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Watch Hill, Rhode Island | A Beach Resort Town and Carousel that Echoes a Simpler Time

Updated on September 2, 2012

© Copyright 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway with all rights reserved.

It seems that I can never get enough of the beach. The sound of the crashing waves, the scent of the salty ocean air, the possibility of jumping in the waves or taking an endless walk along the sand, all seem to call my name. When I moved to Connecticut and away from the endless beaches that Long Island, New York used to provide me in the summers of my life, I was worried. Would I be happy living farther away from the ocean? Might I find an equivalent beach experience near my new home? Since moving to CT, I have been on a hunt for a beach that could compare or out-do my beloved Long Island beaches.

When a friend mentioned Watch Hill, Rhode Island suggesting that it was a favorite beach resort of hers, I decided to add it to my summer vacation plans. Each summer, since I have lived in CT, I explore a new beach as part of my quest to duplicate my Long Island beach experience, so this summer “Watch Hill” was the destination for my family.

After packing the car with an overstuffed picnic basket, boogie boards and other beach must haves, we drove a couple of hours to Watch Hill. Just before entering the main town we passed by an affluent residential area, then as the town came into view we could see a marina and then the main street, which is filled with an array of eclectic and high-end shops and a great variety of restaurants. The beach entrance is right within the town.

We parked our car and entered the beach. There are showers and bathrooms and the shore is a very short distance from the entrance. After settling down and playing in the waves we headed out on an exploratory walk.

Watch Hill Lighthouse Station was established in 1808.
Watch Hill Lighthouse Station was established in 1808.
The seemingly endless beach front
The seemingly endless beach front

This is when the true beauty of Watch Hill revealed itself to us; the only access to this section of beach is by foot. There are trails that wind back and forth between the ocean side of the beach and the inlet side where there are boats and sea life to find and when you turn back and gaze at the quaint New England architecture you have a perfect postcard view from all angles. The beach out did my expectations.

A trail leading us to the inlet side
A trail leading us to the inlet side
Ancestors of horseshoe crabs date back over 450 million years
Ancestors of horseshoe crabs date back over 450 million years

The Flying Carousel

Built in 1867 and originally pulled by two men turning cranks, this carousel has been run continuously and has even survived a devastating hurricane in 1938. The speed of the ride causes the horses to swing out on their rods hence the Flying Horse Carousel. The horses were originally carved as rocking horses but when sales dropped off during the civil war, they were adapted for use on carousels.

On our way out I promised my kids that they could ride the carousel that sits beside the entrance to the beach. It turned out that the carousel had a story of its own. It is the oldest continuously running carousel in the U.S. While riding the hanging ponies, children can reach out and try to catch a silver or gold ring on one side of the carousel as it spins around, the child that catches the coveted golden ring earns a free ride. Children and on looking parents alike, love this carousel and storybooks have even been written about it. My son managed to get the golden ring and now his memories of this magical day will last a lifetime. While watching my son ride around the carousel in pure delight, I overheard a teenager standing next to me telling her friend that this carousel “was the best ride she ever went on as a child.” I think that says it all.


Reaching out to grab a ring
Reaching out to grab a ring

Catching the Brass Ring

In the early days each rider was equipped with a sword to pierce the rings held in the long metal slot, today riders reach out to hook the rings with their fingers.

Publications about Flying Carousel include: Around and Around, by Harriet Moore, The Runaway Flying Horse by Paul Jaques Bonzon and The Brass Ring by Nancy Tafuri.

Watch Hill was in fact a gem in that it offers so much in such close proximity, including natural beach exploration, shops, restaurants, historic hotels and a carousel with a story that will be remembered by all who have allowed it to capture their hearts.

Celebrity and History

Clark Gable, Groucho Marx, Henry Ford, and Douglas Fairbanks were among those who vacationed here.

A watchtower and a simple beacon were first established at Watch Hill by the Rhode Island colonial government around 1745, giving the area its name, and earlier the point may have been used as a lookout by the Narragansett Indians. The watchtower and beacon were destroyed in a 1781 storm.

A
Watch Hill, RI:
Watch Hill, Westerly, RI 02891, USA

get directions

Ocean House is an historical hotel situated in Watch Hill that originally opened in 1868
Ocean House is an historical hotel situated in Watch Hill that originally opened in 1868

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    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      5 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Travelholiday,

      I am so glad that you enjoyed the hub and the images. This was really a great beach to visit so I am glad that it translated into this hub.

      Best,

      Tracy

    • travelholidays profile image

      travelholidays 

      5 years ago from India

      Awesome Hub!!!! The beach rule image is very nice to read :) Your images are very cool. Thanks for sharing

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      5 years ago from Virginia, USA

      ElleBee - So glad to find a Watch Hill Fan in the midst of HubPages. I suppose it is a right of passage to grow too tall to ride the flying horses. I didn't know about the ice cream parlor, ice cream would make Watch Hill even more idyllic. I will have to look for it when I go again, thank you.

      Best, Tracy

    • profile image

      ElleBee 

      5 years ago

      Beautiful hub! My family has been vacationing in Westerly for about 15 years, and though we usually go to the beach down on Atlantic Ave. we also make trips into Watch Hill!! I still remember being absolutely crushed the summer I was too tall to ride the flying horses :(. The only thing you forgot to mention is icecream from St. Clair Annex! No trip to Watch Hill is complete without an icecream cone :)

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      BWD316, It is a shame that all of those homes were washed away, but it is also nice that the nature preserve is open to the public. How fun it is to be able to see three states! You have so much great knowledge on the area. I look forward to reading your work on the topic. Thank you!

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 

      6 years ago from Connecticut

      I love Watch Hill, a few friends and I stumbled upon it on a day trip to Misquamicut. Watch Hill is so much better, especially the long stretch of beach you mention. I believe it's called Napatree point and is part nature preserve. One of the best beaches I’ve been to in New England! I love the stretch and the dunes, that fact the ocean (actually Block Island sound) and the inlet behind the dunes. It feels like you’re out on a deserted island! It’s great that you can see three states too! Fisher's Island to your southeast, which is New York, Connecticut to the west, and of course you’re in Rhode Island. Another fun fact is that stretch of beach use to be all beach homes but after the Hurricane of 1938, every single one of them was washed away! There are some cool pictures online of the area and I wrote a hub about the storm and books on it. I even found a cool old postcard about the hurricane in the used bookstore on the main street right by the beach. It's an awesome place to go! Great hub voted up!

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Hi IZeko, This beach resort town was overflowing with New England charm. I am glad you like the photos, Thank you!

    • iZeko profile image

      iZeko 

      6 years ago

      Beautiful place! Your photos make me want to be on the beach right now!

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      @Vissitor- You have a whole year to plan which bathing suit you will wear to this quaint beach resort town:) Thank you for your comment and votes, they are very appreciated!

    • vissitor profile image

      vissitor 

      6 years ago from Sonoma Valley, California

      Informative and great photos! Makes me want to head to the East Coast next summer. Thanks! Voted up and beautiful, Tracy.

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      @Husky1970- It is nice to know places like this still exist. Thank so much for your comment and votes!

      @SummerSurf- It is beautiful. Thank you for your vote.

      @Outbound Dan - It is a fantastic destination. Glad you liked the pictures.

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 

      6 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Looks fantastic! Love the pictures.

    • SummerSurf profile image

      SummerSurf 

      6 years ago

      Looks very beautiful. Voted up. Lovely pics.

    • profile image

      Husky1970 

      6 years ago

      I love Watch Hill. It is very quaint and, as you have suggested, it is a trip back in time. Nice hub. Voted up and beautiful.

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