WARWICK — Two popular attractions in Warwick — the former Rocky Point Park and the annual Gaspee Days celebrations — are all about celebrating the past while enjoying the present.
Rocky Point Park
Warwick once was home to Rocky Point Park, a 120-acre amusement park and recreation destination on the Narragansett Bay side of the city. Anyone who grew up in Rhode Island — or pretty much anywhere in New England prior to 1980 — likely made a pilgrimage to Rocky Point for rides like the Flume and the Corkscrew roller coaster. Many Rhode Islanders still fondly recall eating in the now-demolished Shore Dinner Hall, which seated more than 4,000 patrons at a time, and was renowned for its clam cakes and chowder.
Rocky Point Park operated from the late 1840s until it closed in 1995; the following year, the park filed for bankruptcy. After years of activism by locals who wanted public space rather than private development of the area, the city of Warwick took ownership of roughly half the site’s acreage along the shoreline, cleaned it up and, several years ago, opened it as a public park. There’s just over a mile of a walking/biking paved road along the bay, surrounded by open space, including some paths into the woods that attract dog-walkers and bikers or those who just want to sit on the small spit of sand at the scenic, rock-strewn bay.
The remnants of the Skyliner gondola ride and the 60-foot arch — it found its way to Rocky Point after the 1964-’65 New York World’s Fair and became the amusement park’s universal meeting spot — are all that remain of the attractions. They cast a forlorn but nostalgic shadow over the sprawling space. The paved path has a few benches for resting and taking in the views of the bay and large grassy swaths for picnicking — though lack of shade makes hats and hydration mandatory. There are also no restrooms. The path ends at a chain link fence with a “No Trespassing’’ sign that barricades the overgrown brush and dilapidated cabins of the remaining 80-plus acres of the now state-managed park. It’s a rather desolate, eerie sight but one that still holds the promise of future public use at this gem of a site.
One of the best features along the coastline are the intermittently placed informational boards that provide visitors with tidbits about the park’s history, such as one that describes the first presidential phone call in 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes, who was visiting Rocky Point, heard the voice of Alexander Graham Bell from 12 miles away in Providence. Another, on an overgrown section of asphalt, describes the in-ground, saltwater pool that was once there. The original pool, built in the 1930s, was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938. A new, Olympic-size pool with three diving boards, two slides and a bathhouse was constructed in the same spot; the 1936 US Olympic men’s swimming trials were held at the pool.
Celebrating the past has been the mission of Gaspee Days since its inception back in 1965. The annual Gaspee Days events in Warwick commemorate the burning of the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee by Rhode Island colonists in 1772.
Gaspee Days began as a community celebration in the village of Pawtuxet, at the Warwick/Cranston line. Over the years, it has grown into a multievent festival, organized by an all-volunteer committee, that draws visitors from far and wide. About 15,000 visitors are expected for the centerpiece event: the parade on June 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., along a two-mile stretch of Narragansett Parkway.
Festivities continue in Pawtuxet Park on June 10, noon to 4 p.m., when Gaspee Days hosts “Sunday in the Park’’ with live music performances, colonial maneuvers, and the symbolic burning at 4 p.m. of the HMS Gaspee in silhouette. Visitors can bring a blanket and picnic and relax in the park, which overlooks the Pawtuxet River, or stroll to the nearby shops and restaurants of the village.
The Gaspee Days parade, its most expensive event, according to volunteers, is funded by several popular events leading up to it, most notably the Gaspee Days Arts and Crafts Festival, which takes place along Narragansett Parkway for three days over the Memorial Day weekend, featuring shopping, food, and live music. An estimated 60,000 people are expected to participate in this free, family-friendly experience that showcases more than 100 area artisans, food vendors, community groups and nonprofits.
For a complete schedule of events, go to www.gaspee.com.