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Monday, May 31, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 49: Narragansett, RI

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In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 49: Narragansett, RI
May 13, 2010

            There is something about a beautiful drive along the coast that makes a perfect trip.  To accomplish this all one has to do is find the nearest ocean and go.  However, there are a few places that I have been to thus far that take the ‘drive along the coast’ and turn it into a breathtaking scene that I hoped would never end.  Narragansett, Rhode Island is one such place.  Anybody who has been there knows just what I am talking about, but for those who may have never experienced it I will try my best to do this incredible coastal wonderland justice.
            The Narragansett name itself comes from the tribe of Native Americans which lived on the land when it was first settled by Europeans in 1635.  Their name translated means ‘people at/of the small, narrow point.’  The Narragansett tribe absorbed members from other tribes during King Philip’s War to keep a Native American identity and they are still a recognized tribe to this day with some 2,400 members.
            Although not the official entrance into Narragansett, Ocean Road is definitely the place to begin any trip here.  The Towers(left) is the most famous landmark in Narragansett and it acts as a gateway into the historic district of the town.  What remains of the old Narragansett Pier Casino makes up The Towers; it is a beautiful archway stretching over the road.  The Casino was the center of social life during the late 19th century in Narragansett and rivaled the popularity of Newport’s Casino until it burned down in 1900.  
Built in 1883 the Narragansett Pier Casino burned during the Great Fire of 1900 in which the neighboring Rockingham Hotel burned and quickly caught the Casino on fire.  All that remained was the granite structure that made up The Towers.  It is an amazing site; there is a beautiful fountain just to the right as you approach the archway.  On the left as you approach is the ocean and the very popular Narragansett Beach.  It was filled with surfers on this day as is the norm; I had to make it a point to stop and watch since I have no talent for surfing as it is.  I spent a while just enjoying the scenery in the area surrounding The Towers but there is much more to see in Narragansett.
The Ocean Road Historic District is filled with incredible homes dating back more than a hundred years including the Dunmere house.  Built in 1883 this home sits on three and a half acres and has an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean.  There are remnants of a fishing pier where the original owner, Robert Graham Dun, entertained the likes of the Vanderbilt family and President Grover Cleveland.
Running parallel to Ocean Road for a bit is Gibson Avenue, these two roads help to create a border of the Earlescourt Historic District.  Gibson Avenue features the Druidsdream house.  Built in 1884 for Joseph Peace Hazard who named it Druidsdream due to his interest in the druids which are adherents of an ancient Celtic religion the home currently is maintained as a bed and breakfast.  It is also open periodically for tours, by current owner Nancy Richards, of its eleven bedrooms and seven bathrooms as well as eleven fireplaces.  The Earlescourt Historic District, if you approach from the west, has a large stone tower standing guard as you drive down Earles Court.  Having Scargo Tower nearby I felt the need to stop and enjoy what many locals probably pass by without batting an eyelash.
Further down Ocean Road I found Scarborough State Beach(above) which to me seemed like a slice of California.  For one, it is about a mile long, running along the road.  It is separated into two sections, North and South; each has its own set of showers, a pavilion, seventy-five picnic tables, boardwalk, and an observation tower.  All of this makes this appear to be much more than an average beach.  The array of structures running along the sand were what made me feel as though I was on the West Coast rather than in Rhode Island; it was an unexpected surprise.
At the tip of Narragansett sits Point Judith and the lighthouse(right) of the same name.  It sits on the grounds of the local Coast Guard station but it is very easy to spot even from behind the chain link fence.  This lighthouse might be familiar to some folks as it is currently being featured in a Marines commercial which made it cool to see up close.
The current tower was built in 1857 and made of brownstone.  The actual Point Judith name origin is widely debated with some saying it was named for the mother-in-law of merchant John Hull while others say it was named for the Tribe of Judah in The Bible.  Ironically when first built the lighthouse did not do a good job in keeping vessels safe, in 1855 alone sixteen vessels were destroyed or stranded off of Point Judith.  The traffic passing Point Judith was greater than that entering New York Harbor into the early 20th century which is a truly remarkable fact.  Although I did not get to actually lay my hands on this piece of history it was enough for me to be within sight of it.  Point Judith Light was a highlight of my Narragansett trip but it was not my last stop.
I drove a little west to Galilee Port(left) where the Block Island Ferry departs.  The beach located on the east side of the port is fascinating for one big reason and that is the breakwater.  There is a breakwater on either side of the entrance to the port, but then more than a mile out to sea is a V-shaped breakwater which keeps the beach area very calm.  I could only stare out and wonder why and how it was created.  Along this shoreline sits the award-winning George’s of Galilee seafood restaurant.  It was hard to miss with its adorable fish logo both on its fa├žade and on the beach as well.
If my article has not yet tempted you to venture down to Narragansett I do not know what will.  This town is chock full of both historic places and beautiful seaside sights.  It may not have the same plethora of mansions like Newport but it has its share.  The Towers and Point Judith Light are reason enough to make the drive down to Narragansett.  I am definitely planning on paying this spot another visit and think everyone reading should do the same.  I cannot recommend Narragansett enough, it is spectacular.  Have fun and happy traveling!



To see a short video of my trip to Narragansett click here: YouTube - Narragansett, RI

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at SchifferBooks.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

 
DirectionsThe Towers: From I-195 heading west take Exit 8A for Rt. 24.  Exit onto Rt. 114, turn right at Coddington Highway, continue onto JT O’Connell Rd., take 3rd exit at rotary for Admiral Kalbfus Rd.  Take Rt. 138 and cross the Newport Bridge and Jamestown Bridge.  Take Exit for Rt. 1A, keep right and follow signs for Narragansett.  Continue to Beach St., turn left at Ocean Rd.
Scarborough State Beach:  From I-195 heading west take Exit 8A for Rt. 24.  Exit onto Rt. 114, turn right at Coddington Highway, continue onto JT O’Connell Rd., take 3rd exit at rotary for Admiral Kalbfus Rd.  Take Rt. 138 and cross the Newport Bridge and Jamestown Bridge.  Take Exit for Rt. 1A, keep right and follow signs for Narragansett.  Continue to Beach St., turn left at Ocean Rd.  Follow Ocean Rd. just over 3 miles, make a U-turn to enter beach lot.
Point Judith Lighthouse:  From I-195 heading west take Exit 8A for Rt. 24.  Exit onto Rt. 114, turn right at Coddington Highway, continue onto JT O’Connell Rd., take 3rd exit at rotary for Admiral Kalbfus Rd.  Take Rt. 138 and cross the Newport Bridge and Jamestown Bridge.  Take Exit for Rt. 1A, keep right and follow signs for Narragansett.  Continue to Beach St., turn left at Ocean Rd.  Follow Ocean Rd. which becomes Rt. 108, follow it to the end, lighthouse is straight ahead but on private property.  
ReferencesGeorge's of Galilee
            The Towers, Narragansett
            Narragansett, RI - Official Site    

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