For thousands of travelers intent on reaching the busy streets of Newport, Conanicut Island is just a mile-long strip of highway bookended by two bridges.
Fields and woods are all they ever see of one of Narragansett Bay’s most beautiful islands — and that’s just fine by the few thousand people who call it home. But for cruisers who want to avoid the bustle of Newport Harbor and the intrepid few who pause in their headlong rush down the highway, Jamestown’s quiet beauty is a reminder of times past.
The 9-mile-long island — roughly oriented north/south — was defined by the glaciers that formed Narragansett Bay more than 12,000 years ago. Rocky outcroppings to the south, where Beavertail Light is located, remind many of the Maine coast, and that southern “tail,” tenuously attached by a low beach to the rest of the island, is graced by many subtly majestic summer homes whose lush green lawns sweep toward the bay.
In 1873, the town of Jamestown commissioned a steam-powered ferry to transit the East Passage of Narragansett Bay so that Jamestown’s farmers could deliver their produce and livestock to Newport. Jamestown briefly became a tourist destination, and the area near and around the ferry landing boasted luxurious hotels, where ladies and gentlemen sat on covered porches and watched Navy ships, the grand steam ferries that ran between New York and the bay, and the Newport summer colonists’ yachts sail by.
But the Great Depression quelled that brief era and the 1938 New England hurricane, which caused horrific damage in Narragansett Bay, put paid to Jamestown’s try at tourism. Even attachment to the mainland and Aquidneck Island by bridges in 1935 and in 1969, respectively, did not raise Jamestown from its peaceful slumber. There’s not a single stoplight on the island, and cruisers moored in Dutch Harbor on the west side stroll quiet streets on their way “downtown,” where ice cream shops, a true old-fashioned hardware store and a handful of restaurants await those who’ve paused in their sprint to busier locales.
Photos by Michael Egan
October 2012 issue