Historic Hindsight

Harrington, master showman


Colonel Harrington announced hat he would keep the site as a summer resort and would add amusements so that that Warwick park would rival that of Coney Island. Harrington leased the park in 1888, and by 1900 his flair for the business had already made him the most popular resort proprietor in New England. He advertised extensively and drew customers from as far away as Maine and Canada. The excitement of going to Rocky Point was so great that often excursions of hundreds arrived accompanied by their own bands. During the height of the season, trolley cars ran from Providence every five minutes, and boats came into the wharf on an hourly basis.

One of the most heralded was the Rocky Point Clam Dinner. These dinners were so popular that over a hundred bushels of clams a day were consumed and, under Harrington, the Shore Dinner Hall was enlarged to a seating capacity of 2,500. One of the most memorable clambakes was that held for the 40th reunion of the Army of the Potomac in 1904, when over 250 veterans and their guests came from all areas of the United States.

Advertising brochures in 1913 pointed out, “In short, Rocky Point is a park of eighty-nine acres bristling with attractions at every turn, so varied that everyone finds his favorite recreation as so tremendous in extent that with a throng of 75,000 people on the grounds there is still room for many thousands more.” In the early 1900s, the park had a large bandstand on the Midway, a “New Carousel” with “four rows of jumping horses,” and an $8,000 organ, “largest and finest in America, which produced the effect of a 60-piece band.”

Under Harrington’s leadership, Rocky Point always presented something new and exciting and catered to many different interests and tastes, from opera presentations to the latest vaudeville acts. For those whose love for baseball was great, Harrington arranged for the Providence Grays to play their Sunday home games at the park’s baseball diamond. Here, on almost any Sunday, a thousand spectators would pack the bleachers and grandstand to watch the Grays create baseball history. The Rocky Point Ball Grounds were also available for field sports or contests of any kind, and this was a major attraction for ethnic groups and mill-sponsored teams.

Oakland Beach had the country’s first “aquatic toboggan,” the forerunner of the modern “flume,” and this was one of the major attractions. During the early years of the 20th century, a number of well-built cottages began to appear. D. Russell Brown, a wealthy Providence businessman who had been governor of Rhode Island from 1892-95, led the way for the real estate development of the area.

The beach was well-maintained and many enjoyed bathing at Front Beach and Brush Neck Cove. Bathing was still not popular, as many feared that total immersion in water was harmful. For those who dared, however, there were bathing suits suitable for wearing at the shore. They were one-piece suits, with sleeves, that reached to the knees. The women’s suits also had skirts.

Warwick’s shore line, now easily accessible by trolley, offered attractions for all, from the mill workers to the very wealthy. While the trains, steamboats and trolleys were bringing many to Warwick’s amusement parks, they were also taking tourists to Warwick’s campgrounds. Long noted for its summer hotels and tourist homes, Warwick’s summer campgrounds became famous. One of these was Cole Camp, located between present-day Hoxsie Four Corners and Conimicut Village.

Warwick historian Henry A.L. Brown, in "Occupastuxet to Red Brink: A History of the Cole Farm,” traces the history of the campground from the late 19th century until it’s closing in 1967. The site of the camp, Brown explains, was on the historic property that once belonged to the Greene family. The house, which stood there in the early 20th century, was built in 1676 and was the birthplace of the Revolutionary War hero Christopher Greene. The Greene family held their family reunions on the property and many famous guests, including Benjamin Franklin, came to visit.


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