Historic Walking Tours of Narragansett Pier

Narragansett Pier and Its Casino

James Brander Matthews (1852-1929), was "Regarded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as
America's leading authority on drama," according to the Columbia University website. T
his article
by Matthewsappeared in Harper's Weekly, August 1887.

There is a certain distinctive quality about Narragansett Pier, in Rhode Island, that makes it vastly
popular as a watering-place. Arare combination of considerable emphasis of style in female
dress and of general social degree, with a more or less refined unconventionality in characteristics,
customs, and male costumes, makes up this quality. The habitues of the place are, in general,
people of the same social standing as those of Newport, and have in the main less money. They
rejoice during their sojourn at the Pier in a freedom from oppressive etiquette and a continual
round of social duties to which they are more or less slaves when at home. And more charming
than all, especially to the younger ones; they are thrown together so frequently, almost without
premeditation, through the usual routine of the day, that intercourse is delightfully constant, and
has about it to the individual muchof the charm of the unexpected.

Again, the dwellers in different cities and at Narragansett, New
York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, notably the latter, are
usually most prominently represented – meet in many cases, year
after year during their season of summer rest, and form
friendships or acquaintanceships which cannot fail to be sources
of both social pleasure and profit. To these results, though they
have been for many years characteristic of the place, the Casino,
now one of the most prominent features of Narragansett summer
life, at present most forcibly conduces.

There are casinos here and casinos there more or less frequented,
but not one, at an American watering-place is more popular or
more used than that which has now during four seasons been
the all-summer, if expensive, joy of Narragansett Pier. Old-timers,
notably heads of families, opine in many instances, that the old life, when the Casino was not open,
had a charm all its own – an opinion largely due, no doubt, to its still greater unconventionality and
comparative inexpensiveness. But the younger set especially and the new-comers regard the
quasi clubhouse as the crowning glory of a delightful spot.

From what the elements had left of the ancient granite breakwater which gave the place its name
the handsome building – architecturally one of the best things to be put to the credit of the firm of
McKim, Mead, & White, of this city – is largely built.
Its main entrance is onthe road which skirts
theshore just back of whatstill remains of the
breakwater, and extendsto its left, occupying with
its range of buildings (forming three sides of aquadrangle, in which areinclosed the tennis-
courts,and its prominent wing jutting seaward, andspanning the road by afine arch) a large
space ofground. In view of what the Casino has nowbecome to the Pier, it isindeed peculiarly
fitting thatit should be so largly formed of the old pierand breakwater.

The wing, a view of which, looking under the arch, forms the subject of one of the finest pieces
of architecture in the country. It is built of granite, as are the two large round Norman towers
which flank the arch where it springs from the road-side face of the main structure, and the lower
portion of the large square one (forming the architectural centre of the composition), whose roof,
with its huge clock faces, is surmounted by a very picturesque cupola. The roofs, irregularly
rounded and dented to suggest the` effect of moonlight nights during the semi-weekly hops in the
Casino Theatre, is the Mecca to which the larger part of the couples make pilgrimages between
the dances.

The auditorium of the theatre; which serves as a ball-room , is surrounded on three sides by
galleries. There are also bowling alleys and shooting-galleries, a large biiiiard-room, rooms for
writing and reading sacred to each of the sexes, a restaurant, private dining-rooms, and a few
suites for lodgers.

The chief assembly of the day at the Casino is after the mid-day bath; and then ... groups gather
on the piazza and greensward terrace about small tables and discuss refreshments, their friends,
the topics of the day and hour, and their individual affairs, while the orchestra plays for an hour or
so. This assemblage is a very picturesque one, and usually is most numerous on the second or
third Saturday in August, when the groups extend well down below the terrace on the lawn
separated by a stone wall from the roadway. The Orchestra also plays at night.

This year the Pier has been unusually crowded during the present month, when the season is
always at its height, and the hotels have hardly been able to accommodate the rush of visitors.

SCM 2011-2018