There aren’t many places left that still feel like the old fishing villages of the old settlers, but Block Island, located off the coast of Rhode Island and Long Island, has managed to maintain that vibe with its rocky coastline, sparsely built rolling hills, and quaint historic streets. This vacation destination, a little further off the beaten path, is also home to numerous hard core year rounders who revel in the brusque honesty of the community (people leave their doors unlocked here) and the changing of the seasons. There’s a reason why Block Island was named one of the “Last Great Places” by The Nature Conservancy, noting the diversity within the 134 acres dedicated to a wildlife refuge on this rocky island.
Block Island was named for Dutch explorer Adrian Block, who discovered a community of Narraganset Indians there in 1614. The earliest American settlers relocated to the island from the Massachusetts Colony in 1662.
In the high season, you can get to Block Island by high speed ferry from Newport, Rhode Island and Fall River, Massachusetts (pedestrian and cyclists only). You can also take both a high speed and traditional ferry from Port Judith, Rhode Island – the traditional ferry is what you can take your car on.
You can also take a ferry from New London, Connecticut or Orient Point, Long Island during the high season. On the off-season, only one ferry heads to and from Block Island – the traditional ferry from Port Judith, Rhode Island. It only leaves a few times a day and has a limited capacity for cars, so make sure to book early. The island is still great without a car though, and you can rent a scooter or bike easily to get around.
1. Block Island North Lighthouse
Block Island had a treacherous reputation in the maritime world, eagerly taking ships aground in the early 1800s. According to the website Lighthouse Friends, in a twenty year period during this era, “thirty-four schooners, fifteen sloops, eight brigs, and two larger ships all ran aground.” The fate of the lighthouses on the northern tip have been almost equally tragic – this is the fourth lighthouse, with the first swept out to sea in the 1830s due to rapid erosion of the sand and gravel.
The current structure was built in 1867 out of Connecticut granite. The sandy-colored, rusticated structure has a Victorian architecture influence and an iron lantern tower at the top. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1973 and came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and later the town of New Shoreham in 1983, which proceeded with two decades of preservation efforts. A small museum on the first floor is open during the high season and the lighthouse was re-established as a working light in 2010.
The surrounding sandy dunes make for a nice exploration around the lighthouse, following a walk along Cow Cove to access the site.