Article Summary: Historic Sites In Rhode Island
Historic Sites In Rhode Island. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the 10 Historic Sites In Rhode Island that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks. It also includes sites not managed by the National Park Service. After all, we’re more than just parks!
If you’re planning a trip to the Ocean State then one book that I highly recommend is: Rhode Island Off the Beaten Path: A Guide To Unique Places by Robert Curley.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table Of Contents: Historic Sites In Rhode Island
Historic Sites In Rhode Island
- Top 10 Historic Sites In Rhode Island
- Top 5 Historic Sites In Rhode Island
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Top 10 Historic Sites In Rhode Island
10. Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum
Rhode Island is most famous for its abundant shoreline, state parks, and production of jewelry and silverware, as well as its New England charm. It’s also home to some amazing historic sites and we’re excited to share our list of the Top 10 with you.
We begin our list at #10 with the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum. It’s located in Saunderstown, Rhode Island.
The museum commemorates the life and work of Gilbert Stuart, one of America’s most famous portrait painters. Gilbert Stuart was born in the house in 1755 and it was later turned into a museum in the early 20th century.
The museum features a restored 1750 house that serves as an art gallery, displaying many of Stuart’s most famous portraits, including the famous “Lansdowne portrait” of George Washington.
Visitors can also tour the property’s restored snuff mill, which is the first of its kind in New England and a unique glimpse into 18th century industry.
The museum also has nature trails that take visitors through the picturesque countryside and offer the opportunity to spot some of the 85 different species of birds that have been sighted on the property. Visitors can also check out the museum’s gardens, which feature plants and flowers that would have been typical of the 18th century.
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum is considered one of Rhode Island’s best-kept treasures and offers a unique opportunity to learn about the life and work of one of America’s most famous portrait painters, as well as the rich history of the region.
9. Rhode Island School of Design Museum
We move from a site which honors one of Americas greatest artists to one which houses over 100,000 artifacts from around the world. At #9 on our list of the Best Historic Sites In Rhode Island is the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum.
The museum’s collection is one of the largest in the country, and it is particularly known for its collection of works by famous artists such as Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Manet, and Van Gogh.
The museum’s collection also includes ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts dating back thousands of years, as well as Native American, Asian, and European art.
It also features a model of American collector Charles Pendleton’s house. Some of the museum’s highlights include an Egyptian mummy and coffin, an extremely rare bronze figure of Aphrodite, and the largest historic Japanese wooden sculpture in the United States.
Rhode Island School Of Design
The museum is part of the Rhode Island School of Design, and it serves both as an educational resource for students and as a cultural attraction for the general public.
It offers a wide range of exhibitions, lectures, and programs that help visitors learn about the art and artifacts on display and the cultures from which they originate.
The RISD Museum is open to the public and is considered a must-see destination for art lovers and history buffs alike. It’s a great place to learn and appreciate art and cultural heritage.
8. Great Swamp Fight Monument
There’s so much history to celebrate in Rhode Island and our next site is a case in point. At #8 on our list of the Best Historic Sites In Rhode Island is the Great Swamp Fight Monument.
King Philip’s War was a conflict that took place in New England in the late 17th century, between the Wampanoag tribe and the English colonists. The war was led by Wampanoag tribe leader Metacom, who was nicknamed “King Philip” by the English settlers.
The war began as an attempt by the Wampanoag tribe to drive the English colonists off of their lands in New England, following the execution of three Wampanoag men at Plymouth Plantation.
The Great Swamp Fight was a significant battle that took place during King Philip’s War in December 1675.
English colonists invaded a fort established by Narragansett tribe members, and they massacred an estimated 600 to 1,000 non-combatants (including women and children) residing at the fort, along with an estimated 97 Narragansett warriors.
The Great Swamp Fight is considered one of the most brutal and violent events of King Philip’s War.
The Deadliest War In American History In Proportion To Population
The war resulted in the deaths of over 10% of New England’s Native American population, and over 5% of its English population. It is considered the deadliest war in American history in proportion to population.
A monument was erected in 1906 at the location believed to be the site of the Great Swamp Fight. The monument can be found at the end of Great Swamp Monument Road off the South County Trail near West Kingstown, Rhode Island.
The monument serves as a reminder of the tragic events that took place during King Philip’s War and the impact it had on the people of New England.
7. White Horse Tavern
At #7 on our list of the Best Historic Sites In Rhode Island is one of the oldest buildings in America. Welcome to the White Horse Tavern.
The White Horse Tavern is a historic restaurant located in Newport, Rhode Island.
It is notable for being the oldest restaurant in the United States, having been in operation since 1673. The building itself is even older, having been constructed in 1652, making it one of the oldest buildings in the country.
The tavern’s interior and exterior are designed to reflect its colonial-era origins, with features such as oil lamps and candles used for lighting, and a distinctive gambrel roof.
The White Horse Tavern has been a popular spot for locals and tourists alike for centuries, and it continues to attract visitors interested in experiencing a piece of America’s history.
George Washington Ate There
The tavern has also played a significant role in the history of Newport and the surrounding region. For example, it is said that George Washington was a regular patron of the tavern and it was one of his favorite places of worship.
Additionally, the White Horse Tavern is considered one of the most significant historical sites in Newport, and it is dedicated to preserving the local culture and history.
In addition to the White Horse Tavern, Newport is also home to many other historical sites, including the oldest synagogue in the United States and other notable buildings, reflecting the richness of the city’s history and its dedication to preserving centuries of local culture.
6. Tomaquag Museum
Our next historic sites is dedicated to telling the history of Rhode Island’s first peoples from an indigenous point of view. At #6 on our list of the Best Historic Sites In Rhode Island is the Tomaquag Museum.
It was founded in 1958 by Eva Butler, a member of the Narragansett tribe, and is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Indigenous peoples of southern New England.
The museum’s collection includes a wide variety of artifacts and artworks related to the Indigenous peoples of the region. These include items such as traditional clothing, baskets, pottery, tools, and weapons. The museum also has a large collection of documents, photographs, and other archival materials that provide insights into the history and culture of the Narragansett and other Indigenous peoples.
One of the highlights of the Tomaquag Museum is its extensive collection of wampum, traditional shell beads that were used by many Indigenous peoples as a form of currency and as a means of recording important events and agreements. The museum’s wampum collection includes pieces that are hundreds of years old and provides a unique window into the cultural traditions of the region’s Indigenous peoples.
In addition to its collection, the Tomaquag Museum also hosts a variety of educational programs and events. These include workshops on traditional crafts and skills, storytelling and music performances, and lectures on Indigenous history and culture.
The museum also hosts an annual Indigenous Arts and Crafts Market, where visitors can purchase handmade items from local Indigenous artisans.
Top 5 Historic Sites In Rhode Island
5. Newport Tower
We’re on to the Top 5 Historic Sites In Rhode Island. At #5 is Newport Tower.
Newport Tower, also known as the Old Stone Mill, is a historical structure located in Touro Park, Newport, Rhode Island. The origins and purpose of the tower have been the subject of much debate and speculation for centuries.
The tower is believed to have been built in the late 17th century, and some historians believe it was originally a windmill. However, others point out the similarity between the tower’s design and that of 12th-century Scottish buildings, leading to the theory that it could be much older. Some even suggest that it could be the remains of an ancient observatory.
The tower is circular in shape and has eight supporting pillars, four of which align with the cardinal points of a compass. Additionally, the tower’s windows are thought to have astronomical alignments, which lends further support to the theory that it was once used as an observatory.
The tower has undergone several renovations and restorations over the years, and it is currently open to the public for tours. The tower’s mysterious origins and purpose continue to be a source of fascination for both locals and tourists. While the true origins of the tower are still debated, it is a unique and interesting site to visit and explore.
4. Fort Adams
We’re coming down to our “Final Four.” At #4 is a site which celebrates America’s second President of the United States. Welcome to Fort Adams.
It’s a former United States Army post in Newport, Rhode Island. It was established on July 4, 1799 as a First System coastal fortification and named for President John Adams who was in office at the time.
The cost of building Fort Adams for three decades was over three million dollars. It was designed to mount 468 guns around a perimeter of over 1700 yards. It used a combination of Maine granite, brick, and shale. During a time of war it could house 2400 men, though a peace time garrison of 200 was sufficient.
Its first commander was Captain John Henry who was later instrumental in starting the War of 1812.
The Fort was an active post during the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, and the two World Wars.
A Summer White House
Army use of the Fort continued after World War II until 1953. This is when the Navy took charge of the site. Land south of the Fort was used for Naval housing, Newport at the time hosting a large contingent of personnel for various fleet activities.
It was during this time that President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the Commanding Officer’s residence, a large home dating from the Victorian period, as a summer White House.
As the Navy began a reduction of force in the area, the State of Rhode Island acquired the main fortification and outer works in 1965.
Today visitors can enjoy the Fort Adams Bay Walk, a 2.25 mile walk around the entire park, open year round. There are paid guided and private tours and parking is free.
3. Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
At #3 is a historic site which is notable for being one of the most historically significant Jewish buildings in America. It’s the Touro Synagogue.
The Touro Synagogue is located in Newport, Rhode Island. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1946.
The synagogue was dedicated in 1763 and it still serves an active congregation today. It is known for its exquisite beauty and design, and it attracts over 30,000 visitors each year who come to see the magnificent interior and hear its remarkable story.
Guided tours of the Touro Synagogue are offered and last approximately 30 minutes. During the tour, visitors can learn more about the history of the synagogue, from its founding during colonial times up to the present day. The tour includes the history of the Jewish community in Newport and the role of the synagogue in the history of the United States.
The Loeb Visitors Center, adjacent to the synagogue, contains additional exhibits about the history of the synagogue and its role in helping to form the foundations of the ideal of Freedom of Religion enjoyed in the United States today.
The visitors center also provides a more in-depth look into the history and significance of the Touro Synagogue, making it a must-see for history buffs and visitors interested in learning more about the story of religious freedom in the United States.
CHECK OUT: 20 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In New York
2. Roger Williams National Memorial
In the runner-up spot at #2 is a site which honors the life and legacy of a man who played an indispensable role in the history of Rhode Island. Welcome to the Roger Williams National Memorial.
The Roger Williams National Memorial is located in Providence, Rhode Island. It commemorates the life and contributions of Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, theologian, and author who founded the Providence Plantations, which became the colony (and later state) of Rhode Island.
Williams is best known for his advocacy of religious freedom and his contributions to the cause of religious tolerance in the United States. He was among the first to advocate for the separation of church and state and the right to freedom of conscience.
The Visitors Center provides an overview of the historical significance of Roger Williams and his role in the formation of the colony of Rhode Island.
The Memorial is a landscaped urban park located on a common lot of the original settlement of Providence, Rhode Island, established by Roger Williams in 1636. The park includes several walking trails, and visitors can also explore the nearby city of Providence.
The highlights of the city include the Benefit Street Mile of history, featuring the John Brown House, Waterplace Park, and the rest of “Downcity” Providence.
1. Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
As the #1 Historic Site In Rhode Island, More Than Just Parks has selected the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
The Blackstone River powered America’s entry into the Age of Industry. The success of Samuel Slater’s cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, RI touched off a chain reaction that changed how people worked and where they lived, and continues to reverberate across the nation to this day.
Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is often described as the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. The birth of this mill helped spread water powered mills all across New England, bringing with it new homes, schools, churches, immigrants, and communities.
Things To See & Do At Blackstone
Visitors to Blackstone River Valley can explore its vast history, enjoy walking tours, paddle along the river, or bike along the Blackstone River Bikeway stretching 48 miles from Worcester, MA to India Point Park in Providence, RI and connecting with East Bay Bikepath.
One of the great things about visiting the Blackstone River Valley is you can just go off and explore the area on your own, at your own pace. Sometimes the best way to really get the feel for the park is to just take a walk through one of the villages and see how they all tie together around the mill and the river.
I recommend the following points of interest:
- Hopedale Self-Guided Tour: Hopedale began as a commune and grew into the home of the largest loom manufacturer in America.
- Whitinsville Walking Tour: The Whitin Machine Works made machines for textile mills across the Blackstone Valley and around the world.
- Slatersville Walking Tour: Slatersville is the first planned mill village in America, and the blueprint for the other villages of the Blackstone Valley. (Source: NPS)
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
List Of Historic Sites In Rhode Island
- Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
- Roger Williams National Memorial
- Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
- Fort Adams
- Newport Tower
- Tomaquag Museum
- White Horse Tavern
- Great Swamp Fight Monument
- Rhode Island School of Design Museum
- Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum
Why Trust Us About Historic Sites In Rhode Island?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, U.S. Forest Service, and more for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
And, in 2018, our father – having spent a lifetime teaching history – joined us so that he could help us to tell the stories behind these amazing places.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
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