210422ind history

South County Museum in Narragansett was located in of a barn outside of Wickford when it was founded in 1933 but, over the years, it has become a must-see sight for those looking to explore the history and traditions of Southern Rhode Island. The museum features more than 20,000 artifacts specific to the region and hosts several special events each year.

Last week, we took a look at some of the best places in North Kingstown  to visit this spring. But it’s hard to keep all of this area’s beautiful locations to just one column. Here are seven more great places to visit to learn all about this area’s local history.

  • Olde Wickford — Now I know this might seem obvious to some, but I know it’s definitely not so to others.

Numerous folks I’ve spoken to, when I mention Wickford, tell me, “Sure I’ve been to the shops on Brown Street, what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is just around the corner on Main and Pleasant Streets and all the little side streets and leafy lanes nearby. Olde Wickford possesses the largest collection of owner-occupied Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal period homes anywhere, not to mention the oldest Anglican Meeting House in the northeast and waterfront views to die for. If you don’t believe me, then how about John D. Rockefeller Jr? He strolled the streets of Wickford while looking for inspiration for Colonial Williamsburg. How about Henry Ford? He came here too, while planning his colonial restoration village outside Dearborn Michigan. Take my word for it; Wickford is the real deal! Check out www.histwick.org for more info and be sure to enjoy the “Wickford Walk” a self-guided art-inspired tour of the village

  • The South County Museum —You know, if you don’t have a lot of time and you don’t want to drive for hours and fight the crowds; well then you can just say “To heck with Sturbridge Village! I’m going to the South County Museum instead!” Founded in 1933, in a barn outside of Wickford, and now located in Narragansett, this place is, in some respects, a more intimate version of its Massachusetts cousin in Sturbridge. You can walk into a one-room schoolhouse, watch a blacksmith at work, run hither and yon on the Living History Farm with one of the best flocks of heritage Rhode Island Red chickens, and stroll through a museum that houses more than 20,000 artifacts specific to life in southern Rhode Island in days of yore. The grounds, 7 acres nestled in a 174-acre public park, are beautiful and year in and year out the exhibits change, and the special events are truly special. Check out www.southcountymuseum.org for details and event schedules.
  • The John Chafee Nature Preserve at Rome Point — These next two sites are “sensible shoes only” places that get you a chance to not only explore history, but also the extraordinary beauty of the natural world here in South County. The Rome Point parking lot is easily accessible from Boston Neck Road about a mile south of Wickford and the main walking trail is well maintained enough to be used by just about anyone. As you walk the path, you tread the same trail that Cononchet, Canonicus, and Miantonomi, the three great Narragansett Chief Sachems would have trod before settlers came here. You walk down a path once owned by John Cole and his wife Susannah Hutchinson. Susannah was captured by the Lenape Indians on Long Island and John, after rescuing her from the Swanzee Indians in Massachusetts, brought her here to be his bride. The stone walls you see on the property were built by the Rome (pronounced Room) slaves; owned by George Rome, the Newport based bank’s agent who summered here in his mansion house. And when you get down to the beautiful shoreline imagine what it would look like with a nuclear power plant on it; because that was Narragansett Electric’s pre-Three Mile Island plan for the place. Remember the nature preserve “guidance credo” of “Take only pictures and memories from this place and leave behind nothing but footprints!”
  • Pettaquamscutt Rock — This important Native American site is also known as Treaty Rock and can be found off of Middlebridge Road in South Kingstown. This is a short but somewhat challenging walk that rewards all who come with a breath-taking view of the river valley below. This giant rock escarpment was a natural landmark since time began and was certainly part of the “line of sight” signal rock network which the Narragansett people used to rapidly communicate between villages. Sadly, this place, once a place of honor and importance to the native people in South County, is now viewed by them as a place of shame; a location where lesser sachems were duped into signing away land rights all those years ago. If you like Native American sites like this, be sure to also check out the Rolling Rock and the Devil’s Foot Rock here in North Kingstown as well.
  • The New England Wireless and Steam Museum — If you or your guests are a fan of “old school” technology, then you have got to come to this place at 1300 Frenchtown Road in East Greenwich and visit this museum founded by the late Bob Merriam and his pals. Here you will find a complete wireless radio station built more than 100 years ago and moved here in one piece from Point Judith to save it from demolition. Also here is the last working Corliss steam engine known; the Corliss is literally the machine that powered America’s Industrial Revolution. The museum’s yearly “Yankee Steam-up” is not to be missed. The steam engine devotees here fire up each and every one of the numerous steam engines, large and small, that reside there and let them fly! This place is not always open so be sure to check with them at www.newsm.org  
  • Watson Farm — Just a short ride across the Jamestown Bridge on North Road, lies Watson Farm, truly the poster child for bucolic vistas. This place is beautiful and so under appreciated. Although technically it lies outside of South County, it tells the story of the subsistence agricultural practices of the past that would have been prevalent here in a way that pleases young and old alike. The fields here are populated with heritage breeds of sheep and cattle and the caretakers, Don and Heather Minto are just plain awesome. There’s a wonderful self-guided walking tour on site, and special activities occur here season round, so check their website at  www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/watson-farm .

So there you have it, you have no excuses now for not taking your visitors, kids, or grandkids out to explore the extraordinary history we have here in South County. Keep your eye out, I’ll probably be there too.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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