The charm and history of Little Compton, Rhode Island have those who live there repeating an unofficial motto along the lines of “Let’s keep Little Compton little!” In other words, they want to keep a good thing to themselves. But, with homes and farms dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, beautiful beaches, plenty of delicious homegrown food, art and antiques in the area, you’ll want to—perhaps in a subtle manner—make sure to visit the area for yourself.
In Relation to Rhode Island
Situated in southeastern Rhode Island between the Sakonnet River and the Massachusetts state border, Little Compton is a special area for vacationers who are looking to slow down and enjoy some history, charm and a feeling of solitude. Founded by English Pilgrims, Little Compton was the first permanent settlement in New England. In 1747, it officially became part of Rhode Island. It’s now home to the only official “town common” in the state and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Driving into the area, I had the sensation that I was actually driving through the French countryside, with low, old, stone walls that had been hand-built and ran the length of many of the stunning properties we passed. Farms, B&B’s, historic sites, amazing antiquated cemeteries and small roadside stands tumbled into view as we continued along.
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The Birds and the Beaches
We’d been fortunate enough to find a small, newly re-modeled beach house to rent for a week amidst the many large homes and mansions that can be found there. It was within a private beach access area called Round Pond. The majority of the beach areas in Little Compton are private, meaning that unless you live near the beach itself, there is no access to parking and your car will not be allowed in without permits. If you’re able to walk or bike into the beach area, that’s a different story. Within a short walking distance of Round Pond, we had easy access to four beach areas, including Surfers Beach, a popular spot for, you guessed it, surfers.
The Warren’s Point bluffs situated by the beach and beach club of the same name offers cliffs with multi-leveled boards allowing you to jump off safely. (If you can get past your fear of heights, that is.) Lifeguards are stationed on the bluffs and in the water at different points in the day to help out. For those with a penchant for back flips or fancy dives, you’ll have to come back after the lifeguards have left. (Don’t worry though–they’ll openly tell you when that will be.)
South Shore and Goosewing Beach Preserve are public areas—with parking for a fee-and they ride up against the state border, so you potentially can swim or walk straight into Massachusetts. (I myself couldn’t help taking a picture as I stood atop the border, straddling both states.) The Goosewing Beach Preserve offers “pristine” beach, dune and pond views and is taken care of by the Rhode Island Nature Conservancy. Visitors can learn more about the environment and some of the rare birds found there at the Benjamin Family environmental education center.
The birds in the area are respected. In our area of Round Pond, there were a number of platforms with osprey nests established, allowing us to see these majestic sea birds up close, and letting the local bird watchers to watch and track their nests and offspring.
At many of the beaches, and depending on the time of year, there are no lifeguards, so you may want to take note of ocean and weather conditions before you hit the beach. That does not stop the locals, some of whom are die-hard beach lovers and take the time for a daily swim through until late October or early November. Another long-forgotten tradition can be rekindled, literally, because on many of the beaches open fire pits are often permitted.
Eat at Home
We choose to make most of our own food at home so as to keep food costs lower, let the kids run around while we cooked and to enjoy the local food. We were able to walk to get fresh Lobster from the Sakonnet Lobster Co., to walk to the Sakonnet Point harbor in the early morning and buy fresh fish right off the boat, and we made a competition out of trying the different produce from the many local family farm stands such as Orr’s (permanently preserved by the Town of Westport) and Wilma’s at Walkers. We got other good seafood at the Westport Lobster Co., but it required us taking the car. It’s worth noting that there are not a lot of supermarket options in the area, so be prepared to have to drive to get to a larger market, and stock up while you’re there!
Another site to keep an eye towards in the area is the Stone House. This mansion, built in 1854 by the man who invented the three-ring binder, was run as a successful inn/hotel and tavern for many years. It has recently been sold, just after being renovated with luxury rooms and upscale suites. The new owner group, continues with further renovations, looking to make it THE spot to go for private events in the area. Walking through the inn, the rooms were top tier with stunning views including one suite with a spiral staircase leading to a picturesque widow’s walk. Although it’s not officially re-opened yet, they are taking inquiries for future bookings.
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Adamsville and Gray’s General Store
This small village in Little Compton is notable for a number of things—one rather odd—and that is the fact it’s the only place in the United States with official monuments dedicated to a chicken. Just outside the local baseball field/park, you will find a plaque for “The Rhode Island Red,” a breed of chicken originally bred in Adamsville. That monument is now on the National Register of Historic Places. And as if one wasn’t enough, in 1954, the state put a competing monument up a mile south.
Just across the street from the monument is The Barn restaurant. With indoor seating that feels as if you’re sitting in a (albeit very clean) barn, and plenty of casual dining outdoor, The Barn serves up a popular menu that includes a wide selection of breakfast dishes, many with a local twist. Lobster eggs Benedict, anyone? (Take note, this is a popular spot so be ready to wait a bit depending on what time you show up.) In the event you can’t wait, you can head over to The Commons, a family restaurant known for their Johnny Cakes and chowder. Johnny Cakes are a slender pancake made from “Johnny Cake Meal”—which is stone ground white corn meal. They are cooked differently depending on where you find them, but they originated in New England and were also called “Journey Cakes”, as the settlers took them on journeys.
Just around the bend from The Barn, is the oldest general store in the United States. Gray’s General Store was built in 1788, and inside it now carries a menagerie of old and new. Preserved inside is also part of the original post office, jars with penny candy (ok, dime candy), glassware, vintage clothing and antiques, jewelry, souvenirs and a selection of crafts. One corner of the store has shelves filled with items you might have purchased there a long time ago.
Tiverton Four Corners
The motto “Where style and history intersect…” is what you’ll find written on the local maps, but this historic area boasts more than 20 shops, galleries, farms, and ample buildings dating from the 18th century. In addition to shops and antiques, the area has become a center for artists with The Four Corners Art Center found in the historic Soule Seabury House (circa 1800). The center actively promotes the arts, and is the place to go for exhibits, concerts, theater and other events.
One of the nearby shops, Milk & Honey, offers more than 100 varieties of cheese from around the world, local and imported honey and charcuterie, olives and oils, mustards, flatbreads and rivals top-notch cheese shops you’d expect to find in a big city.
And as it’s all located within an hour’s drive of Boston, Providence and Newport, and about 3 hours from New York City, Little Compton makes for an easy getaway destination for a weekend.