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Block Island is part of the U.S. state of Rhode Islandmarker and is located in the Atlantic Oceanmarker approximately south of the coast of Rhode Islandmarker, east of Montauk Pointmarker on Long Islandmarker, and is separated from the Rhode Island mainland by Block Island Soundmarker. The United States Census Bureau defines Block Island as Census Tract 415 of Washington County, Rhode Islandmarker. As of the 2000 census the population of 1,010 lived on a land area of . The island is part of the Outer Lands region, a coastal archipelago made by the recessional and terminal moraine that resulted from the Wisconsonian Laurentide glacier retreat, about 22,000 years ago.

Block Island was named by the The Nature Conservancy as one of twelve sites in its list of "The Last Great Places" in the Western Hemisphere. Roughly 20 percent of the Island has been set aside for conservation. Block Island has been visited by presidents Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant.

The only town on the island is New Shorehammarker. The island is a popular summer tourist destination and is known for its excellent bicycling, hiking, sailing, fishing, and beaches. Two historic lighthouses are present on the island: Block Island North Lightmarker, on the northern tip of the island, and Block Island Southeast Lightmarker, on the southeast side of the island. Much of the northwest tip of the island is an undeveloped natural area and resting stop for birds along the Atlantic Flyway.

Every summer the island hosts Block Island Race Week, a highly competitive, week-long sailboat racing event. On odd years, the event is held by the Storm Trysail Club, and on even years by the Block Island Race Week organization. Yachts compete in various classes, sailing courses in Block Island Sound, and circumnavigating the island.

Other popular events include the annual Fourth of July Parade and celebration. During these times the island's population can triple over the normal summer vacation crowd.

History



Two-story Block Island Historical Society building
In 1524, what later became known as Block Island was sighted by Giovanni da Verrazzano, who named it "Luisa" after Louise of Savoy, the Queen Mother of Francemarker, and the mother of Francis I. However, several maps of the era named the island "Claudia," in honor of Claude, the wife of Francis I. Verrazano described Luisa (Claudia) as "about the size of the Island of Rhodesmarker." In fact, they are shaped very similarly. When the founders of Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations surveyed the land, they thought that Aquidneck Islandmarker was the place referred to by Verrazano. In 1614, Block Island was charted by the Dutchmarker explorer Adrian Block, who named it for himself. At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, it was occupied by a branch of the Narragansett people who called the island "Manisses" which means "island of the little God" in the language of the Narragansett tribe. Englishmarker settlers from the mainland first arrived in 1661 led by Captain John Underhill, when the island was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The island became part of the colony of Rhode Island in 1672 and the island government adopted the name "New Shoreham." A Dutch map of 1685 clearly shows Block Island, indicated as Adrian Block Island ("Adriaen Blocks Eylant").

In 1699 the Scottish sailor William Kidd visited Block Island, shortly before he was accused of piracy and hanged. At Block Island he was supplied by Mrs. Mercy (Sands) Raymond, daughter of the mariner James Sands. The story has it that, for her hospitality, Mrs. Raymond was bid to hold out her apron, into which Kidd threw gold and jewels until it was full. After her husband Joshua Raymond died, Mercy moved with her family to northern New London, Connecticutmarker (later Montville), where she bought much land. The Raymond family was thus said to have been "enriched by the apron".

In 1829 the original North Lighthousemarker was built, but it was replaced in 1837 after it was washed out to sea. This lighthouse was also claimed by the ocean. In 1867, the lighthouse that can be seen today was constructed. A few years later in 1873, construction began on Block Island's other lighthouse, Southeast Lightmarker.

Since Block Island has no natural harbors, in 1870 breakwaters were constructed to form Old Harbor. Block Island's other harbor, New Harbor, wouldn't be created until 1895 when a channel was dug that connected the Great Salt Pond to the ocean through the north west side of the island.

The Island Free Library, Block Island's only public library, was established in 1875. Block Island's school was built in 1933, replacing five one roomed schools.

During World War II several artillery spotters were located on the island to direct fire from the heavy gun batteries at Fort Greene, Point Judith that protected the entrance to Naragansett Baymarker. Lookout positions for the spotters were built to look like houses. The US government offered to evacuate the island, as it could not be effectively defended from enemy invasion. However, the islanders chose to stay. Days before the war ended, the Battle of Point Judith took place 7 miles to the northeast of the island.

The island's airportmarker was opened in 1950 and remains open today as a general aviation airport. In 1972 the Block Island Conservancy was founded. The Conservancy and other environmental organizations are responsible for protecting over 40% of the island from development. In 1974 Old Harbor Historic District was declared a National Register historic district.

Climate

Block Island's weather is greatly influenced by the surrounding ocean and prevailing winds that generally blow offshore. The climate is continental, with some maritime influence. Because the ocean stays cold during the Spring and Summer months, Block Island stays cooler than the mainland during this period. However, summers can still be hot on Block Island although July and August average in the mid and upper 70s instead of low and mid 80s that New York and New England experience. Block Island's record high temperature is . Block Island stays warmer than the mainland during the fall and winter months when the ocean remains relatively warmer than the mainland. Block Island's record low is .

Block Island's High and Low Temperature Averages and Precipitation Averages:

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg high °F 39 40 45 53 62 71 77 77 71 62 53 44 58
Avg low °F 27 28 33 41 49 58 64 64 57 49 41 32 45
Rainfall (inches) 3.68 3.04 3.99 3.72 3.40 2.77 2.62 3.00 3.19 3.04 3.77 3.57 39.79


Beaches

Beach waves near the National Hotel on Block Island


Swimmers in smooth waters at Block Island


Settler's Rock is the most northerly part of Block Island accessible to motorists.


Steep bluffs at Block Island


Crescent Beach can be viewed from the Pt. Judith Ferry on the way to the island. It contains three smaller beaches, Fred Benson Town Beach (still popularly known as State Beach due to its former status as one), Scotch Beach, and Mansion Beach, all of which are located on Corn Neck Road. State Beach and Ballards Beach are the only beaches on the island with on-duty life guards. State Beach has a pavilion with food and beach rentals. The so-called Baby Beach begins at the Surf Hotel, near the Beachhead Restaurant on Corn Neck Rd. Scotch Beach is located just north of Fred Benson Town Beach and Mansion Beach is located north of Scotch Beach.

North of Mansion Beach are Clayhead and Pots & Kettles. Clayhead is a set of cliffs which can be seen from the ferry in from Point Judith or New London. This area is rocky and contains iron-rich clay deposits, and is a popular area for shell and rock hunting.

Cow Cove, Settler's Rock, and Sandy Point make up the northernmost point of Block Island. Here lies the North Lighthouse and the postcard sunsets. Settler's Rock is located at Cow Cove, where the settlers landed and swam to shore bringing with them the island's first cows, which they pushed off the boats and forced ashore. Attached to the rock is a plaque naming the original settlers of Block Island. This beach is not ideal for swimming on the ocean side, especially at the point, due to strong rip currents. On the other side, however, is Sachem Pond, fresh water and good for swimming.

On the south side of the island, Black Rock Beach is widely regarded as the best beach for surfing on the island due to its high surf. However, the beach tends to be very rocky and has a reputation for being a nude beach, despite laws against nudity on Rhode Island's beaches. It is located near the Mohegan Bluffs and Southeast Lighthouse.

Coastguard Beach is situated between the Great Salt Pond and the ocean on the north west side of the island. It is a popular beach for fishing and walking, but not particularly good for swimming due to the large number of boats traveling nearby.

Ballard's Beach is on the southern side of the Block Island Ferry Dock and jetty. Set right in front of Ballard's Restaurant and Inn, popular with boaters and with the young crowd. There are cocktail waitresses on the sand, and daily live music outside. There's also a busy volleyball court with daily games and tournaments. There are lifeguards on duty at Ballard's Beach.

Bluffs Beach is accessed by parking at the Mohegan Bluffs entrance and walking down the stairs. There are 141 steps to this rocky area, known for its spectacular view. At the foot of these steep wooden stairs are big rocks leading to the beach. A word of caution also about walking near the bluffs. If you look up at the steep cliffs along the sand you will see where the island is eroding. This can be very dangerous as there is no warning as to when a chunk of land will fall from above. This has proved to be fatal in the past, so do not walk or sit too close to the bluffs. The same is true for when you are at the top of the bluffs, be mindful and watch your children. Do not walk too close to the edge. For this reason the main bluffs overlook is now closed to sightseers. Continuing south from the Bluffs you'll run into Vail Beach. Access this beach by parking at the first left on Snake Hole Road, where the painted rock is. There's only room for two or three cars here and the path can be a difficult walk. This is a popular surfing spot when the surf is up. You won't find many people here. It's very rocky, no sand and the surf is usually too rough for swimming.

Tourist attractions



Ashley House hotel on Block Island


Southeast Lighthousemarker is located at the southeast corner of the island on the Mohegan Trail. The lighthouse was constructed in 1875 and remains to this day an active US Coast Guard navigational aid. The lighthouse was moved in 1993, in danger of falling off of the bluffs due to erosion. In addition to offering tours of the tower, the lighthouse has a museum that is open during the summer season.

The Mohegan Bluffs are located a short distance to the west of Southeast Lighthouse. The Bluffs are the site of a battle between the invading Mohegan Indians, and the native Manisee Indians in which the Mohegans were driven off the edge of the tall cliffs to their deaths on the beach below. A long staircase of over one hundred stairs leads to the bottom of these clay cliffs and looks out over the Atlantic. On clear days, Montauk, New York can be seen in the distance from the southern and western sides of the island.

Rodman's Hollow is a glacial outwash basin, near the southern shore of the island. The hollow has several walking trails. Horseback rides through Rodman's Hollow are also offered.

North Lighthousemarker is located at Sandy Point on the northern tip of Block Island. The North Lighthouse warns boaters of a sandbar extending from this end of the island. The surrounding dunes are part of the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to many species, including the Piping Plover and American Burying Beetle. A short walk away from the North Lighthouse lies the tip of the island, with ocean on both sides of a thin strip of land.

U-853marker is a U-boat wreck east of the island, lying in of water. Recreational divers frequently visit the wreck, though at least three have died there.

Transportation

Boating is popular around Block Island.


The island is connected year-round by a ferry to Point Judithmarker, and in summer to New London, Connecticutmarker; Montauk, New Yorkmarker; and Newport, Rhode Islandmarker. The traditional ferry, takes about an hour to reach the island from Point Judith. A high-speed ferry on the same route takes 35 minutes. Another high-speed ferry from New London, Connecticutmarker to Block Island takes an hour and a half. It is usually necessary to book ferry reservations months in advance for the summer season if you want to bring your car over. New England Airlines offers regularly scheduled 12-minute flights to Block Island State Airportmarker from Westerly, Rhode Islandmarker.

Industry

Rhode Island has approved construction of a wind farm with six turbines approximately 3 miles southeast of the island. It would be the first offshore wind farm constructed in the United States. As of 2009 the Island electric grid is supplied by diesel generators, which are extremely expensive to operate. Under the plan, Block Island would source most of its power from the wind farm with backup power provided by a submarine cable to be installed from the mainland.

Shipwrecks

The area around Block Island has been the site of numerous shipwrecks, including the Steamer Larchmont in 1907 [51710]. The 1738 wreck of the Princess Augusta (also known as the Palatine ship) was later immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier in his 1867 poem, "The Wreck of the Palatine," among whose verses the words "Circled by waters that never freeze, Beaten by billow and swept by breeze, Lieth the island of Manisees," have become well-known. Two submarines also sank off of Block Island: the United States Navy USS S-51 in 1925, and the German U-Boat U-853marker in 1945. One shipwreck in particular sank in the 1800's just south of the southeast lighthouse. Its mast lies submerged approximately 4 feet below the water's surface. The area remains closed off to passing boats.

Notable residents

Notable current and former residents of Block Island include:

References

  1. Census Tract 415, Washington County United States Census Bureau
  2. Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State; Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State; retrieved on October 23, 2007
  3. Rhode Island Light Stations; United States Coast Guard; retrieved on October 23, 2007
  4. The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island - Block Island; The Nature Conservancy; retrieved on October 30, 2007
  5. Block Island South East Lighthouse National Historic Landmark Nomination; National Park Service Maritime Heritage Program; retrieved on October 23, 2007
  6. Daytripper's Guide: Block Island; University of Rhode Island Sea Grant; retrieved on October 22, 2007
  7. , page 194
  8. Besides New England Airlines, the island airport is used mainly by small, privately-owned aircraft, with a huge increase in activity at the airport during the summer months when many of the grass areas around the aprons and taxiways are used to park aircraft. The airport is officially called Block Island State (code: BID) and has a single, paved 2,502-ft. long runway, in an east-west orientation. The airport elevation is 108 ft above sea level and the terminal is about one mile from the town center. There have been several fatal air crashes over the years on Block Island. On August 26, 1995, a Cessna 185 seaplane carrying four people crashed while attempting to land for the third time in the waters off of Old Harbor Beach, an area not normally used for seaplane landings. The plane cleared a dune but hit a power line causing it to crash into a restaurant, G.R. Sharkeys, and hitting a car at the islands only gas station. All four people on the plane perished as well as one person on the ground. Nobody was hurt at the restaurant, which was destroyed by the impact of the plane and resulting fire, but a woman was killed sitting in her car as it was being fueled. The plane severely damaged the gas station when it crashed but the two pumps did not explode. On July 5, 2006, a plane carrying three people crashed about 1/2 mile west of the airport during bad weather. The aircraft had just taken off and was on its way to White Plains, NY, and carried a prominent surgeon, his wife, and mother.
  9. The Block Island Times; The Block Island Times; retrieved on October 30, 2007
  10. Shipwrecks - Northern Maritime Research - Northern Shipwrecks Database - Famous Shipwrecks of the Last 400 Years; Northern Maritime Research; retrieved on October 30, 2007
  11. Martin, Douglas. "K. H. Bacon, an Advocate For Refugees, Is Dead at 64", The New York Times, August 15, 2009. Accessed August 16, 2009.


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