Historic Walking Tours of Narragansett Pier

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A woodcut, c. 1890, of Pier hotels. Top row, from the left, Mathewson, Massasoit, Atlantic, Mount Hope, and
Continental; borrom row, Rockingham, Atwood, and Gladstone.

The Great Hotels of Yesteryear
In the mid-1840s, people from inland areas of Washington County and from Providence began to
come to NarragansettPier to take advantage of the fine bathing afforded by its sandy beach. At that
time there were no public accommodationsand visitors had to board at private homes. Joseph
Dulles of Philadelphia, a business associate of Rowland G. Hazard ofPeacedale, visited the Pier in
1848 and was so favorably impressed that he returned the next summer with several otherfamilies
to spend the season.

The Pier’s first hotel, the Narragansett House, was built in 1856 at the northwest corner of Ocean
Road and Taylor Street. It was moved to Congdon Street in the late nineteenth century and was
subsequently demolished. This marked the beginning of the Pier’s transformation from a small, quiet
rural port into one of America’s busiest and most popular seaside resorts. Between 1866 and1871,
ten hotels were erected at the Pier; they attracted guests regularly from New York, Philadelphia,
Washington, Richmond, Louisville, Chicago and St. Louis.

These hotels were architecturally homogeneous. All of them had long, horizontal main blocks of
wood-frame construction that varied in height from two-and-one-half to four stories, but most were
three-and-one-half stories tall. Many of them had mansard roofs, and all had encircling verandas.
Some of the blocks had gabled central pavilions or mansard-roofed central towers which gave them
a slightly more monumental appearance. In plan, the hotels were considerably more diverse.
Subsidiary ells and wings were connected to the main blocks, forming U-, L-, or T-shaped layouts.
This combination of similarity and dissimilarity must have created a picturesque townscape with an
underlying unity. Unfortunately, not one ofthese hotels is left standing today. Their destruction has
left a gap in the historical and architectural fabric of the community.

— From theNarragansett, Rhode Island, Statewide Historical Preservation Report, February, 1978.

In 1867, most of Central Street and parts of Boon, Caswell, Rockland, Robinson, and Rodman
Streets and Fifth Avenue were platted out on a portion of the Robinson farm. Some summer
residences and rental cottages were constructed here at this time. Charles E. Boon of Providence
built himself a small summer villa in 1869 which still stands at 40 Central Street. He also built the
first summer rental property at the Pier in 1870: a bracketed cottage at 49 Central Street. Other
examples of cottages of the period are located at 45 Central Street and 75 Caswell Street.

The most important dwelling erected at this time, however,wasex-Governor William Sprague's
on the site of Sylvester Robinson'sCanonchet Farm. Designed by William R. Walker of
Providence, it was an extravagant Victorian dwelling bristling with towers, turrets, bay windows,
verandas, and decorative ironwork, all piled together into one huge, picturesque mass. Sprague
was part heir to one of America's largest textile manufacturing firms, founded by his grandfather
and expanded by his father and uncle. In 1863 he married Kate Chase, who was the daughter of
Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase and one of the most celebrated American beauties of the
Victorian era. The Spragues knew many of the nation's prominent people and entertained some
of them at Canonchet. When the Sprague business empire collapsed during the financial panic
of 1873, the ex-governor lost most of his property, but held on to Canonchet. He refused to move
out when a court-appointed trustee sold the estate, and contemporary accounts relate that
sheriffs sent to take possession of the property were chased off by Sprague, toting a shotgun.
Canonchet was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1909. The
ruins of a stone stable building
constructed in 1905 are all that remain of the estate. Though it burned many decades ago,
Canonchet was such an important landmark that its name is still associated with the site on which
it stood. Part of the property is now a town park, and in the park is the
South County Museum.

comp atlantic

Left, Architectural and Historic Resources of Narragansett, Rhode Island, 1991 Right, Edward Cormier Collection (SCM)

Above, left, the Atlantic House was one of three Pier hotels built in 1866-67, with three additions made by 1888.
Note the 1890s advetisement for the hotel. The present Atlantic House is a smaller, extensively remodeled version
of the original.

comp gladstone

Left, Irving H. Chase Family Memorial Collection (SCM) Right, Narragansett Pier, R.I., Illustrated, 1891 (SCM Collection)

The Gladstone Hotel was built in 1887 by George Robinson, combining both the Delevan and
Elmwood Hotels. It was demolished in 1920, just a few years after its heyday as a major hotel
in the Pier.

1912 postcard (SCM)

The Greene Inn was built in 1887-88, succeeding the SouthernHotel. It was designed by Boston
architect William Gibbons Prestonfor H. W. and Nathaniel Greene. It was a 1
1/2-story, stone and
woodframe Shingle Style structure with intersecting gambrel and hipped roofs, a polygonal corner
bay, a veranda, a portecochere, and a massive stone chimney with a large wrought-iron "G"
affixed to it.

The Inn was unique among Narragansett Pier hotels. It was the first to be constructed with central
heating, which permitted year-round operation. It was also smaller and more intimate than the
other hotels, a factor which apparently appealed to the public, for it remained popular long after
the other hotels had begun to decline.

The most sophisticated in architectural terms, the Greene Inn wasthe last survivor of the
approximately 15 Victorian hotels which once stood in the area. It was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1976, but was damaged by fire in 1980
anddemolished two years
later. A private residence now occupies the spot. (Note the
horse-watering well in the left fore-
ground, atthe intersection of Ocean Road and SouthPier Road.)

comp massasoit

Left, Irving H. Chase Family Memorial Collection (SCM) Right, Narragansett Pier, R.I., Illustrated, 1891 (SCM)

Opened to the public in 1890, the Massasoit (was named for an early 17th-century Native American chief.

Irving H. Chase Family Memorial Collection (SCM)

The Mathewson was one of the largest and best-known of Pier hotels. It was built in 1868 and demolished in 1919.
Note The Towers and Lifesaving Station to the right.

Metatoxet Hotel, on Main Street, accommated 150 guests.

The 1891 Narragansett Hotelmen's Association publication, boasted that, "The Metatoxet has an
elegant lawn, several lawn tennis courts, ample concrete walks and shade trees in abundance.
Among the recent numerous improvements may be mentioned the addition of electric lights and
electric bells in every room. A music room 30x45 feet has just been completed, also an extensive
addition of four stories in heighth to accommodate the increased patronage, and to provide for
additional and improved toilet rooms on every floor. The water supplied on every floor is from the
Wakefield Water Works. The house is supplied with water for fire purposes, and abundant hose,
and with improved fire escapes on every floor. The table of this well known house will be supplied
in future, as in the past, with the best the
market affords, and nothing will be omitted that will
promote the
comfort of the guests, andmaintain the well-earned reputation of this house,as one
of the leading hotelsat the Pier.
Still on the hotel property isMetatoxet cottage, also built in
1885-86. It was built for John H
. Caswell as a rental propertyassociated with theMetatoxet Hotel.

Narragansett Pier, R.I., Illustrated, 1891 (SCM)

The imposing Rockingham, above, opened to the public in 1891 on Main Street, directly opposite
the original Casino and on the site of the new Casino. The great fire of 1900 that consumed the old
Casino and much of the center of the Pier began in this hotel.

SCM 2011-2018