August 7, 2019
Perhaps the coolest thing about Jamestown is that it’s an island. Or three. Settled in the late 1600s and named for England’s Prince James, this Rhode Island town comprises the 9-by-1-mile Conanicut Island and the much smaller Dutch and Gould Islands, the last having served as a military fort and a torpedo station during both World Wars. Today, Jamestown is a great place to watch the seasonal parade of boats heading to and from Newport, as well as the numerous local regattas—all while avoiding the general hubbub of that busy harbor to the east.
“If you’re passing through on a boat, Jamestown is a little easier to deal with than Newport,” agrees resident writer and longtime boater Will Tuthill. “It’s less frenetic, yet you can still get to Newport quite easily. The other nice thing is that whether you choose to keep your boat at Conanicut Marina on the east side or Dutch Harbor on the west, you can basically walk to the grocery store.” Tuthill highly recommends the island’s farm-stand produce and fresh fish in summer, and gives a shout out to Jamestown Mercantile for locally grown and locally sourced, organic prepared foods.
“And [Jamestown’s] definitely a great spot for daytime boating activities,” he adds. “Come here on a hot day, drop the hook, swim around or kayak alongside the rocks.”
The majority of boating amenities are found on the island’s east side. Conanicut Marine Services is Jamestown’s largest full-service marina, and is steps away from most of the shops and restaurants. Moorings and slips are available on a seasonal or transient basis, and the marina maintains a complete on-site repair facility. It’s all located next to the ferry dock and the Town Pier, which offers dinghy tie-up and touch-and-go dockage. Visitors can grab a bite to eat at the nearby East Ferry Deli or a homemade ice cream at Spinnakers, or head into the village center for more dining options.
Another transient-friendly marina is Clark Boat Yard, a bit farther south near Fort Wetherill. This intimate, family-owned and -operated yard offers moorings with launch service, showers, WiFi, repair, service, a launch ramp and more. Also nearby is the Jamestown Boat Yard, which has transient moorings and dockage, launch service, a private beach, repairs, hauling and dinghy storage. Both yards are within reasonable biking distance of the town center, and a short jaunt to Newport Harbor.
If you truly want to get away from the Newport scene, look to Conanicut’s western shore, home of Dutch Harbor Boat Yard, a tranquil facility with moorings, launch service and a great view of scenic Dutch Island Light and the West Passage. It seems a long way from everywhere, but a mile-long walk or bike ride down Narragansett Avenue brings you to the local shops and restaurants.
As for Jamestown’s shore-based attractions and diversions, there are many, starting with the aforementioned Fort Wetherill State Park. The park has a small marina and small-boat and kayak/SUP launch, and also offers biking and hiking trails, as well as amazing views of Fort Adams and the West Passage.
At the southernmost tip of Jamestown is Beavertail State Park, home to Beavertail Light, one of Jamestown’s five lighthouses and open to the public. The property features a small museum and an aquarium that showcases local sea life. Meanwhile, Beavertail Point affords awe-inspiring views of the Atlantic that draw photographers and artists alike. It’s also a popular spot to dive, fish and scout for tide-pool critters.
On the island’s western shore is Fort Getty Park, which features a launch ramp suitable for larger boats and plenty of trailer parking. The park is also a campground with seasonal RV sites, tent sites, restrooms, charcoal pits and more. A farmers market on Mondays sells locally grown products through August.
After a day of exploring the island’s various parks, head back to the village for a little refreshment and entertainment. A summer concert series in Memorial Square provides the soundtrack to accompany lovely views of the Newport Pell Bridge and the East Passage. Or enjoy a cold one at the Narragansett Café, known for its variety of blues and jazz bands. For more local flavor, stop by Jamestown Designs, which carries a variety of items produced by area artists and craftspeople.
The Jamestown Fire Department Museum, also downtown, maintains a collection of antique fire-fighting equipment, both horse-drawn and motor-powered, including 1845 and 1857 pumper trucks. Afterward, stroll down the street and pick up some coffee and a sweet treat at Slice of Heaven Bakery.
Farms & Ferries
There are more interesting things to see in the northern part of the island. A short drive or bike ride from the village center up North Road leads to Jamestown’s 200-year-old windmill, open for visits on weekends in summer. Nearby is Watson Farm, a quintessential New England farm that began in the late 1700s and continued through five generations. The property remains a working proposition, raising Heritage Red Devon cattle and sheep and providing local beef to area restaurants. The business is now run by tenant farmers Don and Heather Minto, and you can visit the grounds seasonally to enjoy magnificent views of Dutch Island Harbor.
The Mintos come by their profession honestly. Farming dominated Conanicut Island in the 1600s and 1700s. As more colonists arrived from England, ferry service to Newport was established in 1675. For more than 200 years the ferry served as an important part of the local economy and culture, bringing freight, passengers—and changes—to Jamestown. An exhibit of ferry memorabilia can be found at the Jamestown Historical Society, including handwritten meeting minutes from the late 1800s and old photographs. While the completion of the Newport-Pell Bridge in 1969 effectively ended the heyday of the Jamestown ferry, it continues to shuttle passengers on lighthouse tours and trips to and from Newport. It’s much better than driving over the bridge, but boaters already know that!