June 2, 2020
Bay of Plenty: East Greenwich, RI
A haven for mariners since the late 1600’s, the historic town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, deserves a spot on your summer itinerary.
By Tom Richardson • Photography by Andrea Zimmermann
As a cruising destination, East Greenwich may not compete with the likes of Newport, Nantucket or Block Island, but those who know the local waters and watering holes of this venerable Rhode Island town are just fine with that. Indeed, many would like to see East Greenwich and Greenwich Bay as a whole remain one of New England’s best-kept secrets.
Incorporated in 1677, East Greenwich is the eighth oldest town in Rhode Island and boasts a maritime history dating back to before the Revolutionary War. In fact, many residents tout their town as the official birthplace of the American Navy. In June 1775, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a resolution that created the first formal, governmentally commissioned navy in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, a number of other cities and towns along the eastern seaboard also claim early ties to this branch of the U.S. military, but none can boast specific government authorization at such an early date.
Tied to the Water
Navy legacy aside, East Greenwich has long been an ideal place to visit by water. It boasts a well-protected harbor that once received trade ships from around the world and provided safe haven to local fishermen. In the 1800s, local industry flourished with textile manufacturing and shipbuilding, but the town always maintained close ties to fertile Narragansett Bay and the estuary’s abundant natural resources. Shellfishing really took off after the Civil War, with local fishermen capitalizing on the abundance of scallops and oysters that once filled the bay’s shallow, plankton-rich waters.
By 1877, East Greenwich was known as “the scallop capital of Rhode Island.” Fishing shacks built on pilings lined the waterfront in a solid row along Greenwich Cove, earning it the name “Scallop Town.” Today, a park along the cove pays homage to the once-thriving community. While scalloping and oystering declined in the early to mid-20th Century, East Greenwich continues to support a fleet of independent quahog harvesters, many based in Greenwich Cove and nearby Apponaug Cove.
Down By the Bay
These days, Greenwich Bay and East Greenwich welcome recreational boaters with a surprisingly long list of marinas and restaurants, as well as some pretty cool spots to simply drop the hook and relax. One is Goddard State Park, which occupies a peninsula that forms the southern shore of the bay. With your boat secured just offshore, you can swim, wade, row or paddle to the beach and access the park’s hiking trails, nature center, restrooms and public golf course. Just mind the rocky shallows extending from Sally Rock Point to GC “5.”
Meanwhile, paddlers and small-boaters will find numerous places to launch and explore the quiet backwaters, such as Apponaug Cove, the Potowomut River, Greenwich Cove and Buttonwoods Cove. There’s good fishing here, too, especially in the late spring and fall. Indeed, early fall is a wonderful time to visit the area, as the weather is often ideal and there is less boating traffic.
A town launch near the head of Greenwich Cove affords free access for trailer-boaters and a decent amount of parking. Another free launch facility is located on the opposite side of the cove, at Goddard State Park. This launch site was dredged and renovated in early 2016, and features a two-lane ramp with tie-up float and parking.
If you’re looking for a place to keep your boat for a few days (or the entire season), East Greenwich and neighboring Warwick are home to many marinas, most offering transient slips and moorings, and a few with onsite restaurants. A short walk from the waterfront brings you to the downtown area, where you’ll find even more dining options, as well as interesting shops, historic sites and places to restock the galley or grog locker. You can even catch a concert, comedy show or film at the town’s restored, circa-1926 theater. Also, it’s worth noting that East Greenwich is a 10-minute cab ride from Green Airport in Warwick, making it easy to pick up and drop off guests visiting from out of town.
Boaters who use East Greenwich as a base for the season or a weekend will find a host of daytrip destinations to explore. The town’s location mid-way on the western shore of Narragansett Bay puts it within easy striking distance of such popular ports as Bristol, Jamestown, Wickford and, yes, even Newport. So it seems there’s a lot to recommend this small but salty town after all!
East Greenwich at a Glance
Dockage, Moorings & Service
The Town of East Greenwich may have moorings available in Greenwich Cove. Contact the harbormaster to check on availability. There’s a public landing with 4′ MLW and a launch ramp near the southern end of Greenwich Cove, on Crompton Rd., south of the marinas and next to the sewage-treatment plant. From here it’s a short walk into town. Tie-up is officially one hour, but if you call the harbormaster he may grant you a longer stay.
Norton’s Shipyard & Marina (401-884-8828): Full-service marina offering transient slips and moorings. Facilities include showers, haul-out, WiFi, boat and engine repairs, pump-out and a marine store. Close to downtown.
East Greenwich Yacht Club (401-884-7700): Offers a public fuel dock (open 8:00 a.m. to sunset), as well as moorings and slips for visitors from reciprocating clubs.
Safe Harbor Greenwich Bay Marina (401-884-1810): Large, full-service marina offering transient slips, gas, ice, picnic area, laundry, WiFi, provisions, showers and restrooms, haul-out, onsite restaurant, swimming pool.
Greenwich Cove Marina (401-885-6611)
East Greenwich Marina (401-885-2911): Transient slips available.
Apponaug Harbor Marina (401-739-5005): In Warwick, on Apponaug Cove. Offers transient slips and moorings, gas, ice, and bait.
Ponaug Marina (401-884-1976): In Warwick on Apponaug Cove. Offers a gas dock, onsite bait & tackle shop (Ray’s), launch ramp and parking.
Most of the bay’s deep-water spots are filled with moorings, but shallow-draft vessels may be able to find protected spots deep inside Greenwich Cove or off Goddard Neck.
• Crompton Road Ramp: Near head of Greenwich Cove, next to the sewage-treatment plant. Free concrete-slab ramp with parking and a floating courtesy dock. Wheelchair accessible. One-hour tie-up for unattended vessels. Toilet.
• Goddard Memorial State Park: Ramp suitable for small vessels.
• Another small, free ramp for launching kayaks, canoes and small skiffs is on Apponaug Cove off Post Road, just before the railroad bridge.
• Kayaks and canoes can be launched at Arnolds Neck Waterfront Park, also on Apponaug Cove.
Where to Eat
Finn’s Harborside (401-884-6363): Dock & dine overlooking Greenwich Cove. Seafood a speciality.
Blu on the Water (401-885-3700): Hip, upscale dock & dine on Greenwich Cove.
Masthead Grill & Creamery (401-884-1424): Ice cream and fried fare on Post Rd., near Brewers Marina.
Chelo’s Waterfront Bar & Grille (401-884-3000): Large, popular eatery located at Brewer Greenwich Bay Marina.
Things to See & Do
• Old Kent County Courthouse, 125 Main Street: This building, which now hosts the town offices, was where Rhode Islanders signed their version of the Declaration of Independence.
• Greenwich Odeum (401-885-9119): Performing arts center on Main Street
• Goddard Memorial State Park: Offers miles of hiking and biking trails, picnic facilities, a gold course, restrooms, a small launch ramp and beach.
National Historic Sites
• Armory of Kentish Guard: The Kentish Guard Armory on Peirce St. was built in 1843 with the sum of $1,000 donated by the General Assembly to the Kentish Guards. The Greek Revival style of the armory is considered by architectural historians to be of outstanding architectural value and of great historic value at the national level. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. The armory is unique since it is believed to be the only armory of its kind built during this period just prior to the Mexican War. Little has been done to change it over the years. The gallery of pictures in the armory are especially interesting. Former members of the Guard are featured. The original charter hangs on the wall as a lasting reminder and a memorial to those men who organized the Kentish Guards in 1774.
• Richard Briggs Farm: Briggs Farm is located on South Road in the very Southern part of East Greenwich, abutting its border with North Kingstown. The 72-acre property contains buildings, structures, and landscape elements ranging in date from the early 18th to mid 20th century. They include a farmhouse and bank farm (both ca. 1735-1755 with later additions and alterations), and outbuilding (probably an icehouse built ca. 1860), dry-laid stone walls (18th and 19th centuries), the Briggs family burying ground (dating to ca. 1715), and at least 2 wells of unknown age.
• Massie Wireless Station: The Massie Wireless Station was built in Point Judith, Rhode Island, in 1907 and is the oldest surviving working wireless station in the world. It is now part of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum. The Massie Wireless Station provided communications to steamboats that traveled between New York City and New England cities. In 1983 the wireless station was moved to the New England Wireless and Steam Museum at 1300 Frenchtown Road in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, to avoid demolition.
• Clement Weaver-Daniel Howland House: A historic stone-ender timber frame house built in 1679. Located at 125 Howland Road, it is the oldest documented dwelling house in Kent County, and the second oldest home in Rhode Island.