Not Exceeding Three Percent
It is hot outside but lovely and breezy here down the Neck. The house is cooled by a cross-breeze but Autumn wants to go out and lie in the cooler shade of the trees in the yard.
She is under house arrest, I hope under the last full day of the dreaded cone.
The nice vet in Westerly called last week, as it happened on her birthday, to confirm that the horrid mass he had removed from her side last week was, indeed, benign. She looked quite happy returning on the boat, sporting her new
fashion accessory, a plastic cone. I think the happiness may have been drugs and a succession of car rides and activities, adventures to her.
Two weeks ago, with everything going on with the dog, I went back to old research on the bathing beach, a portion of which I ran. There was much more than I realized, so much was not used, some of which has been increasingly timely, as the temperatures here, as dreadful as they seem, have called to mind the old “Summer at Sea” a tagline used by several hotels in the late 1800s.
The ocean was a thing to be harvested by the Native Americans. Fish comprised a huge part of their life; it was food, also a source of fine wampum crafted from quahog shells. The shore from the early recorded life of the European settlers was a resource. Trustrum Dodge was enticed to join the first settlement to ensure it had a fisherman among its numbers. Sand, drift and seaweed rights measured in rods were transferred with land in deeds painstakingly copied by hand in the Land Evidence records. The island’s coves were places from which small fishing boats were launched and to which they returned, their twine nets, hopefully, filled with catch, food for the body, fertilizer for the land, export for cash.
Even in the history by the Rev. T. S. Livermore, the first edition penned in 1877, the bathing beach as place of recreation merits only a few lines in a section titled “East Side.” He writes more of the natural history, gleaned from older
persons. The only references to bathing facilities are “huts” along the shore for changing clothes.
The advertisements for what we often call the Golden Era of Block Island touted healthy air above all. A 32-page “Summer at Sea” booklet produced by the grand Ocean View Hotel devotes more words to “Drives” and “Boating
and Fishing” than “Bathing,” although it does boast the beach to be “one of the finest on the coast.”
It was not until 1894 that the town entered into an “Indenture” with O.S. Marden, a developer, for the “sole and exclusive privilege of bathing on the East Beach... together with the lot of land used therewith for bath houses... including the right to “Rope Off” a reasonable portion of said beach... for the exclusion of horses and vehicles, and to adopt such other measures as may be deemed necessary for the comfort and protection of bathers.” The annual cost was $655 and Marden was to keep a reasonable number of bath houses at a charge of fifteen cents for “bath without bathing suit, twenty five cents for bath including a bathing suit.” All was “Subject nevertheless to all the “rights of G. McCotter” identified in an 1892 guidebook by Livermore as having “an interesting process of separating the black or iron sand from the other.” Marden’s lease allowed him the right to provide a place for sale of coffee, confectionary, ice cream, soda, and for amusements for convenience of the patrons but not to serve any beverages with an alcoholic content exceeding three percent.
It quickly became a popular spot, a stop on the horse car track that was installed between the harbors, a locale of many photographs of people dressed in multi-layer costumes, standing in line to rent bathing suits, vying for space in the water. It was near enough to town, within sight of the big hotels, but also on the edge of the countryside.
It was not until 1927, with more optimism than history would prove warranted, that a lease was formally executed with the Block Island Bathing Beach Company, President Giles Dunn, Treasurer Ray Payne. The Company was to make improvements of not less than $10,000 to the site, any plan to be approved by the Town Council. Better defined than earlier documents, this one included the beach between “Old Pier” (a delta shaped configuration of rocks
visible at low tide, roughly across from the Beachhead restaurant) and a point six hundred yards north of the then-existing bath houses.
It granted the lessee the exclusive right to maintain bathing facilities on East Beach from the Harbor to “Benj Rose’s Lot” (“Benjie’s Hill” just beyond Scotch Beach) to the north. It was to be modernized, including sanitary toilets,
boardwalks, “and so forth.” It is this expanded building, or the part of it left after the 1938 hurricane, that is remembered by some with longer histories here. It is the one visible over the rolling hills in the Wetherbee murals that grace the walls of Club Soda.
Sweet memories of people who recall the old beach house, with a space large enough for dances being open for the young people, belie the record of the town that shows the Block Island Bathing Beach Company had bumpy going. One year they complained to the Council that all hotels excepting the Spring House and National advertised “free bathing” and asked the town to end all bathing along the east beach except at their facility.
As the troubled and empty forties showed no promise of economic rebound, Interstate Navigation, then headed by Ray Abel, President, and John Wronowski, Treasurer, took over the lease. The beach venture did not work and over the next few years... they and the town and a Mr. Blakely went back and forth, the town finally approving the transfer to the last in 1950.
And now we’re back to 1950, on the edge of the state and ultimately the town becoming involved. That’s in the B.I. Times two weeks ago.