Road Trip around Rhode Island • July 22, 2017
If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you’ll know there are a number of goals we have of things to see or do in each state. The main ones are, in no particular order: hike to the highest point, see Peter Toth’s Whispering Giant statue, visit the National Park sites, and enter in to every county. Aside from that, we usually have a few other things we like to see, such as state capitol buildings, places of historical significance, beautiful places in nature, or interesting attractions. We know it’ll take a long time to complete all these goals, and even then we probably won’t feel like we’ve “done it all”, but it’s always fun to have something to work towards together and look forward to!
Before this weekend, we had “hiked” to Rhode Island’s high point, visited 3 out of 5 counties (Curtis had been to 4), and visited beautiful Newport twice — once this summer, once in 2015. Since we are living so close to the border and Rhode Island is the smallest state, we reasoned it would be relatively easy to knock out the rest of our goals in one road trip.
We started our Saturday bright and early by driving to Providence. On the way, I got my 4th county, leaving one left for both of us. Once we arrived in Providence, we parked at the Roger Williams National Historic Site downtown to begin our walking tour. At 8:30, the visitor center wasn’t open yet, so we started by walking down the riverfront and around the capitol building. The city was quiet on this Saturday morning, which was precisely why we started our day so early. When traveling to bigger cities, we find it best to start walking around downtown as early as possible. All we really want to do is see the highlights and cool architecture, since we have Charlotte with us we can’t go inside museums so waiting until those places open isn’t a concern. The only people around the capitol building were a group of women working out (which was exactly what happened when we visited South Carolina’s capitol building in Columbia last year). After making a full loop around the capitol and admiring it from all angles, we returned to the National Historic Site.
Rhode Island only has two National Park sites, and conveniently, they are both in downtown Providence. The first is the Blackstone River Valley NHP, a collection of historic sites following the Blackstone River from Worchester, MA to where it enters Narragansett Bay in Providence. Specifically, in Providence the park centers on the Blackstone Canal.
The second Rhode Island park is the Roger Williams National Memorial. The physical park is little more than an industrial park converted to a city park. Rather, as the name implies, the park is a Memorial to Roger Williams and the ‘experiment’ of Rhode Island. Roger Williams, an Anglican minister during the 1600’s, followed the Puritan movement to Massachusetts. While operating in his ministerial role, Williams eventually became more and more of a separatist (Puritan’s who believed they should break from the Anglican Church completely and the predecessor to the Baptist movement). The Bay Colony was not prepared to take such ‘radical’ steps and banished him.
In 1636, Williams fled to the North end of the Narragansett Bay where he negotiated a land deal with the local Narragansett Natives and founded the colony of Providence. The colony was founded upon the ideas of Separation of Civil and Theological authority, Freedom of Religion, and general Libertine principles. These ideas would be largely implemented 150 years later during the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Once we were satisfied with our time walking around Providence, it was time to move on to complete our next goal: driving through our last county in Rhode Island! Bristol County, the third smallest county in the US, is difficult to get if you don’t have a reason to visit one of the smaller towns. We looked into things we could do in the county, but the only thing that kind of interested us was a state park, but it was more of a beach park with fees so we skipped it today. We designed our road trip specifically to go through the county on different back roads and loop back through Newport and Jamestown. Our requirement for county counting is only to enter the county, so we succeeded in that today! Rhode Island is the 4th state in which we’ve been able to visit every county. (Arizona, South Carolina, and New Hampshire are the others, as well as Prince Edward Island in Canada!)
We had already visited Newport and weren’t interested in entering the heavily trafficked touristy area, but we still stopped in Middletown to search for a letterbox. We were unsuccessful at that, but still enjoyed walking around in Prospect Park and seeing Boyd’s Wind Grist Mill, which was built in 1810 and remains one of only two remaining windmills of over 30+ on Aquidneck Island, and one of a very few eight vaned mills in existence. It was such a nice day and we were alone here, so we decided to sit down and enjoy a little picnic here before moving on.
Knowing that we had enjoyed Jamestown Island so much on our last visit to Rhode Island, we decided to drive over there and do some more letterboxing and exploring. Once crossing the Pell Bridge, we drove North on the island to see if we could visit a lighthouse, but found it was on private property so we turned around and went South. Our first stop was at Conanicut Battery National Historic Park (which, despite its name, is not part of the National Parks system).
Just like the ports of Charleston and New London, Narragansett Bay needed to be defended during the Revolutionary War. The mouth of the bay is divided into three segments by Aquidneck and Conanicut islands, the Western and central arm (called the Western and Eastern Passage) are deep enough for large ships to navigate and therefore needed to be defended.
Prior to the start of the Revolution, defense of the bay was limited to one fort right off the coast of Newport. But with the beginning of the war, the Americans built three batteries on neighboring Conanicut Island. Defending the Eastern channel was Conanicut Fort, to the West was Conanicut Battery, and Beaver Tail Fort at the tip of the island. The defenses were rudimentary though, and in December 1776, the British captured Beaver Tail and Conanciut Battery and were able to capture Newport by sailing through the Western Passage. The British would remain in control of Newport until October 1779 when they abandoned the city and French forces took over.
Through the 19th Century, more permanent forts and batteries were established among the islands, most prominent among them being Fort Adams during the Third System of forts. On Conanicut Island, Conanicut and Beaver Tail Forts were rebuilt as Fort Wethrill during the Endicott Era and during WWI, Conanicut Battery was reestablished as a group of observation posts.
Today we were able to follow a letterbox series around a short loop trail showing off both the Revolutionary earth works and the WWI observation bunkers.
After this hike, the heat and humidity were starting to get to us, so what better place to go than the coast? We returned to Beavertail State Park to explore a bit more. This time we walked around the East side of the lighthouse along the rocky coast where the concrete remains of that fort are still visible.
Once content with our ocean time, we finished our time on the island by driving to Fort Wethrill. Unlike the other Endicott fortifications we had seen near Beaufort, SC, Fort Wethrill was much more overgrown, graffitied and today, the location of a rather expansive airsoft battle. This cut our visit short to stay out of the action.
Our final stop on our “Rhode Trip” was to complete the last of our goals: visit the Whispering Giant statue! Giant #42 is located in Narragansett in a city park. Traffic was heavy on the South side of town with everyone headed to the beach, but we were alone in the park and found both the giant and the letterbox. Hurray, we’ve met all our goals in another state! Of course this doesn’t mean we won’t ever visit again, Rhode Island is beautiful, and who’s to say we won’t come up with other silly goals? We had a great time driving all around the smallest state, and we finished the day with the best dessert we’ve had in a while: Not ice cream for once, no, it was a german chocolate cake! Rest, my beating heart.