In 1938, on Sept. 9, a storm was forming off the coast of Africa. Subsequently, it developed into a Category 5 hurricane, and it spun up the east coast of the United States. After this storm crossed the Atlantic, it hit the coasts of Haiti and Cuba. Then, it changed course off the tip of Florida and headed directly north. This massive storm with no name made its way northward, and made landfall on Long Island–as a Category 3. The National Weather Service didn’t start naming hurricanes until 1953.
The hurricane then continued north creating havoc along the coasts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This storm had sustained winds of 160 mph, and caused more than 600 deaths and millions of dollars in damages.
At another dock where I spend time, sits my sailboat, Reverie. She is strapped to a floating dock about 200 feet north of where the Jamestown Ferry once docked, back before the construction of the Pell Bridge, a.k.a. the Newport Bridge. In those days, the cars would line up on Bowen’s Wharf. The ferry from Jamestown would dock and off load the cars and passengers. Then, the waiting cars would drive aboard for the return trip to Jamestown. (Ahem, sound familiar?) That was the drill to connect traffic to Jamestown and points west via the Jamestown Bridge. The waterfront of Newport Harbor, along with several other coastal communities on Narragansett Bay, also sustained severe damage during the Hurricane of ’38. Moreover, Newport’s exclusive Bailey’s Beach — which sits on the coast facing south — was reduced to rubble.
The footprint of this part of Newport where my sailboat is docked on the waterfront hasn’t changed. It’s still a place with docks used for commerce: commercial fishing boats, day sailing, launch services, water taxis, assorted tour boats and ferries work out of this harbor. Furthermore, 200 feet north of Reverie, is where the Block Island Fast Ferry Islander docks to pick up and unload passengers in the summertime. Like the Point Judith docks, this place feels very familiar to me, and there seems to be a degree of continuity — a connection to something — as I notice life go floating by. Being of a Type A nature, both places keep me still–docked. It is also a vulnerable area to have a boat if a storm approaches.
In the ‘50s, our dad took us to Galilee to see the Tuna Tournament. There was a gallows frame with giant tuna hanging, right about where the ferry ramp is now. In those early days as a kid, I knew that I’d be somehow connected to this place of docks — destiny maybe. In those days, like Newport, the port was the place of a thriving commercial and sport fishing economy. And, a ferry ran to Block Island. The ferry operation was a minimalist scene; however, it served the needs of folks on the island. These days, on a more expansive note, it still does — year in and year out in all weathers.
Many years ago, Capt. Jerry Adams was a commercial fisherman from Point Judith — his wife May gave me the photograph of the State Pier in 1938. He owned an Eastern Rig dragger called the Ocean Clipper. He once docked his boat along the State Pier in Galilee. Note well the footprint of what is now the Block Island Ferry’s point of operation. This photograph was taken after the ’38 Hurricane, and it reveals many things about Galilee. There are obvious things we can note immediately. First of all, there is the State Pier and bulkhead. Secondly, we can see the telephone poles, which clearly delineates Great Island Road from the sand and scrub of the surrounding barrier beach. Thirdly, we can note the building footprint which is now where the ticket office sits.
Conversely, there are many things in this photograph that we do not see. We don’t see the Dutch Inn Hotel — it had a windmill on it back in the ‘70s, nor do we see Tim Handrigan’s Fish Market, Milt’s Saloon, or Andrea’s Bait Shop. The Department of Environmental Management building isn’t there, either. We don’t see the “Million Dollar Corner” (ask locals about the name) because they stopped building the bulkhead — it’s just a small patch of beach sand. We also do not see the freight shed, Jimmy’s Portside, and the Boat House Boutique. Most importantly, we do not see the Escape Road in the upper left hand corner. The Escape Road was built after the ’54 Hurricane. During that hurricane, people living on Great Island — just north of Galilee — could not leave their homes. (The only road out to Point Judith Road was along the beach on Sand Hill Cove Road.)
In addition to Newport’s waterfront, I’ve witnessed the growth arc of The Block Island Ferry in Galilee for many decades. There have been many changes: boats, crews, and buildings. There is one constant I’ve witnessed at both docks — the weather. We remember Hurricane Bob, The Halloween Storm, a.k.a. The Perfect Storm, and, of course, our most recent Hurricane, she went by the name of Sandy. Both of these docks are a reminder of the power of wind and sea.