20 Things You Didn’t Know about Block Island

BLock Island

Many thousands of years ago, Block Island was formed when a glacier melted, resulting in ponds and plenty of rolling hills behind. Remains have been found on the island, indicating that the Narragansett Indians lived there thousands of years ago. Block Island is now a part of New Shoreham, Rhode Island and was named after a man named Adriaen Block, who was a Dutch explorer. The zip code there is 02807 and the area code is 401. As of the 2010 census, approximately 1,051 Block Islanders inhabited the island, but that increases, of course, in the summertime when visitors converge on the island to enjoy all that it has to offer.

Getting to Block Island is just a short ride on a ferry away and there are two of them. The traditional ferry departs from Point Judith, takes about one hour and 15 minutes, and costs $30.00. The high-speed ferry departs from New London, takes around one hour, and runs $50.00. Both ferries are running approximately every three hours starting in the morning and ending in the evening. They will charge you extra for bikes and cars, but not for any luggage that you bring with you, There is also an additional parking fee if you leave your car there. You can take your car on the ferry, but bear in mind that the roads on Block Island are rather narrow.

Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Block Island

1. The original name of the 7,000-acre island was Manisses, meaning “Island of the Little God”. Today, there’s a hotel, a restaurant, and an animal farm on Block Island proudly bearing the name “Manisses”, just to name a few. The hotel is a beautiful beachfront boutique hotel and the Manisses Restaurant is one of 43 restaurants on the island and it offers excellent ambiance to go with its excellent food. The Manisses Animal Farm is home to a host of amazing animals from alpacas to zedonks and everything in-between. Even if you’re not a little kid, it’s great fun. And, who doesn’t love animals?

2. Block Island was first settled by 16 families in 1661, many of whose descendants are still living there today and enjoying the island lifestyle. The names of the original purchasers are listed on a plaque located on the north end of Block Island and they are John Ackurs, William Barker, William Billings, John Clarke, William Cohoone, Daniel Cumball, Samuel Dearing, Trustrum Dodge, William Jud, Duncan Mack, John Rathbun, Simon Ray, Tormut Rose, Thomas Terry, William Tosh, Edward Vorce, Nicholas White, and Duncan Mack Williamson. Other settlers who were not purchasers, but are also listed on the plaque, include Richard Allis, John Alcock, Richard Billingum, Samuel Dearing, Thomas Faxson, Peter George, John Glover, John Rathbun, Simon Ray, Tormut Rose, James Sands, Thomas Terry, Edward Vorce, Phillip Warton, Hugh Williams, and Nathaniel Winslow.

3. The island was once a very popular vacation spot for Victorian era families, who would arrive there with their steamer trunks in tow. They wore those amazingly prudish Victorian bathing suits and loved frolicking in the island waters like they didn’t have a care in the world. Unfortunately, some of them ended up never leaving the island because they died in Block Island hotel fires.

4. So, now Block Island is said to be haunted by the ghosts of visitors who died while staying in the island’s grand hotels when they burned to the ground. One of those allegedly haunted hotels is the Ocean View. It was located above the Post Office at the time, and a summer session of Congress was actually once held there.

5. And, hotels are not the only locations that have paranormal activity. The Palantine was a passenger ship that burned off of the coast in 1738 and everyone onboard died. The story has it that sometimes a ghostly ship has been observed burning offshore near Sandy Point when nights are really quiet. And, in total, five or more major shipwrecks have occurred in the waters around Block Island. In 1831, a two-masted schooner called Warrior also wrecked off Sandy Point. Then in 1846 a coal ship ended up running aground in Cow Cove. After that coal became the major fuel source for the island, replacing peat. Somewhat more recently, two ships collided offshore in 1907. They were the Harry Knowlton, which was a three-masted schooner, and the Larchmont, which was a steamer. Gold medals were awarded to the Block Island fishermen by the Carnegie Foundation for valiant efforts resulting in saving the lives of a number of survivors. Last but not least, the Lightburne, which was a 416-foot oil tanker owned by Texaco, went aground in 1939 right in front of the Southeast Lighthouse, She was loaded with gasoline and kerosene totaling 72,000 barrels. Fortunately, more island heroes were able to rescue the crew. Today, the site of where the ship had been dynamited for the purpose of minimizing the possible navigational hazards. has become is a popular destination for avid ocean divers.

In addition, the Southeast Lighthouse is said to be haunted as well. It was built in 1874 in the ornate style of the Victorian era. According to the legend, the lighthouse keeper killed his spouse by giving her a little push right down the stairs and therefore her spirit refuses to leave. They also say that she only harasses male visitors and has done so by locking them out of a room or in a closet, lifting up their bed, or physically shaking them. Another story is that spirits wander around the island because they died during the winter months and couldn’t receive proper burial until winter ended and the ground thawed.

6. According to Block island tradition, there are 365 ponds on the island, which equals one for every day in a year. Modern geographers are saying that a more accurate number would probably be 300, but that’s still a whole lot of ponds for one island!

7. Speaking of ponds, on any given 4th of July weekend, 2,000 or more boats are out on the water in the Great Salt Pond. That’s one big rafting party!

8. That’s a pretty amazing number, especially when you consider that less than 1,000 individuals actually call Block Island home during the offseason, and there are only approximately 115 students attending the little K-12 public school.

9. When the Revolutionary War was in full swing between 1775 and 1783, the people of Block Island would go up to Beacon Hill, which was the highest place on the island at more than 200 feet above sea level, to keep a lookout for the purpose of warning the island’s inhabitants if an enemy was spotted coming in their direction. Then, they built an observatory on Beacon Hill in the 1800s as a tourist attraction. Today, that observatory has been converted to a private home.

10. Since the 1970s, Block Island has fostered a vigorous conservation movement. Currently, 43 percent of the island’s funds has been put aside for conserving the island’s public open spaces. Their goal is to reach 50 percent.

11. Captain Kid was rumored to have visited Block Island regularly back in the day. Speculation on the island is that a portion of the infamous pirate’s buried treasure had been hidden on the shores of the island. Captain Kidd is also said to have anchored his ship, which was called the Antonio, off the shores of Block Island around 1699. Then he went ashore for the purpose of meeting with his legal adviser and his wife and they allegedly buried the family silver and other valuables on the island. Also, while he was there, he was catered to by a woman named Mercy Sands Raymond, who was the daughter of the well-known mariner, James Sands. It is said that in exchange for her hospitality, Captain Kidd told her to present her apron and then he filled it with jewels and gold.

Over the years, the inhabitants of Block Island have made numerous unsuccessful attempts at finding the hidden treasure of Captain Kidd. Thre are innumerable exciting stories of sights that have been seen or strange sounds that have been heard when treasure hunters have been searching for the elusive gold and silver on the island’s shores, according to Livermore’s History Of Block Island.

However, in the 1850s, Samuel and Champlin Ball are said to have actually dug up a kettle filled with gold. They carried it back to Samuel’s house and set a date for dividing it up, but something kept coming up and they didn’t seem to get around to it. So, Samuel buried it one night, then headed to the Black Horse, which was a popular tavern at the time. Unfortunately, while he was there, he fell through a trap door and died of his injuries, never having revealed where he hid the gold, where it probably still lies buried to this day.

12. In the late 1800s, the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement of Block Island erected a statue that was supposed to depict Rebecca at the Well. The statue was faithfully replicated later, but when you look at it closely, it seems that the company who crafted the original statue made a major error. Rebecca is holding grapes and an urn which indicates that they were confused and rather than a biblical figure, they ended up with a Greek goddess named Hebe, who is quite wine-friendly. Probably not exactly what the temperance ladies were going for!

13. A wonderful local woman named Monica is said to be one of the descendants of the settlers of Block Island. She is an older lady and runs Monica’s Taxi Island Tour. She offers island tours for 60-90 minutes that provide lots of local island history. She’s quite knowledgeable regarding all the historical details and she drives a Suburban that holds five to six people. The price of these amazingly entertaining and informing tours is just $55.00 for two people plus $10 for each one after that.

14. One favorite, [yet not all that well known to most tourists], activity on Block Island is walking the staircase at Mohegan Bluffs. 157 wooden stairs are leading downward to the beautiful beach below. In addition, the lighthouse can be seen from the overlook there.

15. The hiking is great everywhere on Block Island as well. Due to the enormous amount of space that is designated as permanently open and can’t ever be built on, there’s plenty of amazing hiking available. And, what’s more, these areas are really quite beautiful whether you choose to hike near the ocean or by the numerous freshwater ponds all over the island where you can marvel at all the lily pads that dot the water. And, there are convenient trails that are ten feet wide and kept mowed for your convenience and enjoyment.

16. There are a number of amazing restaurants on Block Island, including:
~ Persephone’s Coffee for excellent coffee and tasty smoothies, as well as free wi-fi.
~ Finn’s Seafood, where the salmon is excellent, as are the mussels.
~ The Surf Hotel is the place where you can get really great breakfast fare. And, be sure to try the corned beef hash and egg platter for a yummy morning change of pace.
~ Aldo’s Bakery in Old Harbor, which is kind of one of those places where you can get everything from amazing baked goods, Italian gelato, ice cream, Italian food, a weekend brunch, an arcade, and excellent prices.
~ Mohegan Grille, where they offer things like great French onion soup and cheesy nachos,
~ Payne’s Killer Donuts, which is located just a mile from Old Harbor and have sweet apple cider donuts.
~And be sure to try the Old Harbor lunch stand for fantastic fried fish sandwiches and fried clams. It’s really convenient and they also have excellent smoothies.

If you’re a movie buff, then you have the chance to watch one at the Empire Theatre, which numbers among the oldest American independent theaters at more than 100 years old. As a former roller rink, it offers several showings per day and they have a well-stocked snack bar. They have very current digital technology and, since it’s a rather small theater, the quality is excellent. Another nice touch is the local piano player who entertains moviegoers until the show starts.

17. If on the other hand, you’re more of a history buff and love staying in historical hotels, Block Island has several great ones to offer. Two of the favorites with most visitors include the Manisses, as well as The Surf Hotel, which is beachfront and has a great restaurant and rocking chairs out front to boot.

18. The island also has a Farmer’s Market where local artisans sell some unusual and exceptionally beautiful items that include locally sourced sea salts and cards that are all handmade, and all kinds of herbal mixtures and special crafts. And, as you would expect since it’s a farmer’s market, there are plenty of fruits and veggies too.

19. If shopping is your passion, the shops on Block Island will definitely entice you. They carry so many adorable beachy things there from Block Island tee shirts to toys and really interesting books. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it in the island shops and much of it is handmade. If you don’t find it, at least you’ll have a really great time looking for it.

20. Beaches, beaches and more beaches. Of course, it’s no surprise and you probably knew there were beaches on Block Island, but unlike some other places, every single beach on the island is a public beach for your enjoyment. And, they’re also free of any extra charges for parking or beach access. For immediate access to showers and restrooms, however, stay close to the one and only beach pavilion on the island.


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