Rocky Point 2-- Steamboats & Harrington

The American Steamboat Company

In 1865, Captain William Winslow sold Rocky Point to Byron Sprague who spent a small fortune in trying to make the park a playground for the very rich.  He failed, and four years later the park was sold to the American Steamboat Company, which later became the Continental Steamboat Company.

In the late nineteenth century, many mills and factories closed for a week or two in July and provided transportation to Rocky Point for their employees.  For many, such as the English immigrants at Greystone in North Providence, this was as far as they ever ventured from the factory town in which they lived and worked. For many mill workers, the day at Rocky Point was the most enjoyable day of the year.

By the time the Warwick Railroad was running its line to Rocky Point thousands took the ride on the railroad to meet and hear many politicians and celebrities.

President Rutherford B. Hayes

The rich and the famous also came to Rocky Point. One of its most illustrious visitors was President Rutherford B. Hayes, who visited here in 1877, the summer after becoming president in the disputed Election of 1876.  Hayes made history's first presidential telephone call when he called Dr. Alexander Graham Bell from Rocky Point.  Hayes later reported that he could understand words, but could not understand whole sentences.

Rocky Point, like the railroad and trolley had its share of good times, bad times, fun times and sad times.  One of the great problems was the fear of fire.  Entrepreneur Byron Sprague who had purchased the property from the Winslows for $60,000 in 1860 and added another $300,000 to build a three-story hotel, saw his dreams go up in smoke.  His hotel, which was capable of housing 300 guests and his observation tower that was ten stories high and 250 feet above sea level, along with a large 3-story mansion, were severely damaged when, in 1883, a spectacular fire demolished the Rocky Point Hotel.  The fire started on March 16, before the season opened, when there were only a few employees at the hotel.  Unfortunately, Warwick had no fire departments that could handle a large fire.  There was a fire engine, called the Little Giant, on the premises, but it was inadequate for this task and a cry for help was sent to Providence.  By the time help reached the park, the amusement center, the hotel, clam dinner hall, and boathouse were demolished.

Colonel Randall A. Harrington, Master Showman

The fire ended Rocky Point's dual identity as a resort for summer guests and day excursionists, as the hotel was never rebuilt.  The park continued, however, to be popular for another hundred years.  In 1911, R. A. Harrington purchased Rocky Point Amusement Park from the Providence, Fall River & Newport Steamship Company and ended wild speculation concerning the future of the park.

Colonel Harrington announced that he would keep the site as a summer resort and would add amusements so that the Warwick park would rival that of Coney Island.  Harrington leased the park in 1888, and by 1900, his flair for the business had already made him the most popular resort proprietor in New England.  He advertised extensively and drew customers from as far away as Maine and Canada.  The excitement of going to Rocky Point was so great that often excursions of hundreds arrived accompanied by their own bands. During the height of the season, trolley cars ran from Providence every five minutes, and boats came into the wharf on an hourly basis.

The story of Rocky Point will be continued.


Rocky Point in the 1870s provided work for Warwick’s fishermen and quohaggers as the shore dinner hall began to attract large numbers of customers.  This old photo recalls the time when sailing ships and row boats were on the bay in great numbers.

From the Henry A. L. Brown collection.