I grew up on the Rhode Island shore and spent summers on the beach. In Rhode Island (and New England), we measure storms like this weekend’s hurricane/tropical storm against the grandaddy of all New England hurricanes: the Hurricane of 1938.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the shores of Narragansett Bay were dotted with resorts and beach houses. In this circa-1930s photo of Watch Hill, RI, groups of bathers and sun worshipers cluster under umbrellas in all modes of beach attire. It was a typical summer scene until Sept. 21, 1938.
Watch Hill was famous for its beaches, which stretched seven miles to the west to a lovely place known as Napatree Point. The 1938 hurricane changed the Rhode Island shoreline and washed away many of those summertime places.
On Napatree Point, 39 cottages, their owners’ cars and the road all disappeared and 15 people died, swept out to sea or into Watch Hill Harbor. Today, Napatree Point is a nature conservation area.
Here’s a view of part of the Watch Hill shoreline after the storm.
You can see other scenes of the 1938 damage to Rhode Island on the Rhode Island State Archives Virtual Archives. You can use the search box on the home screen to search for hurricane or place names. If you want to read about that storm, I suggest, R.A. Scotti’s Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 (Back Bay Books, 2004).
The Rhode Island State Archives has one of my favorite picture collections, so don’t stop with hurricane pictures. There is a lot more to look at in their virtual exhibits.
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