The Interesting History of Narragansett, Rhode Island

Narragansett, Rhode Island, is a popular summertime destination for visitors and residents of New England.

Today, the town is known for landmarks like the Point Judith Lighthouse and Narragansett Town Beach. But this town has a vibrant history that has helped shape it into the breathtaking destination it is today.

Before you book one of our vacation rentals in Narragansett, RI, you may want to know some of the area’s backstory. Then, you can truly make the most of your time here while appreciating the sights around you a bit more. 

point judith lighthouse
photo from Unsplash


The city of Narragansett gets its name from the Narragansett Native American tribe that lived in the area for centuries before the arrival of European colonists. In 1636, Roger Williams left the Massachusetts Bay Colony and formed his settlement, Providence. Today, we know this area as Rhode Island.

During his time in Providence, Roger Williams got to know the Narragansett tribe quite well and held an incredible reverence for them. Unfortunately, relations between the Native Americans and the Europeans began to deteriorate as the settlers desired to expand their colonies. The area, Narragansett today, was purchased by the Europeans in 1658 and 1659.

Once the Europeans took control of the land, it was mainly used for fishing, farming, and grazing. The citizens of this area lived in peace throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, except during periods of war such as King Philip’s War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812.

The 1800s

After the War of 1812, the population of Narragansett only continued to grow. Plantations were formed, mills were constructed, and the commerce sector took off, spearheaded by goods such as horses, sheep, grain, and cheese. The nearby Narragansett Bay was a central shipping hub, and the Narragansett Pier was a popular spot for working and spending leisure time.

The town of Narragansett would experience a significant change in 1848, though. Joseph Heatly Dulles came from Philadelphia to visit Rowland G. Hazard in the neighboring village of Peace Dale. Dulles was a successful cotton broker with operations in South Carolina. While Dulles was in town, Hazard decided to take his friend around to see the sights. Dulles completely fell in love with the Narragansett area. He immediately headed to a local boarding house. He booked every room for the following summer, planning to bring his family and friends to experience the town that had captivated him.  

This event essentially kicked off the local tourism industry. People began to flood Narragansett in droves, eventually leading to establishing the area’s first hotel: The Narragansett House, in 1856. The word about Narragansett spread quickly, and soon, countless wealthy families were visiting the area year after year. Instead of making quick trips to the area, these guests would often remain for the entire season.

By the early 1870s, nearly a dozen new hotels had popped up near Narragansett Pier. The Narragansett Pier Railroad was then constructed in 1876, bringing even more attention to the area. While the rail was initially intended just for freight, it also began to serve passengers. Now, instead of traveling to Narragansett by stagecoach, visitors could take the much quicker and easier journey by train. A second railroad station opened in 1896, leading to the construction of even more upscale hotels and “cottages,” which were opulent mansions built by the area’s most well-to-do summer guests.

As the 1800s came to a close, more and more construction helped to expand Narragansett. The Narragansett Pier Casino and the Narragansett Beach became significant tourist attractions, and a new light rail company, the Sea View Railroad, was formed in 1898. On the south side of Narragansett, the Point Judith Country Club was established, adding an entirely separate air of wealth to the area. 

The 1900s

The 20th century kicked off with a bang for Narragansett, as in 1901, it was officially designated as its town (separate from the neighboring community of South Kingstown). As automobiles were introduced, Narragansett continued to boom. The wealthy tourists traveling to the area by train were now able to come and go as they pleased, thanks to their cars. 

However, this freedom was a double-edged sword; the visitors could come whenever they wanted, but they also didn’t have to stick around and wait for a train to take them back home. The rise of the automobile contributed mainly to the fall of the Sea View Railroad. 

1900 also brought a significant tragedy to the town of Narragansett. The Rockingham Hotel, which stood directly next to the Narragansett Pier Casino, caught fire, burning to the ground and taking the Casino down with it, along with much of the village center. The town and its previously thriving tourist sector took a huge hit.

Throughout the early 1900s, the city rebuilt what had been damaged and added even more attractions, such as the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge. Sadly, the tourist scene of Narragansett couldn’t catch a break. Between the Great Epidemic of 1918 and the Great Depression throughout the 1930s, there was a drastic decrease in the number of visitors to the area. 

1938 brought a major hurricane that killed over 300 people and resulted in significant property damage. The area was rebuilt, and thankfully, it was operational in time to assist with coastal fortification once the United States entered World War II in 1941. 

Plan Your Visit

Narragansett is a truly unique destination that you simply have to experience for yourself. Come discover why so many people have fallen in love with this little slice of Rhode Island. Contact us today to start planning your trip!

Following World War II, Narragansett fell victim to another hurricane in 1954 and a fire that destroyed the rebuilt Narragansett Pier Casino in 1956. Still, the town persevered through it all, and in the 1970s, a massive renewal project began. This renewal continues to this day. 

Since the mid-1900s, the population of Narragansett has grown by more than 600%. Visitors come from near and far to enjoy the beautiful beaches, see reconstructed historical landmarks and the town’s four historic districts, and meet the locals who keep this town running each and every day. 

This insight into the history of Narragansett only goes to show how resilient this town has been since its inception. It’s no wonder so many people are inspired to visit the area year after year! If you’re ready for this fascinating Narragansett history to come to life right before your eyes, then it’s time to book one of our Narragansett vacation rentals.

At Durkin Cottages, we are proud to offer a huge selection of rentals throughout the area, near historical landmarks and modern attractions alike. Our rental properties are well equipped with everything you might need during your stay, including high-speed internet, flat-screen TVs, plenty of outdoor space, full kitchens, and more. Additionally, you’ll never be more than a phone call away from getting in touch with our staff, ready to answer any questions or concerns.

Durkin Cottage Realty

815 Pt. Judith Rd.
Narragansett, RI 02882

Phone: 401-789-6659
Fax: 401-789-6705

Sign Up For Our Email