Often referred to just as Napatree, Napatree Point is located in Rhode Island. It is a long, narrow, sandy spit which was formed by a geological process known as longshore drift, which is a process in which sediments of shingle, silt, sand, and clay is transported along the coast and forms a bank parallel to the shoreline.
Until the hurricane in 1938, Napatree Point had the formation of a crescent moon and was also comprised of a 1.5-mile northern outcrop called Sandy Point. Today, Napatree stretched 1.5 miles to the west from Watch Hill’s business district, forming a protected harbor.
The Great September Gale
It is believed that the name Napatree means nape or neck of trees. The area was once densely wooded, but then the Great September Gale of 1815 devastated the region, and most of the trees were destroyed. The gale is one of five severe hurricanes to hit New England since 1635. When it struck, the category three hurricane was the first tow strike New England in almost two centuries. The Great September Gale not only caused severe damage to Long Island, but it also hit Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Rhode Island bore the brunt of the damage. Storm surges flood regions from Narragansett Bay to Providence. The hurricane struck Rhode Island around 10 a.m. on September 23rd and in a period of about two hours it destroyed more than 500 homes and 35 ships. After the deluge, many of Providence’s residents looked out of their windows to see ships lining the streets. The financial loss added up to around 1.5 million dollars, at the time that was a quarter of the city’s total value. Rhode Island residents learned their lesson from the hurricane. When the Narragansett Bay area was reconstructed, it was fortified with raised wharfs, higher riverbanks, and stronger buildings to protect against future severe storms.
Napatree Point History
The U.S. Federal government purchased 60 acres around the bend of Napatree in 1898. Thereupon they built a coastal fort for the purpose of protecting the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound. Named Fort Mansfield, the artillery installation began operating in 1901. Only six years later, during a series of artillery practices, a fatal design flaw was discovered, and the fort was retired as an active post.
In 1926, the stretch of land was put up for sale, and a developer from New York made a bid to subdivide the Sandy Point region into 674 lots. However, the cut-price houses were never constructed, thanks to a mobilization of private residents from Watch Hill who were determined to protect their town’s charter. Sale of the land was finalized in 1928. At that time all the remaining buildings at Fort Mansfield were demolished. Today, the remains of three concrete gum ramparts can still be seen. The syndicate of private residents were, unfortunately, unable to meet their mortgage payments, and the land was foreclosed upon in 1931.
The hurricane of 1938 was disastrous for Napatree. Of the forty-two people who were in their Napatree homes when the storm struck, fifteen lost their lives. The hurricane destroyed all of the homes on Napatree Point and even demolished one of the Fort Mansfield gun emplacements. The storm also caused a number of breachways in the spit, two of these cause Sandy Point to break away from Napatree. Today, Sandy Point is an islet in Little Narragansett Bay. As well as the effects of the hurricane of 1938, sea erosion has caused Napatree Point’s coastline to retreat by around 200 feet since the late 1930s.
Today, Napatree Point is home to a popular public beach and a nature preserve protected by the Watch Hill Conservancy. Wardens protect the area’s wildlife and natural habitats. Napatree is home of many species of animals and birds including fox, deer, and ospreys. It is also home to the protected piping plover, which is a federally endangered species. Napatree is also a resting ground for many species of migratory birds.