1861 - 1899

The Civil War (1861-1865) precluded the sustained growth of tourism shortly afterwards. But, as soon as the hostilities ceased, guests returned from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Louisville, Chicago, and St. Louis. In the five years between 1866 and 1871, ten new hotels were constructed in Narragansett Pier.

Narragansett's popularity as a resort endured throughout the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century. This expansion was especially assisted by the construction in 1876 of the Narragansett Pier Railroad, another enterprise of the resourceful Hazard family, to link their textile mills in nearby Peace Dale and Wakefield to the Stonington Railroad (with connections to Providence, Boston, and New York). Their new line also extended eastward to Narragansett's new south pier (built in l845), providing the Hazards with another shipping terminal. For the prosperous summer visitors, moreover, the new railroad spur furnished welcome relief from the heretofore painful experience of ten miles of stagecoach travel from Kingston to Narragansett over rough and rutted country roads.

Further travel enhancement arrived in 1896, when the railroad opened a second, more centrally located Narragansett station on Boon Street. The railroad improvements, of course, increased Narragansett's resort appeal, and resulted in the construction of many more hotels. In addition, so pleased were so many of these visitors and the realtors who served them that many of them began to build their own private homes, the extravagant mansions demurely called "cottages." By the centurys end Narragansett had some nineteen major luxury hotels and scores of owned and leased "cottages".

In the latter 1800s, "Narragansett Pier" had begun to rival Newport across the Narragansett Bay in terms of elegance and social prestige. Accordingly, the wealthy and prominent summer visitors decided that they needed a social center or meeting place, where they could assemble with fellow summer residents to convene, relax, and recreate. The result was the magnificent Narragansett Pier Casino, erected next to the original pier, designed by McKim, Mead & White, the most prominent American architectural firm of the era, landscaped by the revered Frederick Law Olmstead, and populated by many of America's most affluent and important citizens.

The splendid new edifice attracted scores of new, socially ranking visitors - from
as close as Newport to as far away as St. Louis and beyond. The wealthy customers of the Casino (a word then connoting more general recreation than its gambling implications of today) were able to indulge themselves in all sorts of sports, cultural, and culinary pursuits. This was the "Gilded Age", and those fortunate enough to possess the requisite opulence, leisure, and pedigree, reveled in it. Hence, the Narragansett Pier Casino was indeed one of the nation's leading places to see and be seen in.

But, the Narragansett Beach remained the primary focus of the town's burgeoning reputation. Harper's Weekly, a leading periodical of the time, noted, "It is the beach which is the center of life in Narragansett." Louis Sherry, the famed New York restaurateur, who had been engaged as the Casino's first chef de cuisine and manager, was so charmed by the beach's sublimity that he quickly erected a massive McKim, Mead & White-designed bathing pavilion thereon, supplementing the existing eclectic collection of smaller bathhouses mainly owned by the hotels. The Sherry Pavilion, in addition to its dressing rooms, offered music, roller skating, and a bicycle rink. Further up the beach, a new pier was built, facilitating steamboat travel from Providence, Fall River, and Newport directly
to the seaside. For the youngsters disembarking from the steamers, they were immediately rewarded with the opportunity to ride on a full-fledged Looff Carousel adjoining the pier at the boardwalk.

Underscoring the village's enormous resort appeal and in recognition of the success of the railroads and steamship lines, a new light rail company was formed in 1898 called the Sea View Railroad. This mode of transportation basically a trolley system ran from Peace Dale to Narragansett to East Greenwich, with a connection to Providence. The relatively simple and less expensive travel via the steamships and the Sea View made Narragansett much more accessible to tourists - often day-trippers - resulting in some friction with the more entrenched, long-term vacationers.

Meanwhile, at the south end of town construction began on a federal project to build a Point Judith Harbor of Refuge. Despite the installation of the monumental Point Judith Lighthouse in 1857 (the third light at that stormy location, and often featured in U.S. Marine Corps recruitment advertising), prevailing treacherous conditions at Point Judith for heavy ocean commerce provoked interest in taking corrective measures. Accordingly, the U.S. Government began construction of a series of lengthy jetties in 1890, which were engineered to culminate in a secure breakwater refuge.

In 1894, a group of wealthy summer visitors established the Point Judith Country Club just south of the Pier area. This elite social organization offered tennis courts, and constructed the first golf course as well as polo grounds in Narragansett. The tennis courts at the country club (as at the Casino) hosted championship matches, while the polo grounds became the site of frequent international tourneys.

As the "Gay Nineties" drew to a close, Narragansett had emerged as a booming resort, possessing splendid natural assets, providing relatively convenient transportation for that era, offering superb accommodations, and attracting a prosperous, influential clientele - who booked for the season generally, not short-term, and returned year after year.

Narragansett's special resort way of life also resulted in a change of political status. For years, the village had been part of the neighboring town of South Kingstown to the west. But, recognizing how different Narragansett's hectic resort operations were from South Kingstown's slow-moving pace, the State of Rhode Island decreed Narragansett a separate voting district from South Kingstown in 1888, and allowed Narragansett many of the privileges of a town. Because the new arrangement worked satisfactorily, Narragansett was incorporated as a fully-vested separate town on March 28, 1901