A watchtower and beacon were first installed at Watch Hill in Westerly around 1745, giving the Watch Hill area its name. After the tower was destroyed in a storm, Thomas Jefferson signed an act in 1806 to erect a full-scale lighthouse at Watch Hill. Completed in 1807, the 35-foot-tall Watch Hill lighthouse, constructed of wood, was the second built in Rhode Island after Beavertail in Jamestown. To prevent destruction of the tower by erosion, it was replaced in 1856 with a square granite lighthouse further inland. A two-story keeper's house was built that same year along with a granite seawall that encircled the property.
The lighthouse alone could not prevent all mishaps from occurring along Westerly's treacherous shores. In 1872, the steamer Metis, traveling to Providence, collided with a schooner. At first it was believed the damage wasn't serious, but less than a mile from Watch Hill the Metis began to sink. Local residents saved 33 people, but about 130 others aboard the Metis lost their lives. A U.S. Life Saving Service Station was established a few years later at Watch Hill.
During the Hurricane of 1938, lighthouse keeper Lawrence Congdon reported that waves broke over the top of the lighthouse, smashing the lantern glass, damaging the lamp and sending seawater into the tower. Congdon and his assistant keeper, Richard Frick, weathered the storm, but it took several weeks to repair the damages.
The light was automated in 1986 and the Fresnel lens replaced with a modern optical lens. The lighthouse and all buildings are leased to the Watch Hill Lightkeepers Association.
1. Main Street Boat Ramp
This site is located on the Pawcatuck River between Union Street and School Street. This state-owned concrete boat launch, in excellent condition, is located upriver from the Margin Street Launch. Ample parking is available for vehicles and trailers.
Handicap access, fishing
2. Viking Marina
Located off Margin Street on the tidal portion of the Pawcatuck River, the Viking Marina is privately owned but has one small boat ramp available for public use. The ramp is 10 to 12 feet wide and public parking is located one-half mile away. A restaurant and store are located on the premises. Fee.
Dock, toilets, trash receptacles
3. Margin Street Launch
Located on the right as you pull into Westerly Marina, the Margin Street Launch is a town boat ramp and restricted to use by town residents. Parking is available on site for 15 to 20 cars with trailers.
4. River Bend Cemetery
With an entrance at the corner of Beach (Route 1A) and Hubbard streets, this beautiful old cemetery along the Pawcatuck River consists of rolling lawns, trees, and interesting gravestones. Although not an ideal site for access to the river, this area offers many great views and excellent birding. Incorporated in 1844, the cemetery's ornate monuments and gravestones are examples of the fine granite quarried in Westerly more than a century ago. Park on interior roads only.
5. Frank Hall Boat Yard
This boatyard and marina facility is located on India Point Road and offers a dock. Parking is available. Fee.
Toilets, trash receptacles
6. Lotteryville Marina
Believed to be the oldest in the nation, this marina is located on Avondale Road on the Pawcatuck River and is privately owned. A boat ramp is available to nonmembers only on weekdays only due to a lack of parking on the weekends. Parking is limited. Fee.
Dock, trash receptacles
7. Watch Hill Boatyard
Located on Pasadena Avenue, this site offers public access to the Pawcatuck River (Colonel Willie Cove). Ramp, moorings, and transient slips are available for a fee. Open year round, it is busy, and sometimes full, on summer weekends. Parking is available for a fee.
8. Watch Hill Dock
Off Bay Street, on the edge of Watch Hill Harbor, a small park with six benches offers a great opportunity to stroll or sit and observe the harbor activity. The municipal dock is also available for picking up or dropping off boaters just over the seawall. Limited parking is available.
Handicap access, historic interest, trash receptacles
9. Napatree Point Conservation Area
At the southwestern tip of Rhode Island, a long sandy spit separates Little Narragansett Bay from the ocean. Napatree Point is owned, maintained, and managed primarily by the Watch Hill Fire District. It offers a mile-long walk along the sandy spit either on the beach face or on the nature trails. This area is one of the most important migratory shorebird stopover points on the East Coast and provides a foraging area for wading birds and year-round habitat for a variety of species. There are spectacular hawk, songbird, and monarch butterfly flights in autumn. The area also offers excellent fishing from the rocky shore near the ruined fort at the far end of the point. Napatree Point is accessible from two paved parking lots on Bay Street.
Swimming, historic interest, trash receptacles
10. Watch Hill Lighthouse
Two-tenths of a mile from the intersection of Bluff Avenue and Larkin Road, this 1856 granite lighthouse sits at the end of a private road. Vehicle access is restricted to local residents, senior citizens, and handicapped persons by special arrangement. Although entrance to the lighthouse is prohibited, on a clear day, the driveway past the gate offers a picturesque view of Napatree Point, the Watch Hill mansions, and Block Island to the east. No parking is available.
Picnicking, fishing, trash receptacles
11. Bluff Avenue
This right-of-way offers a 500-foot path that leads to a long stretch of sandy beach. Just east of Watch Hill Lighthouse, beautiful views of the mansions, rocky cliff faces, and Block Island can be seen. No parking is available.
CRMC ROW#: A-2 (on appeal)
12. Manatuck Avenue
Located at the road end of Manatuck Avenue, this right-of-way provides easy access to an extensive sandy beach. It is well marked, but no parking is available on site.
CRMC ROW#: A-3 (on appeal)
13. Misquamicut State Beach
Located on the south side of Atlantic Avenue, Misquamicut Beach is Rhode Island's largest state-owned beach with 3,600 feet of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean. The parking lot is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Public changing facilities, parking, bathrooms, and changing rooms for the handicapped are available. The beach is part of 102 acres of state-owned land that also borders Winnapaug Pond. Fee.
Handicap access, picnic tables/benches, concessions, hiking/walking, trash receptacles
14. New Westerly Town Beach
Located on both sides of Atlantic Avenue, in close proximity to Misquamicut State Beach, this 3.12-acre town-owned property contains almost 300 feet of beach frontage and is open to the general public. Changing rooms are available. This stretch of beach is popular with surfers, who are encouraged to visit during summer evenings and off-season to minimize conflicts with other beachgoers and sunbathers. Parking is available.
Concessions, toilets, trash receptacles
15. Atlantic Avenue #7
This right-of-way is located adjacent to Pole 72 and is a 12-foot-wide sandy path extending from Atlantic Avenue to the beach. No parking is permitted on Atlantic Avenue. This marked path is very accessible to the public.
CRMC ROW#: A-11
16. Atlantic Avenue #9
This right-of-way to the beach is located within Atlantic Beach Park on Atlantic Avenue, adjacent to Pole 91. It is a 12-foot-wide marked path extending south from Atlantic Avenue over a paved parking area and a short stretch of sand to the beach.
CRMC ROW#: A-13
17. Atlantic Avenue #2
This right-of-way is located between Poles 46 and 47 and is a 12-foot-wide sandy path extending south from Atlantic Avenue to the beach. No parking is permitted on Atlantic Avenue. A sign denotes the path location.
CRMC ROW#: A-7
18. Westerly Town Beach
Located south of Atlantic Avenue, this town-owned beach consists of approximately 10 acres with 550 feet of ocean frontage. The beach pavilion has showers, bathrooms, lifeguards, first aid, and a food concession stand. The beach is restricted to Westerly taxpayers. Parking for the beach is available at two parking lots with a total of 400 spaces. Handicapped bathrooms and parking are available. From the bathhouse, there is a nice view of Winnapaug Pond to the north. Fee.
Handicap access, picnic tables/benches, hiking/walking, trash receptacles
19. Atlantic Avenue #1
This right-of-way near Pole 54 is a 12-foot-wide sandy path extending south from Atlantic Avenue to the beach. No parking is permitted on Atlantic Avenue. A sign denotes the path location.
CRMC ROW#: A-6
20. Weekapaug Breachway
Located at the corner of Atlantic and Wawaloam avenues, this state-managed fishing area offers parking on both sides of the breachway. There are concrete stairways built into the rocks at three different locations on each side of the breachway that serve as ideal areas to sit and fish.
21. Weekapaug Point Overlook
Located on Spring Avenue, this scenic site overlooks a rocky, exposed portion of the coast. Limited excursions down onto the rocky beach are possible, tide and weather permitting. Parking is limited.
Fishing, wildlife observation
22. Quonochontaug Conservation Area
Quonochontaug Beach is one of the few remaining undeveloped, privately owned barrier beaches in Rhode Island. The Quonochontaug Beach Conservation Commission (QBCC), an umbrella organization of the Nopes Island Association, Weekapaug Fire District, Shelter Harbor Fire District, and Shady Harbor Fire District, manages the area. Swimming areas with lifeguards are restricted to property owners and require a pass. The QBCC allows the public to park at this site during specified times, primarily off-season, and to gain access to the beach and pond via well-marked sand trails. A pamphlet of regulations and guidelines for use of the site is available from the QBCC.
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