You’ll find Watch Hill at Rhode Island’s most southwestern point. The area also has a small peninsula called Napatree Point. This affluent coastal village gained popularity as an exclusive summer resort during the late 19th and early 20th century. Since then, families have built numerous cottages along the coast. Watch Hill has a convenient location, only two hour’s drive to Boston and three to New York City.
The History of Watch Hill
During the 17th century, Watch Hill was occupied by the Niantic American Indians. During the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, colonists made use of the region as a vital look-out point, which is how the area got its current name. There are a number of landmarks and points of historical interest in the area including the Watch Hill Lighthouse, Fort Mansfield, the Ocean House Hotel, and the Flying Horse Carousel.
Things to See and Do in Watch Hill
The ruins of Fort Mansfield have been drawing history buffs for decades. This old artillery post is situated on Napatree Point. It was one of several forts built for the protection of the entrance to Long Island Sound during the 1898 war between America and Spain. Although the land was sold in 1926, and the government buildings demolished, three gun towers remain today and offer visitors underground rooms and tunnels to explore.
Watch Hill Lighthouse
Built in 1745 by the Rhode Island colonial government, Watch Hill lighthouse has a long and interesting history. A vicious storm destroyed the original tower in 1781, and the new lighthouse was constructed in 1806. Just over two decades later, a revolving light was installed to prevent Watch Hill being mistaken for Connecticut’s Stonington Harbor Light. Cliff erosion led to the lighthouse becoming unstable, and it was moved back from the bluff in 1855.The current lighthouse, opened the following year, is 45 feet tall.
Despite its imposing stance, Watch Hill Lighthouse has seen several shipwrecks. One of the first recorded took place in 1872; the unfortunate vessel was the steamship Metis. The disaster killed 130 passengers and crew. Captain Jared Crandell, who was the lighthouse keeper at the time, was given the Congressional Gold Medal the following year, for his heroic rescue service. In 1897, his widow became Watch Hill’s first female lighthouse keeper.
In 1907, Watch Hill saw another maritime disaster when the Larchmont steamer ran into a schooner. The accident was responsible for the deaths of more than 200 passengers and crew members.
In 1986, Watch Hill was completely automated and leased to the Watch Hill Lightkeepers Association.
Ocean House Hotel
If you’re looking for a luxury vacation in Rhode Island that will combine all the amenities of today with the comfort of yesteryear, the Ocean Hotel is the place to be. As well as elegant accommodations including standard guest rooms, deluxe guest rooms, and grand deluxe guest rooms, the hotel is also home to the Oh! Spa. The fitness and wellness spa offers a sumptuous menu of skin, hair and nail treatments. The hotel’s cuisine will not disappoint. With five talented, specialty chefs in charge of each culinary event, every meal at the Ocean House is a mouthwatering delight.
The Flying Horse Carousel
This is one of the two carousels in Rhode Island that were specifically designed at National Landmarks. It is not only the oldest carousel in the United States, but it is also unique because the horses are not bolted to the floor, but are suspended from an overhead frame, allowing them to swing outwards when the carousel is in motion. Each of the twenty horses is intricately hand-carved and has real manes and tails, agate eyes and a leather saddle. The Flying Horse Carousel was brought to Watch Hill in 1883.
Watch Hill Inn
Established in 1845, Watch Hill Inn encapsulated New England charm and grace. Back then, it was known as the Narragansett House and was owned and run by Nathan Nash, the lighthouse keeper’s son. The inn sits atop a hill, and with its raised foundation it is 75 feet above sea level. Some of the Inn’s most famous guest included Henry Ford, Clark Gable, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. By the close of the 19th century, the inn was one of a handful of luxury hotels overlooking the water’s edge. But when a hurricane tore through in 1938, the area was devastated and changed forever. However, in 1985, singer Dana Valery Catalano and her architect husband brought the inn and gave it a new lease of life. Since then, it has been renovated twice, one in 2006, and again in 2013. Today, it continues to provide unsurpassable service and hospitality.
Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory
Join the team at Frosty Drew on Friday nights for a stargazing extravaganza. See the phases of Venus, Saturn’s rings, and the Andromeda Galaxy. The event starts at 6 p.m. or sunset (whichever is later), and the cost is just a $1 donation. That’s not all Frosty Drew has to offer. The nature center hosts educational events as well as nature weeks; fun alternatives to day camp for kids.
B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill
This cider mill has been family-owned and operated since 1881. It is now run by the 6th generation of the Clyde family, who are dedicated to making cider just as their ancestors did all those years ago. Visitors can step back in time at the mill and see the only steam-powered cider mill in the United States. The season starts each September when the Clyde family gets busy making hard ciders, jams, apple wines, local honey, fudge, and maple syrup. Not to mention their apple pies and pumpkin bread.
It doesn’t matter whether you are visiting Watch Hill for a vacation, or you plan to stay longer, you will fall in love with the picturesque scenery and the friendly residents. You’ll also enjoy all the available amenities from elegant places to stay and great shopping to fine dining and fun for all the family. Why not see Watch Hill from a new perspective by taking a helicopter tour?