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Narragansett Bay, full of history, charm, and natural beauty

Updated on September 4, 2011
Dianemae profile image

I am a retired special needs teacher who still wants to learn. I enjoy researching and finding interesting facts to share in my writing.

Exploring The West Passage

Narragansett Bay is surrounded by Newport, Portsmouth, Jamestown, Bristol, Wickford and many other towns. It is home to the America’s Cup sailing races, home to the longest celebrated July 4th parade, a haven for art festivals and safe port for boaters of all expertise. The bay is New England’s largest estuary and includes a small archipelago. Well, what exactly does that mean?

An estuary is that part of the mouth of a river that runs into the sea tide. An archipelago is any large bay of water that also has many islands. With more than 30 islands, it is well qualified as an archipelago. The three largest islands include Conanicut, Prudence and Aquidneck. Aquidneck includes Portsmouth, Newport and Middleton, this area has been well documented in travel magazines with mansions, beaches, colleges, and the tennis hall of fame. These sites are all located in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, and it will be the West Passage I will be exploring with you.

You Probably Own a Gilbert Stuart Orginial

But before we venture down the east side, let’s make a quick stop in Jamestown. Jamestown is the home of a famous artist named, Gilbert Stuart. He was born in Saunderstown which was once part of Jamestown. He has many painting including one of George Washington that hangs in the East room of the White House. You also have one of his paintings, but you keep giving it away. Gilbert Stuart painted the portrait of George Washington that is on the one dollar bill.

Heading North towards Providence via the west passage we spot the Beavertail Light. This lighthouse is the third oldest of the Colonies, following Boston Harbor and Nantucket Brant Point. The lighthouse is located on Conanicut Island. The island was divided into 12 large plots. The plot in the Southern corner was owner by Benedict Arnold. He was the great-grandfather of the general and traitor of the American Revolution.

The first lighthouse was wooden and fueled by whale oil. It was destroyed by fire July 22, 1753, and rebuilt several times. The hurricane of 1938 tore up the ground in front of the light and revealed a stone foundation believed to be the first light. In 2008, a radar survey of the foundation discovered the first light was an octagonal shape not circular as original thought.

Reliving History

The first harbor on the right is Dutch Harbor on Dutch Island. In 1625 the Dutch West India Trading Company was located here, hence the name. During the Civil War, the 14th Regiment of Heavy Artillery was stationed at Fort Greble. The fort was built after the Spanish-American War and was named for Lt. John L. Greble. Lt. Greble was the first West Point graduate who was killed in the United States Civil War. The fort was used as German prisoner-of-war camp during WWI and WWII.

Gun batteries were placed on Dutch Island after the Civil War. On April 2, 1912, Corporal William W. Lee was loading the morning reveille gun. The normal load was 4oz to 8 tablespoons of black powder. Corporal Lee loaded two pounds of the wrong powder. When he pulled the lanyard to discharge the ceremonial gun to awake the troops, all the island was awakened. His wounds were fatal.

We will travel under the Jamestown/Verrazano Bridge; go past Plum Beach Lighthouse, past Fox Island and towards Wickford Harbor. Wickford is an old quaint town that plays host to a huge art festival. The oldest plantation in the country can be visited in Wickford. The plantation was the home of Richard Smith and is now known as Smith Castle. The plantation holds the distinction of being the location of the only hanging, drawn and quartered killing for reason of treason.

Plenty of Events to See

Greenwich Bay was the home for John Brown. John Brown built the “Providence” in 1768. The ship was the first warship to sail under American Navy. The ship was commanded by John Paul Jones and fought in 60 battles, capturing 40 British ship.

Narragansett Bay is 28 miles long. Prudence Island is considered the center of the bay. There are many other beautiful homes, historical sites and beaches for all to explore. Boaters will find mooring and marines along both sides of the passage. Various events, festivals, musical and comedy entertainment are scheduled through out the year. It is well worth checking local listings to see if your vacation coordinates with any events.


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      Dianemae 6 years ago

      Husky1970-- sitting here in Oaks Bluffs reading your comment. Great area to go sailing and just be around.. Glad you enjoyed the article.

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      Husky1970 6 years ago

      Narragansett Bay is definitely an interesting body of water. I don't live far from the upper Bay towns of Bristol, Barrington, and Warren and spent quite a bit of time in the lower Bay at Bonnet Shores as a kid. Now we cross Buzzard's Bay regularly to get to Martha's Vineyard. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. We will definitely be taking our annual fall trip to southern RI again this year.