 and was the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, third in the country following the 1716 Boston Harbor light and the 1746 Great Point light on Nantucket. Although this wooden tower was burned to the ground just four years later, the rubble tower which replaced it lasted until the present granite lighthouse was constructed in 1856. The base of the older tower was exposed by the Hurricane of 1938, and today is marked by a granite plaque erected by the Jamestown Historical Society. Known for many years as the Newport Light, the Beavertail beacon was first to witness the triangular trade which contributed to Newport's prominence before the Revolution, when ships carried molasses, rum, and slaves between the colonies, the West Indies and Africa. The British damaged the building in their retreat from Rhode Island in 1779, but a few years later, the light was reactivated to guide vessels of Rhode Island merchants engaged in the trade with China. The Lighthouse and Lighthouse Museum are now operated by the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association. For more information on the Association see their website at: www.beavertaillight.org or write them at: Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, PO Box 83, Jamestown, RI 02835. Also, you can contact the Jamestown Town Hall at (401) 423-7220.
WORLD WAR II HISTORY:
Beavertail's strategic location as a forward peninsula, straddling two of the coastal passages from the Atlantic Ocean to Narragansett Bay, made it a key sentinel guarding one of America's 'Arsenals of Democracy' in the Second World War. Behind the picket line of coastal forts and observation posts stretching from Point Judith to Little Compton was a bee hive of wartime manufacturing and a major marshaling yard for supporting the war in Europe. There was the Walsh Kaiser shipyard in Providence turning out Liberty-type cargo ships, the Herreshoff boat yard in Bristol making PT boats, the Newport-based Destroyer Fleet, the Naval War College and Naval Training Station, the Torpedo factory on Goat Island, Quonset/Davisville with its Seabee Battalion, the facility for building Quonset Huts, the Naval Air Station, and so forth.
At the center of this picket line protecting all this wartime activity was Fort Burnside on Beavertail featuring the Harbor Entrance Command Post which monitored all the comings and goings of military shipping while minding the horizon against possible enemy attack. A thicket of radio antennae, backed up by the latest radar, the command post posed as an innocent farm house. Within it was a hardened military observation post on top of a war-room bunker that served as the eyes and ears of a network of 3 inch and 6 inch artillery batteries from Forts Greene and Varnum on Point Judith (now Fishermen's Memorial State Park), to Forts Kearney, Greble, and Getty, (near the mid-section of Jamestown), Fort Wetherill (now also a state park), to the Fort Adams and Brenton Point in Newport (also state parks), to Fort Church in Little Compton. Enormous 16 inch coastal guns which could fire out to sea some 26 miles in intersecting arcs depended on the surveillance of the equipment housed at Fort Burnside and on a series of fire control posts that had been established along the southern shores of Rhode Island. Anti-submarine nets stretched across the passage openings and loops of listening devices further out to sea completed the warning system. The network served from 1942 until the surrender of the Nazis in 1945.
FORT BURNSIDE HISTORY:
Outwardly built to mimic the look of a country farmhouse, Fort Burnside's main structure or "HECP" (harbor entrance control post) was constructed to protect military personnel and equipment from sea-borne attacks. The main bunker within the structure is comprised of 36-inch hardened, reinforced walls. A wooden shell disguises the concrete so, at a distance at sea, the building resembles a cottage rather than a military structure.
During World War II, approaching vessels were observed at Fort Burnside using both visual and electronic means of detection. In addition to human lookouts, there were underwater microphones in several large groups positioned strategically south of Beavertail with a terminal at the HECP. There were also several "magnetic loops" - coils of wire specifically placed to detect the passage of a large ferrous (steel) body of a ship or more importantly, a submarine.
During the war, two anti-submarine nets were spanned across the bay. The first net was used to block all navigation of the west passage and spanned from Fort Kearny (now the URI school of oceanography) to Fort Greble (Dutch Island) and then to Fort Getty on the west side of Jamestown's Connanicut Island. The second net spanned from Fort Wetherill on Jamestown to Fort Adams in Newport. This net had the ability to open and close by net-tending boats. Control of the net was exercised on command from the HECP after they had determined a vessel was cleared for entry into Newport Harbor.
Radar was in its infancy during the early 1940's and Fort Burnside had two of the early coastal radars in use. At the beginning of the war, they were used together with telescopes to aim the fort's coastal defense weapons which consisted of large-caliber guns on either side of Narragansett Bay. At the end of the war, the coast artillery was essentially obsolete and the guns were scrapped.
Fort Burnside went on to perform a number of functions including modern harbor defense and as a communication center during the beginnings of the Cold War. The fort's direct military service ended in 1978 when the Naval reserve group who had occupied the fort was disbanded. Recently, however, the fort has come full-circle with the installation of a radar and surveillance cameras mounted on the 110-foot tower built in 1951 on the east side of the building by Homeland Security.
Brenton Point State Park (1976)
The story of Brenton Point begins with the earliest pages of Rhode Island history. The point of land was named for colonial Governor, William Brenton (1600-1674). As the tip of land furthest south on Aquidneck Island (also called the Island of Rhode Island), both its commanding view of the ocean and its rugged topography made it an ideal location for early settlement. For the same reason it is a striking location for a state park. The original 'plantation' or farm, encompassed not only the present park bounds, but also Castle Hill, Hammersmith Farm, and Fort Adams. The Hammersmith name was bestowed by Governor Brenton because it was the name of his original home in England.
As was the case with nearly all the original settlers of Newport, William Brenton was a religious refugee from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in Boston. After living in Boston for four years, he was 'vigorously excused' in 1637, being one of the banned followers of religious enthusiast and out-spoken dissident, Anne Hutchinson. Along with the rest of the Hutchinson rebels, Brenton joined her little community in 1638 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, before settling at the southern end of the island of Aquidneck in 1639. Unlike others who established the compact port area of the community which evolved into 'downtown' Newport, Brenton chose 2000 acres at the neck of land to the south of the town. He divided it into two farms. Eventually he had 11,000 sheep, plus horses and cows.
Brenton was one of those settlers who recognized that the relative isolation of the islands in Narragansett Bay with their already cleared land was very suitable for raising sheep. Curiously, the Puritans of nearby Massachusetts Bay who couldn't stomach the ideas of Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson, and their followers still had an appetite for the fat mutton raised on the Bay islands. Sheep raising on Aquidneck,. Conanicut (Jamestown), Prudence and other islands formed the basis of Rhode Island's earliest economy and earliest export cargoes. People like William Brenton became prosperous land owners as well as prominent political figures in the life of the colony.
Although the portion of Brenton's property which extended furthest into the ocean was always rough and windy, his over all estate, including its inner precincts, was very productive. Hector deCrevecoer, one of the later French travelers to Newport, once observed that it was a place where, "a man can farm with one hand and fish with the other."
William Brenton served as Governor of Rhode Island, 1666-1669; he had been Deputy Governor during the time when William Coddington was governor, 1640 to 1647. Coddington had been one of the wealthier settlers of Boston. His subsequent move to Rhode island helped to solidify the economy. He was also somewhat taken with himself and attempted to have the English King and Parliament award him with a life's appointment as the Governor of both island towns, Portsmouth and Newport, causing Roger Williams and others some alarm, and they took steps to get his appointment annulled. Brenton held office under the Charter of 1663, happily taking his chances in annual elections. He died in 1674.
Brenton's death occurred two years before Newport confronted its first real challenge. In 1675/1676, the Wampanoag Indian Chief, Metacomet, also known as King Philip, united a federation of Indian tribes to expel white settlers in the mainland Massachusetts and Rhode Island towns. Nearly all of Providence and Warwick, the outlying hamlet of Pawtuxet, were burned to the ground. Major battles took place in the Blackstone Valley; an Indian massacre occurred in South Kingstown's Great Swamp. Located more remotely on Aquidneck, Newport and Portsmouth were spared attacks but not the job of taking in refugees from the mainland.
In the chaotic quarter century that followed, Brenton Point and Castle Hill stood sentry to pirates who also sought refuge in Narragansett Bay. In the golden age of the merchant princes of Newport, who had emerged in the first half of the eighteenth century; Brenton Point became a portal to the successor of pirates, the Privateers -- commercial ships outfitted to wage war on England's enemies-- and to slave ships that were also part of the Newport harbor scene.
A century after Governor Brenton's death, the tables turned on Newport's fortunes. First it felt the brunt of England's own navy enforcing the rules of trade and the collection of shipping and taxes. Then, in 1776, Newport became a captured town, behind enemy lines, in the American Revolution. the American cannons at Brenton Point and Castle Hill, installed to keep the British out, defended against attempts by the Americans to free the inhabitants under British garrison control for three long years.
When the war was over, the town of Newport and its surrounding farms were devastated for decades to come, eventually rescued by a new form of 'invaders' in the guise of summer fun seekers. Many farm houses on the island before the American Civil War were converted to guest rooms. Victorian social life at first centered in great hotels, but then wealthy industrialists from New York, and as far away as Pittsburgh, began to build mansions along the Cliff Walk and out along the Ocean Drive that circled through Brenton Point.
Here, a fine house, known as 'The Reef' was built in 1885 for Theodore M. Davis by the Boston architectural firm of Sturgis and Brigham. An elegant shingle and stone-clad Queen Anne villa was erected to house Davis's collection of paintings and Egyptian artifacts, collected during his wanderings between 1903 and 1912. Under official license by the Egyptian government, Davis directed expeditions that uncovered nearly a half dozen major tombs, establishing important holdings for Egypt. The Reef was also famous for its walled gardens and green houses. The entire estate took up some eighteen acres.
After Mr. Davis' death in 1915 the estate went into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Budlong of Providence. The property suffered in the '38 Hurricane, but the members of the Budlong family used it until 1941. During World War II, the site's position as one of the gateways to Narragansett Bay made it an ideal location for a coastal artillery battery. Footings for these guns can be seen today. Returned to the Budlongs in 1946 the house and grounds remained unoccupied. The house continued deterioration in the 1950s, and a fire destroyed the villa in 1960. Two years later it was demolished. Surviving on the site are a bungalow and carriage house. In 1969 the site came under the control of the State of Rhode Island as an 'open space' property in the Green Acres Program. In 1976 it became a state park.
Today, the park boasts gardens, walking trails, and picnic tables. There are magnificent bay and ocean views. On foggy days the ghosts of merchant sailing ships, Navy Destroyers, and America's Cup challengers seem to play in the rolling waves just beyond the rocks. On most clear days it's a great place to fly kites. In 1988, carved stone monuments celebrating the role played by Portuguese explorers in southeastern New England waters were added to the park.
Burlingame State Park & Campground (1934)
For nearly two centuries, 1702 to 1902, there was only one main road along the Atlantic coast of Rhode Island, the Boston Post Road, familiar to modern Rhode Islanders as Scenic 1A. Begun as a postal route to connect New York and Boston, the Post Road ran by way of ferry connections through Newport, or took the mainland road up the west side of Narragansett Bay through Wickford, East Greenwich, Apponaug, Pawtuxet to Providence. The coastal road not only connected Westerly to Narragansett, but it separated the flat meadowlands and salt ponds of Charlestown and South Kingstown from the woody, rock-strewn uplands that led towards the river systems of the Pawcatuck and Wood.
In the 18th century the broad strip of meadowlands stretching from Point Judith to Westerly was the home of the Narragansett Planters, the large farms of the Robinson, Hazard, Helmes, Champlin, Babcock, Burdick, and Stanton families. These were mostly livestock farms: sheep herds, cattle, and the famous Narragansett Pacer horses. The shoreline crescent of sandy barrier beaches backed by a necklace of salt ponds went largely unappreciated for its recreational qualities until late into the 19th century when people from out of state began to rent summer homes and set up tent communities to enjoy the pleasures of the sea. At either end of this strand were the formal resort hotel destinations of Westerly’s Watch Hill and Narragansett Pier. When the state park system for Rhode Island was created in1904, the Atlantic coast was beyond the scope of the Metropolitan Park Commission. The Commission at first sought to bring recreational relief to the Providence urban core and nearby population centers.
Some twenty-five years later, however, the original concept of a ring of parks around Providence, connected by scenic parkways, was expanded to the shores and woods of Rhode Island’s South County. The expansion, however, focused not initially on the barrier coastal beaches, but on the woody, rocky northern fringe of Route 1. Following the lead of the Audubon Society’s creation of the Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary in 1927, the Metropolitan Park Commission began acquiring woodland around Watchaug Pond, leading to the establishment of Burlingame Reservation, and, ultimately, Burlingame State Park and Campground. The making of the state park resulted from assembling adjacent parcels, either by direct purchase or through condemnation. One of the purchases was that of a private club lodge and 498 acres of land. Under the terms of the purchase of Chomowauke Lodge, full ownership of the property was not transferred to the state until 1960. United States Senator, Theodore Francis Green, was the last private member to join in September of 1930 and the last to pass away. At first, in 1930, the land was just a wildlife preserve. By 1934, it was opened as Burlingame State Reservation, or state park. The 3100 acres evolved into the state’s first camping ground. It was named after the Commission’s long-standing chair, Edwin A. Burlingame.
During the 1930s, taking advantage of the public works programs offered by the Depression-era New Deal, Burlingame became home to the 141st Company of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was the first, the state headquarters, and one of five such camps in Rhode Island. Beginning in 1933, out of work young men, in their late teens and early twenties were put to work making roads and trails.
In addition they built fire places, camp sites, and picnic areas, while making recreational improvements to the beaches of Watchaug Pond. Forest management activities went on throughout Rhode Island, particularly in the aftermath of the Hurricane of ’38 which downed thousands of trees and disrupted roads and public improvements. The CCC was disbanded in 1942 because of the overwhelming need to draft manpower for WW II.
In the course of the War, because of its proximity to the Charlestown Naval Air Station, Burlingame was used to house Naval personnel. At other times, it was an army camp, a rest stop for British Navy personnel. It even did duty as a prisoner of war camp. Following the war, a portion of the park served the American Legion as a youth summer camp. “Legion Town” re-used facilities employed by the CCC from 1946 until 1961. For a long time, all the Christmas trees used at the State House holiday season came from Burlingame.
Beginning in 1991 a four-phase upgrade of the camping sites, sanitary infrastructure and maintenance amenities was undertaken. Using a combination of National Park Service grants and the state’s Recreation Area Development Funds much needed improvements to facilities, some dating back to the 1930, commenced. Other public funds from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and DEM have been used to study the yearly cycle of Watchaug Pond so that the cleanliness of the pond can be observed and maintained.
Activities at the park include 755 campsites, fishing, swimming, picnicking, boating and hiking. The area north of Buckeye Brook Road, abutting the Pawcatuck River, is primarily a hunting area.
Animals at Burlingame include white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, gray squirrel, eastern chipmunk, muskrat, mink, raccoon, red fox, white-footed mouse, short-tailed shrew, river otter, and short tailed weasel. There are probably as many as 80 species of birds that nest in Burlingame, and many more species can also be seen there during the migration periods and in the winter. For example, Watchaug Pond has been notable in recent years as a place to look for wintering bald eagles. A representative sampling of species that nest in Burlingame includes Canada Goose, wood duck, broad-winged hawk, great horned owl, downy woodpecker, great nested flycatcher, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, house wren, hermit thrush, cedar waxwing, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, scarlet tanager, rufous-sided towhee, and chipping sparrow.
A representative sample of amphibians and reptiles include wood frog, spring peeper, green frog, redback salamander, spotted salamander, eastern box turtle, northern water snake and eastern garter snake.
Charlestown Breachway (1952)
Since the mid-1800's the residents of Charlestown recognized the value of Pawaget/Ninigret/Charlestown Pond, the towns largest bodies of water extending along the town's coastline as an asset in the resources of the town. So in 1897 an appropriation of $1,000 was received for Charlestown's first standing breachway. This contract was awarded to a Mr. Ward and ended in a failure. In 1904 the townsfolk again asked the General Assembly to appropriate monies for a permanent breachway using the arguments that the natural breach was filled in by the tides depositing sand thereby creating a barrier that separated the pond from the ocean. Also, a permanent breach would prevent the water in Ninigret/Pawaget/Charlestown pond from becoming brackish and unfit for the cultivation and harvesting of oysters, an industry important to this area. With these arguments in mind, the General Assembly approved $5,000 to connect Charlestown pond with the Atlantic Ocean on Block Island Sound. Colonel Rodman of the state of Rhode Island Engineers Office completed the surveying, mapping, and layout for the proposed permanent breachway calling for "two jetties to extend into water beyond the low tide mark from shore, one to be on each side of the channel". The jetties were to be 18 feet at the base and 60 feet apart. An additional $10,000 would be required for the completion of the west wall, but there is no documentation showing that this was completed at this time.
The contract was awarded to John Bristow of South Kingstown, the builder of the breakwater at Point Judith, for $1.75 per ton of boulders taken from Hill Pasture, a meadow bordering the upper end of the pond and the sandy road leading to the beach and owned by Edgar Burdick, a local farmer.
Construction of the breachway was not easy work. The workmen drilled holes on each side of the partially exposed stone tightening "Great Dawgs" - trade name of the hooks - into drill holes and with stone pullers hitched to a team of work horses, the stone was pulled out of the earth and carried to a supply pile at the end of a narrow gauge railroad. The railroad cars would then take a circuitous route from the head of the pond along the shore, behind the cottages, then back along the beach for a mile and a quarter to the westerly side of the farthest cottage on the beach, in use as a hotel.
The stones, weighing approximately 400 pounds, were carried to the wall on small flat cars, each carrying about 900 pounds, drawn by a pair of workhorses. The railroad was laid on cord wood sleepers through the sand and where it crossed the pond ran along a low bank. The narrow gauge railroad ran to the end of the wall where the boulders were again stockpiled on the beach.
The proposed east wall was to be 200 linear feet beginning at the high-water mark. The beach on the easterly side of the east wall, under construction, had been lowered approximately 3 feet while on the westerly side of the east wall the sand had piled 8 or 9 feet.
Even after the wall was finished, the problems at the breachway did not end. Even in more modern days the seasonal clogging has continued. In 1951, the state of Rhode Island Division of Harbors and Rivers awarded the rebuilding of the east wall and the construction of the west wall to Gencarelli Inc., of Oak Street. Westerly. The walls were completed in four months during severe winter storms. The official opening was on April 7, 1952.
A few days after the official opening, a storm hit the area. At the northeasterly end of the breachway, where 30,000 yards of sand had been dug, it was completely filled in and at low tide a person could walk from one side to the other. Hence the old motto: "you can't fool mother nature".
Today on the east side of "the Breachway" this is a camping area for self contained RV's, a state beach, some of the best salt water fishing in South County and a panoramic view of Block Island Sound.
Colt State Park (1968)
Colt State Park’s more than 464 acres of lawns, stone walls, and curving drives along one of the state’s most spectacular shorelines stands in contrast to one of Rhode Island’s charming, compact, historic seaports, the Town of Bristol. On July 4th, every year since 1785, the town of Bristol puts on America’s team colors and hosts a national celebration that’s actually older than the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1790). Fittingly, it was Rhode Island which closed that exercise, and the nation began.
The comparison, or rather contrast, of the town and the park couldn’t be stronger. Bristol was one of the few Rhode Island town actually laid out in New England fashion with a town common and a grid pattern of streets and lanes. Mostly mercifully intact from the time period of Ratification, the town boasts long parallel streets of closely packed Federal and Greek Revival architecture, a fitting theatrical backdrop to the annual pageant of flags, floats, drums and bugles. Colt State Park, by contrast, is sprawling, curvilinear, nearly without buildings, its copses and clusters of trees mirroring the off-shore bobbing of masts of sailboats. While the town is dense and urban; the park is wide open. They are both beautiful and memorable.
The park and the town are linked by history. Samuel P. Colt, who built the show case farm was a grandson of the famous DeWolf family of Bristol. The DeWolfs developed Bristol into a thriving port in the late 18th and early 19th century. They defiantly and successfully carried on the Slave Trade after it was outlawed by the State of Rhode Island. Powerful, politically, they were able to get their own candidate appointed as U.S. Customs collector and escaped the law…at least for a while They had plantations in Cuba, fleets of ships, built palatial mansions on Hope Street, and managed to drag most of the other leading families into their schemes. When their empire finally imploded in the 1840s, they also dragged the whole town into bankruptcy.
Twenty-five years and a generation later, the Colt family, grandsons of George DeWolf, and great grandsons of Senator James DeWolf, moved back into town and began a new chapter in the story of ‘The Great Folks,’ as the DeWolfs and Colts were known by the local population. While LeBaron Colt ultimately became a U.S. Senator, it was his brother, Samuel Pomeroy Colt, who rebuilt the family fortune. Also a lawyer, like his brother, but less successful in politics, Samuel P. Colt made his fortune in banking and manufacturing. Not only did he manage to restore his family’s money, but he erased a good deal of the blot on the family crest caused by the fall of the DeWolf family and the ruin of the town.
Operating in an age of aggressive capital, 1875 to 1915, Colt assembled a collection of local banks leading to the emergence of the Industrial Trust Company, the forerunner of Fleet Bank which became the largest financial institution in the State of Rhode Island. He also knitted together nascent rubber companies in Bristol, Providence, and Woonsocket which evolved into United States Rubber Company (Uniroyal). He served as president of the Industrial National Trust until 1908 and U.S. Rubber until 1918. He supported local civic projects like the Colt Memorial High School as a way of ingratiating himself to the town, and he opened his private estate, the Colt Farm, to be enjoyed by the public.
Beginning in 1905 Colt began to assemble the parcels of land which would become his farm on Poppasquash Neck from lands owned by old Bristol families. These were the farms of the Chase, Church, and Van Wickle families.
Colt Farm, now Colt State Park, became a showcase of wealth. The entrance to the property alone spoke of the tone and ambition of the owner. A pair of bronze bulls anchors the approach. Throughout the drive to the main house and its complex of barns, a party casino, and stables, Colt dotted the landscape with examples of European sculpture and statuary of mythical Greek gods and goddesses. This display of the human form prompted one of Colt’s relatives to call the drive to the casino/party pavilion, “Wall Street,” an avenue of the “bulls and the bares!” Colt prided himself on operating the farm to breed prize Jersey cattle. The magnificent cow barn is one of the surviving structures in the park.
As local town histories note, no expense was spared on Colt’s prized herd. “There was one employee for each cow. The cows horns were polished and their tails washed daily. When in their stanchions, the cows always had a thick bed of fresh straw. Cork and rubber covered the concrete floor where the cows stood. The spotless, comfortable barn was even heated in the winter.”
“Each summer Colonel Colt’s finest Jersey cows, and his prize Berkshire sows, were transported in specially padded railroad cars to state and county fairs throughout the East. The show season ended in September with the annual Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. Every show season brought more trophies and ribbons to the elegant trophy room. In one season alone the Berkshire sows won 125 ribbons.”
“Tractors were not used on the farm; Colt preferred to see Percheron draft horses working in the fields. During the summer, hay was carried in horse drawn wagons from the fields to the hayloft where it was stored as winter food. Colonel Colt, who often visited the farm from his home in Bristol on Hope Street, valued the Percheron horses as much as he did his Jersey herd. If he saw that the horses were sweating from hauling wagon loads of hay, Colt ordered the haying stop for the day. In the winter, the same horses were harnessed to snow plows for clearing the roads of the farm. Colt insisted that the horses wear blankets for protection from the cold winter wind that blew off Narragansett Bay and across the exposed fields and roads of the farm. The Percherons were housed in a large wooden barn that still stands on a hill across the salt marsh from the stone barn.”
Colt’s desire to share hospitality to the public and a philosophical forerunner to using the site as a state park was engraved in marble at the main entrance: ‘Colt Farm: Private Property, Public Welcome.’ According to one observer, “ On pleasant days families walked from the town of Bristol to picnic in the fields, dig clams and quahogs in the Mill."
Gut salt marsh or fish for flounder, tautog, and striped bass from the shore. Workers in white, guided people through the magnificent stone barn, pointing out prize cows and offering glasses of fresh milk to the visitors. The mangers were scrubbed after each feeding, and the white-tile ceiling was kept mirror clean so that the entire herd of cows in the stanchions could be seen reflected in the ceiling. A visitor to the farm once wrote, ‘If I were the biggest liar in the world, I could not exaggerate the magnitude and the wonders of Colt Farm.”
Besides the general public’s use of the property for picnics, Colt oversaw the obsequies of Rhode Island social life at the farm’s casino. Part business, part politics, part good life socializing, in the summertime trains from Providence to Bristol brought guests who were met at town station by a car or carriage and conveyed to the farm.
Samuel P. Colt died in 1921. Disputes about his will, clouded by disagreements among family members stalled attempts by the State to acquire the property by the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1935. It wasn’t until 1965, using Green Acres funds, that the state bought the farm for use as a park. In the meantime, throughout the intervening years, the estate was managed by the Industrial Trust Company. Governor John H. Chafee dedicated the park in 1968. Today, a statue of Chafee overlooks the landscape of an open air Chapel by the Sea, ten playing fields, six picnic groves, restrooms, a public boat ramp, and four miles of walking, jogging, and bicycle trails.
The East Bay bikeway, connecting Colt to a string of other state parks from East Providence through Barrington and on to the Bristol Center will soon be linked to the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor with its Blackstone River State Park and Bikeway route stretching all the way to the Woonsocket boundary with Massachusetts, a scenic parkway of over thirty miles.
East Beach (2006)
East State Beach, located in Charlestown, Rhode Island takes up three miles of prime beach shoreline. It is the easterly extension of Quonochontaug Neck. East Beach is one of the least developed of the Rhode Island state beaches, with limited parking and a half dozen changing rooms. Nonetheless it is one of Rhode Island’s spectacular seaside treasures.
A narrow barrier beach, accessible from Route 1 via East Beach Road, it fronts and separates Ninigret Pond from the ocean. Ninigret Pond is Road Island’s largest salt water ponds. The salt water ponds are lagoons along Rhode Island’s Atlantic coast from Westerly to Narragansett. They provide safe haven for shellfish and other marine life; their grassy and reedy fringe are a refuge for birds and small animals. Their water is regularly flushed by the ocean waters that ebb and flow through natural breachways that have now been stabilized by public works engineering.
Large stone blocks hold back the sand that would otherwise clog their passages. In the case of Ninigret Pond this service is provided by the Charlestown Breachway. The easterly side of the Charlestown Breachway is also a state park with RV camping facilities. It is not accessible from East Beach, but by Charlestown Beach Road.
The northern edge of Ninigret Pond hosts the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge with a visitor center and also Ninigret Park. During World War II, this area was developed as the Charlestown Naval Air Station, an auxiliary field of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in North Kingstown. Here former U.S. President, George H.W. Bush trained as a Navy night fighter pilot.
The Ninigret name stems from the Native American sachem or chief of the eastern branch of the Niantic Indians, a sub-set of the Narragansetts. Remains of a trading post and fort are part of the park owned by the Town of Charlestown. It is believed the fort was built by either the Dutch or Portuguese traders on the northern edge of the pond.
The history of the beach along the southern edge is part of the story of the Quonochontaug summer colonies first developed in the 1880s. Although Quonochontaug Neck was settled as early as the 17th century, it wasn’t until two centuries later that it gained any significant habitations, and then only in its central and western portions. East Beach was relatively untouched, perhaps due to its narrow nature between the ocean and the pond. The State of Rhode Island began setting up this natural reserve in a major way with land acquisitions totaling more than 250 acres in 2006.
East Matunuck State Beach (1956)
The coastal plain that makes up the ocean front of the Rhode Island mainland begins in the northern reaches of the Town of Narragansett, stretches around and across Point Judith Neck, and flanks the Atlantic coast all the way to Watch Hill at Westerly. In its narrowest width at the north, it is less than a mile wide, and it widens out to three or four miles deep along the Atlantic rim. Its ocean fringe is ornamented by a watery lace of salt ponds, which are regularly washed by the sea and are home to a rich variety of marine life. The pierced-earring like ponds are fastened to the ocean by natural and man-made breach ways. Until the Town of Narragansett was set off on its own in 1901, a major portion of this coastline was in the Town of South Kingstown.
South Kingstown grew out of the pioneering settlements in the 17th century, known as the Pettaquamscutt Purchase. These scattered farms which benefited from the open expanse of the coastal plain did not really flourish until the Native American claims and the litigious strife of competing colonial land companies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, with Rhode Island were extinguished in the early 1700s.
Unlike the other English settlements in New England which were carved out of forests, the agricultural pursuits of the Rhode Island farmers were susceptible to pasturing flock and herd animals as opposed to crop fields. This direction led, in the words of one historian, “to an aristocracy of stock farmers and dairy men.” Although the term usually applied to the owners of these larger than usual estates was “The Narragansett Planters,” their operations acquired the aspect of sheep and cattle ranches. In particular, the area became noted for one of America’s first horse breeds, the Narragansett Pacer.
Many of the first families of this ‘planter class’ owed their origins to a practice by Newport merchant families of sending their younger offspring into this new country to establish extensive ‘farms’ that would produce marketable cargoes for the counting houses of Newport. The Newport influence in the rising coastal towns also provided political power to the merchant elites as their children often sent deputies to the Rhode Island General Assembly who supported the Newport position in colonial politics.
Following the end of the American Revolution, in the last decades of the 18th century however, the golden age of the Narragansett Planters began to wane. The Narragansett Pacer breed died out. Many of the large estates shrunk as the large families continued to subdivide their properties to provide inheritances. The large slave population that had made up the field hands on these properties were freed due to influences of the Quaker and Anglican reformers, and further slavery was abolished by the state. Many of these black folks migrated north seeking work on the docks of Providence, which by this time had replaced Newport as a center of shipping.
Economic activity in the early 19th century in the South County towns then shifted towards harnessing the swift-flowing interior streams to new milling technology. Peacedale and Wakefield developed along with a string of textile villages on both sides of the Pawcatuck River.
The other major change occurred by mid-19th century. That was the growing recognition of the possibility to use the very edges of the coastal plain for the surf and beach recreation. The idea of play and idleness had been counter to the Puritan and Dissenting theologies of the early settlers. Not until the 19th century were the physical health and positive psychological values of recreation acceptable to New England society. The idea of vacations and holiday relaxation gained popularity and social approval.
The leisure possibilities of the beach areas first appeared at Narragansett. As early as the 1780s, John Robinson had built a pier to facilitate the commercial activities of fishermen and farmers. By the mid 1840s, however, the steamboats arriving at Narragansett Pier were carrying people interested in availing themselves of the bathing and relaxation of the beach. Matunuck Beach appeared on a map of the area in 1857. A guide book of 1873 listed a hotel at Matunuck.
Twenty years later a “writer of pleasant places in Rhode Island” called Matunuck a popular place for Providence people, ‘more so, perhaps, than any other surf beach along the coast.’ A reporter, writing for newspaper in 1895, described a hotel at Matunuck that could accommodate 125 guests; it had been built in 1880, enlarged in 1884, and once again the year of his article. Along the beach that year, on a local map, there were bath houses. The writer of the newspaper article indicated, however, that the summer life was dull in comparison to Narragansett Pier, but provided rest and health. One of those local farmers who opened his house for summer visitors was George M. Browning. He called it the Ocean Star Cottage. His barn eventually morphed into the Theater-by-Sea, still in operation today.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, substantial summer houses began to appear back from the beach, along the Post Road and just beyond in an area, known as Matunuck Hills. Edward Everett Hale, who wrote, The Man Without a Country, and poems and ballads set in the Matunuck region, joined historian, William B. Weeden as notable summer residents. Boston area writers came, too. In the 20th century, the arrival of automobiles and improved paved roads led to a dense population of cottages and hotels at Matunuck Beach. Nearby Green Hill also developed at this time. A life-saving station opened here in 1912. Carpenter’s Beach began as a tent colony and then expanded to sea-side cottages.
From the Hurricane of ’38 through successive storms in 1954 and 1955, however, light-weight and well-built structures along this strand were from time to time swept away. Beginning in 1956 the State Department of Public Works began acquiring storm-ravaged land by public condemnation. Additional purchases by the state occurred in 1967, and the Division of Parks and Recreation, now in DEM, built a modern beach facility and took over the care and maintenance of the beach, totaling more than 144 acres. It is formally known as East Matunuck State Beach.
Fort Adams State Park (1965)
Before being deeded to the State of Rhode Island in 1965, Fort Adams had served the U.S. Navy for ten years and the U.S. Army for more than a century. Since its acquisition by the state it has made national history in the entertainment field of Jazz and Folk festivals and as a base for Newport sailing. More recently it has come into its own as a repository and expository of military history. By arrangement with the state, the Fort Adams Foundation has been at work restoring the fort for decades, but only recently has the sheer magnitude of the importance of this landmark in its field of fortification truly been revealed. Since its inception in 1994, the Trust has spent nearly ten million dollars on restoration and now features permanent exhibits, historic tours of the site and frequent special events of military history. There’s more to be done, but the basic story of the Fort can now be seen and understood.
The Fort rests at an elbow to the entrance of Newport Harbor. Ships need to enter the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, passing the Coast Guard station and lighthouse at Castle Hill and the Hammersmith Farm of the Kennedy family, before coming broadside to Fort Adams on the east and Fort Wetherill on Jamestown to the west. This ‘choke point,’ commanded before Fort Adams by a colonial battery on one side of the passage and Fort Dumpling on the other, was a good location to foil sea invaders to Newport Harbor, which lies beyond these sentinels. Further up the passage was another fort on Goat Island. In colonial times this emplacement which formed a kind of triangle with the former was known successively as Fort Anne, Fort George, and Fort Liberty.
Protecting Newport from attack and invasion was always on the minds of Rhode Islanders. Located on Aquidneck Island, sometimes known as Rhode Island, from 1690s until the outbreak of the American Revolution, Newport presided over the golden age of shipping commerce and the making of fortunes for merchant princes who mastered a food-supply trade with the West Indies, dabbled in privateering in England’s wars with France and Spain, and became the work horses of the nefarious American slave trade – shipping rum to Africa, slaves to the Caribbean, and molasses back to Rhode Island where it was distilled into rum. Sheltering the continuity of this activity from invasion and attack were the colonial forts at the entrance to the harbor.
The colonial legacy assumed by Fort Adams began with Brinton himself who reportedly ordered two cannons to protect his property from pirates and privateers. In 1740, an observation post was erected on the site. Earthwork fortifications appeared during the French and Indian War.
Fort Adams, which was built after the Revolution, didn’t play a role in the golden age of Newport’s merchants. Its place was to protect the growth of the American Navy which chose Newport and Narragansett Bay in the early 19th century as one of the best harbors along the Atlantic coast for its needs. Officially, Fort Adams sits astride Brenton Point. This sometimes leads to confusion because a couple of miles away, closer to the ocean is Brenton Point State Park. Initially, all the land between Fort Adams and Brenton Point was owned by William Brenton, one of the early founders of Newport. Fortification of the site at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War occurred in the spring of 1776, but it was captured very quickly when a large British fleet and an invasion force occupied the town in December of the same year. For three years, Newport lay behind enemy lines until the British garrison was withdrawn in October of 1779, and the initial installation at Brenton Point was destroyed. Twenty years transpired (1799) until the site was re-occupied by a battery of cannon, named after John Adams, second President of the United States who authorized its construction.
It wasn’t, however, until a quarter of a century more transpired, that in 1824 construction began on the true Fort Adams which was to become ‘the largest coastal defense works of its kind in the United States.’ The justification for building such an extensive fortification was that in the eyes of the Navy board responsible for the system of coastal defenses in the early 19th century, “only Narragansett Bay among northeastern harbors could shelter ships during violent storms, and between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras only Narragansett Bay and Hampton Roads (Virginia) were regarded as ‘proper for naval rendezvous’.” The thirty-three years of construction to follow were largely the work of Irish laborers, who built their own community nearby in the Fifth Ward of Newport and also built the Catholic church within which Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier were later married.
The cost of building Fort Adams for three decades was over three million dollars. It was designed to mount 468 guns around a perimeter of over 1700 yards. It used a combination of Maine granite, brick, and shale. During a time of war it could house 2400 men, though a peace time garrison of 200 was sufficient. The result was the design and work of two prominent engineers, Simon Bernard, a former aide to Napoleon and Joseph G. Totten, who later became the first head of the Army Corps of Engineers. Their problem was to defend the location by both sea and land attack and they relied on the classic military science developed by Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the engineer for King Louis XIV of France. Depth and redundancy of defense was the key ingredient.
A series of defensive lines was built on the site. Structures known as tenailles, bastions, and redoubts, which were angled in such a way as to create deadly crossfires, were employed to stop any attack by land. On the seafront, the bomb-proofed casemates were designed to house two cannons rather than the single weapon typically employed. As the century progressed, however, and the design of artillery improved and became more powerful, strengthening the fort became necessary from time to time.
In the 1880s, during the period of the so-called Endicott system of new and revised fortifications, improvements to Fort Adams took place outside of the fort by installing new batteries along the East Passage, south of the Fort. In 1906 to 1908 interior remodeling occurred. The Fort was an active post during the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, and the two World Wars. It was in World War II that it played perhaps its most active role. Nearly the entire State of Rhode Island became a military district with its considerable manufacturing capability turning out everything from Liberty ships, torpedo boats, torpedoes, Johnson carbines, the Oerlikon 20 mm anti-aircraft cannon, Quonset Huts, rubber life rafts, and uniform jewelry pins of all kinds. The southern part of the state, however, had coastal defenses strung like chains of the jewelry industry from Point Judith to Fort Church at Little Compton. The nerve center of this defensive picket line was Fort Adams. It was home to the 243rd Coast Artillery after September, 1940. From there and the Harbor Entrance Control Post at Fort Burnside at Beavertail the defense of the Rhode Island military district was directed.
Army use of the Fort continued after World War II until 1953. This is when the Navy took charge of the site. Land south of the Fort was used for Naval housing, Newport at the time hosting a large contingent of personnel for various fleet activities. It was during this time that President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the Commanding Officer’s residence, a large home dating from the Victorian period, as a summer White House. As the Navy began a reduction of force in the area, the State of Rhode Island acquired the main fortification and outer works in 1965.
Misquamicut State Beach (1959)
Misquamicut has a relatively short history as a state beach, about fifty years. It opened in 1959. However, the beach and recreational scene at this location dates back another fifty years to just after 1900, when private homeowners and small businessmen from Westerly put up cottages and a couple of hotels. Within a decade or two this community was connected to the Westerly town center and the nearby posh resort community of Watch Hill by a trolley. It acquired stores and a post office. It was known at first as Pleasant View. It was a strip of sand between Watch Hill on the west and Weekapaug on the east, with a bridge over the breachway at Weekapaug. The beach divided the ocean waters from the Winnapaug pond, a salt pond that provided a sheltered place to sail and a protected place for a childrens’ bathing area.
Although there are still private beach houses and local commercial services on this ocean strand, on three occasions in the 20th century, Misquamicut’s slate was wiped clean by hurricanes. In 1938, 1944, and 1954 just about every structure along the beach was flattened, washed out to sea, or damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. Following the last big storm in that trifecta, Governor Dennis Roberts moved to have the state condemn a mile-long stretch of beach to create Misquamicut State Beach.
The area is rich in seaside post card lore. Mostly, the views depicted are the cottages and bungalows. Almost all appear under the title of Pleasant View. There are also depictions of the ‘Adams Express,’ as the trolley was known, or of hotels like the Wigwam, the Pleasant View House, the Atlantic View House, or the Andrea. There was also a casino for dancing, for roller skating, big bands, and a shore dinner hall. In 1928, the Pleasant View name was officially replaced at the post office by the name Misquamicut. It’s of Indian origin, meaning “Red Fish,” a reference to the Atlantic salmon, common to the Pawcatuck River and also the original name for the entire Westerly area which was settled in 1661.
Misquamicut has always enjoyed a summer population balanced by Westerly area locals and large influxes of Connecticut residents. The state beach almost had to close in 1992 when its forty year old septic system failed and the Division of Parks and Recreation was not allowed to build a new leach field. At this time, a solution involving the Clivus Corporation of Lawrence, Massachusetts and DEM resulted in the Clivus Compost Toilet System. This waterless toilet system allowed Misquamicut State Beach to stay open and provided a model for other state beaches.
A new bathing pavilion opened in 1999. This village-like structure includes a bathhouse building, a concession building that includes a gift shop and offices, a lifeguard tower and shade gazebos. Decking is made from a compound of wood and recycled plastic. A $700,000 renovation of the parking area was completed in the year 2000.
Roger W. Wheeler State Beach (1929)
Sand Hill Cove in the Town of Narragansett was a state property for nearly a century and a half before being transferred by the Rhode Island Secretary of State to the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1929. It was the first state beach along the arc of the Atlantic Ocean destined to be the home to several other beaches. The ownership of the beach strand by the state stretched back to Revolutionary War times when it was stripped from Tory sympathizer of King George III. Its proposed use as a public resort for recreation fit well with the expansion ideas of the Park Commission in the late 1920s.
Originally, the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1906 set out to create a ring of parks and reservations within a ten mile radius of the State House in Providence to serve the recreational needs of the industrial workers crammed into nearly air-less, densely packed, triple-decker neighborhoods of Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls. To access these peripheral parks, located on the rim of the urban areas, a series of scenic parkways and trolley lines spoking out along former turnpike routes were used.
Expanding the original park system, serving the needs of Providence and adjacent city neighborhoods, to include South County beaches marked a new departure. It was one which logically followed the connection to more remote areas by new state highways and the increased use of automobiles. In the decade which followed, the purchase of Scarborough Beach in 1935 to 1937, on the eastern side of Point Judith peninsula, merely seconded the decision.
Even though the policy for coastal park expansion occurred in these years, it took the state until the middle of World War II (1943) to clear away the last of ninety “squatters,” who had erected illegal beach structures at Sand Hill Cove. Actually, it wasn’t until at least 1955, another ten years, that the first modern bath house and parking facilities were put on the site.
The name change from Sand Hill Cove to Roger W. Wheeler State Beach happened on August 15, 1970. Captain Roger W. Wheeler (1907-1969) was the creator of the Rhode Island State Life-Saving System. Without a cadre of life guards at the beaches, who promoted safe swimming practices, the public use of our coastal waters would have amounted to little more than an “attractive nuisance.” Trained, alert, and capable life guards have prevented many family tragedies over the years.
Between 1996 and 1997, a redesign and renovation of the beach facilities at Roger Wheeler produced a new pavilion, coin-operated hot showers, a playground, concession building, a life-guard tower, and a environmental educational area.
Scarborough North & South State Beach Complex (1937)
Scarborough Beach is Rhode Island’s most popular and well known beach. Located 35 miles south of Providence on Ocean Road in Narragansett, it is a 26 acre facility with 2,325 feet of beach frontage.
Scarborough was originally developed in 1937. It has long been known as the principal destination for a "day at the beach" for thousands of Rhode Islanders over the years.
With the acquisition of Olivio's and Lido’s beaches to the south of Scarborough, the State of Rhode Island now has an additional 16 acres and over 1,000 feet of beach frontage for expanding the saltwater recreational facilities at Scarborough. After many years of use, the State in 1987, embarked on a multiphase/multimillion dollar restoration and redevelopment project for Olive's and Lido’s beaches, now referred to as the Scarborough South. With the addition of Olivio's and Lido's beaches, it brought the total acreage of Scarborough State Beach to 59.7 acres, and .85 of a mile of shoreline.
The State of Rhode Island has one of the finest, if not, the best saltwater beach and recreational facility in Southeastern New England. It is hoped that this facility will help to maintain the positive image of Rhode Island’s saltwater beaches, and to continue to provide, not only to this generation but future generations of Rhode Islanders, a quality experience for a "day at the beach".
Salty Brine State Beach (1954)
Galilee State Beach (now Salty Brine State Beach), was turned over to the state Division of Parks and Recreation by the Division of Harbors and Rivers in 1954. Harbors and Rivers had been responsible for developing the breachway at Galilee in the Town of Narragansett as a harbor area for commercial and recreational fishermen. A number of seafood processing plants dotted the entrance into one of Rhode Island’s great salt ponds, Point Judith Pond. The port area is also the state’s major terminal for the Block Island Ferry. Tucked alongside some of the state’s most famous seafood restaurants and within walking distance of numerous clusters of seasonal shoreline housing is the state beach.
In 1990 it was decided to rename Galilee State Beach as Salty Brine State Beach after a prominent radio personality long associated with Rhode Island’s nautical and seaside traditions. Walter Leslie Brian (1918-2004) was a morning radio host from 1943 to 1993. He was also the host of a children’s television show, known as ‘Salty’s Shack.’
His rich baritone voice flavored many television and radio commercials in his more than half a century in broadcasting. It was not just familiarity and longevity, however, which endeared this man to the public. He was a life-long campaigner for causes related to disabled citizens. His children’s programs were in the vein of ‘Mr. Rogers.’ He was the anchorman for the local Muscular Dystrophy Telethon from its start and a board member of Save the Bay and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, as well as one of its inductees. Over his lifetime he received many awards and recognitions. Perhaps none was more appropriate than his association with a beach named in his honor which featured green energy components and a completely barrier free, universal accessibility design. The new energy-efficient bath house was dedicated to his memory, May 24th 2010.