The Dutch Inn: A retrospective

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 10:45am

When the Dutch Inn was built in Galilee many years ago, it looked more ornate than it does today. It had a faux windmill and windows on its tower. It was designed as a full-blown resort hotel. The Inn had an indoor pool (with real parrots in the trees), outdoor tennis courts, a sauna and gym, plenty of rooms on two levels, a bar, and a good-sized dining room. It was the kind of hotel we would see in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod — a “Cuddle ‘n Bubble” kind of place. One day it seemed to just appear in the fishing Port of Galilee — early 70s as I recall — and it began a successful run through the decades down at the Point. 

Over the years, the Dutch Inn hosted: birthday parties, proms, weddings, and conventions — the ferry company had our Christmas party there one year. One winter in the 80s, I talked the manager into buying a Schwinn Airdyne Bicycle for the gym. She was trying to sell Health Club memberships, and I told her she needed to power up the hardware to lure people into the place. She got the slick Schwinn, and as a result she got more people to sign up for the club. She gave the ferry guys a discount, and the place got more use. It was a good setup for a swim and a sweat. Furthermore, the slick Schwinn Airdyne was good for a cardio workout in the middle of the winter. I was doing laps in the pool one night while waiting to tie up the last ferry, and there was some kind of Fashion Show in progress. As I was swimming aimlessly back and forth the parrots were squawking as pretty ladies scurried around in fancy dresses — in February. It was surreal.

For several summers in the 70s, a tight group, “The Jewels of Dixie,” played to a packed bar on Sundays throughout the summer. My mom and dad along with several of their friends couldn’t get enough of this great Dixieland band after hanging at the beach in Breakwater Village. It was a wild scene, and the band drew huge and enthusiastic crowds. It was a combination of Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk on steroids. Those were the halcyon days for the Dutch Inn—the salad days. Although the hotel’s design was incongruous to the area, the place had established itself in the heart of the roughhewn fishing Port of Galilee, Rhode Island. It rented rooms for people who wanted a change of pace from their hometowns around New England. It was a destination for some, and an embarkation place for others—heading to Block Island. The place had character, and attracted, ahem, characters.

One cold winter’s night I was taking a swim before heading over to unload the last ferry. After I got out of the pool, I ran into a guy in the sauna who was staying at the hotel — he had some business to tend to in Galilee — and we got talking about how bleak the winters were in the northeast. I told him I worked for the ferry company, taught high school up the road, and was a family man; he told me what his dodge was — to be honest the guy seemed kind of sketchy. Suddenly, this lean and aged gray-haired character with a pronounced New Yawk accent says, “I own an island.” Right out of the gate I said, “I don’t believe you, mister.” “Most people don’t, but I’m Lord Dumpling. I own the North Dumpling island in Fisher’s Island Sound,” he said. “I’m telling ya, kid, I’m Lord Dumpling.” He told me he was looking for a caretaker for his island because he and his wife had a 60-foot ketch that they sailed and chartered around the Virgin Islands. Lord Dumpling knew I was skeptical, and could clearly sense it. He looked me in the eye and said, “Come to Noank next Saturday at noon. I keep a 25-foot Boston Whaler Frontier there. It’s my ferryboat. I’ll take you out for a tour.” Lord Dumpling threw down the gauntlet. I passed on the offer because I was working that day, and I felt bad doubting this guy’s veracity. He grabbed a pencil and wrote down my address. “I’ll send you a brochure of our sailboat in Tortola. Come on down some winter,” he said. 

A week later the brochure of his charter boat came in the mail. Lord Dumpling from the dank Dutch Inn sauna was a solid guy, and I regret not having spent more time with this character from New York City — you don’t meet guys like this every day. His backstory had to be really interesting. This guy was the real deal. His name was David. We bounced notes for a couple of years, and then he faded away. North Dumpling Island is currently owned by a guy named Dean Kamen — he invented the Segway. He refers to his island as the “Kingdom of North Dumpling,” and refers to himself as Lord Dumpling II.

In the mid 80s, Rhode Island’s own John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band recorded a song titled “Song and Dance” — a catchy tune. It appeared on a great album the band recorded called “Road House.” They also made a video of the song and it was shot in Galilee. The production company used the Dutch Inn as its base. A guy I played music with named Jon Campbell was also involved in the film business at that time, and somehow, we both ended up working on the video shoot — it was a fun gig. The hotel provided the rooms for all of the production folks. The Inn’s restaurant was closed, so the whole gang ate their meals at The Portside — across from the ferry docks. (See the video of the band and song title for a snootful of Galilee images on The Block Island Times’ Facebook page. I’m the guy tossing the line; Campbell is messing with a lobster pot buoy.)

Those good old days are gone now. Presently, The Dutch Inn is still in operation. Gone are the yawping parrots by the pool, the birthday parties, the faux windmill blades, and sounds of Dixieland Jazz wafting from the boisterous bar. Finally, those memories, like all memories, are forever dispatched to the ether. But, this Scribbler still has some active files of that period roiling around in his head.