Block Island's history is a rich one, encompassing Native American tribes, Revolutionary War heroes, legendary shipwrecks, and its emergence in the late 1800s as one of New England’s premiere summer destinations.
Learn more about the island’s history by visiting the Historical Society Museum and gift shop downtown. A white mansard-roofed building, the Historical houses an extensive collection of furniture, textiles, quilts, oral histories, fishing gear, tools, and Native American artifacts. Then head to Issac’s Corner, at the intersection of Center Road, Lakeside Drive, and Cooneymus roads. Named for the island’s last full-blooded Native American, who died in 1886, it is near the Indian burial ground and the stone monument erected just last year in honor of the Manissean tribe.
On that same corner, overlooking Fresh Pond, sits the gambrel-roofed cottage of composer and poet Arthur Penn, who lived there with his wife Nell in the 1920s. His song “Smilin’ Through” is named for his Block Island home.
No history of Block Island would be complete without mentioning shipwrecks. While some have become the stuff of legend, others remain accessible for sport divers. Among the legendary is the Princess Augusta, which inspired John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1867 poem “The Palatine.”
Block Island’s rough seas and rocky coastlines would certainly have claimed more ships were it not for two lighthouses. The North and Southeast lighthouses have achieved iconic status, revered for their historic significance and as symbols of the community spirit that has allowed them to be restored and preserved.
The Southeast Lighthouse made national headlines in the early nineties when, after years of erosion, it found itself just 50 feet from the cliff’s edge. Islanders banded together to save the beloved structure, raising nearly $2 million in federal and private grants and donations to move the lighthouse 245 feet back from the bluff.
You’ll want to see the North Light, too, by hiking past Settler’s Rock. The lantern on that lighthouse was recently restored and re-lit, and its small museum renovated.
A few Block Island rules to keep you safe. DIAL 911 FOR EMERGENCY
An emergency is when immediate police, fire or rescue assistance is necessary. 911 should not be dialed for non-emergency calls that do not involve or require immediate assistance. Do exactly what the 911 operator tells you to do. Give the operator all necessary information, including the fire number on the house. Remember, your assistance could make the difference between serious injury, life or death.
If in doubt, use 911
911 is for emergency use only! However, if you feel that there is an emergency occurring but don’t know for certain, presume it is an emergency and use 911.
Important Island Phone Numbers
BI Medical Center 466-2974
Police (nonemergency) 466-3220
Fire Department / Rescue 466-3220
Coast Guard (Block Island) 466-2086
Coast Guard (Galilee) 24 hours 789-0444
RI Poison Control (800) 222-1222
BI Airport 466-5511
Town Clerk 466-3200
Recreation Department 466-3223
Interstate Navigation (Block Island) 466-2261
Block Island Express 466-2212
Block Island Hi-Speed Ferry 466-2261
Transfer Station 466-3234