Of all the islands lying off theEast Coast of the UnitedStates, the one 12 miles offthe shore of Rhode Island—first noted by French navigator Verrazzanoin 1524 and later named by Dutchtrader Adrian Block in 1614—has mostsuccessfully clung to its past (800 383-2474; www.blockislandinfo.com).
The Simple Life
"We are low-key, unpretentious, andOld World,"says Brad Mathers, presidentof the Block Island Tourism Council."We enjoy the simple life. The year-roundpeople here know each other, and whenour census drops from 15,000 in summerto 900 in winter, if someone sneezes, thewhole island says, ‘Gesuntheit!'"
Adds Fran Migliaccio, a local guidefrom Mig's Rig Taxi (401-480-0493),"It's like high school, we all know eachother."They sure do. The island highschool has a mere 130 students andgraduates only 8 seniors a year.
On Block Island, small is beautiful.Sometimes called New Shoreham, RI,Block Island is the smallest town in thesmallest state. The island covers just 11square miles with only 21 miles of pavedroads, so a guided tour doesn't take morethan a couple of hours. Tourists are discouragedfrom bringing cars over, and asa result, locals do well renting bicyclesand mopeds to visitors.
Sights and Tastes
You'll definitely want some kind ofvehicle to explore the attractions. Thesoutheast lighthouse is more accessiblethan the northern one, but both areworth a visit. The 150-foot-highMohegan Bluffs offer a panoramic viewto the south and their 125 steps down tothe beach provide you with the BlockIsland cardiac stress test. Busy things todo on this languid isle include horsebackriding, fishing, sailing, parasailing, andwalking the numerous nature trails. Yoursweet tooth will thank you for discoveringthe celebrated homemade donuts atPayne's in New Harbor, the renownedbagels at the Old Post Office, and yourfavorite ice cream shop.
There are 44 eating and drinkingestablishments, so visitors can find theirown favorites, from Bethany's AirportDiner (401-466-3100) at the little airportto the 100-year-old Atlantic Inn(401-466-5883), where former PresidentBill Clinton famously dined. Localssuggest a New England breakfast at The1661 Inn (401-466-2836); lunch on theporch of the Spring House (800-234-9263), the oldest and largest inn on theisland; a cocktail at sunset on the patioof The Oar (401-466-8820); and finallydinner at the Atlantic Inn.
The island is easily accessible by eitherthe high-speed 30-minute ferry (877-733-9425; www.islandhispeedferry.com) orthe regular 50-minute ferry (860-442-7891; www.blockislandferry.com). Onsome summer weekends, you may havetrouble finding a bed. However, manyhomes are set up as bed and breakfasts,and there are countless choices.
Lucinda Morrison, who, with husbandDavid, owns the Old Town Inn(401-466-5958; www.oldtowninnbi.com),says sometimes if she drives into townand finds a ferry has just pulled in, she'lldo a U-turn back to the peace of her inn.Built in 1825, it was a village store beforethey completely restored it in 2001.There's peace and quiet also at Payne'sHarbor View Inn (401-466-5758; www.paynesharborviewinn.com). Carole Payneis the innkeeper, and her great-grandfatherwas the local doctor a century ago. Youcan't keep doctors out of Block Island'sstory. The leader of the 16 Baptist familieswho bought it from Massachusetts in1660 for 400 pounds was a doctor in thecolony, John Alcock, MD.
In this place, the original settlersfound peace. It was, as local poet LisaSilverberg wrote, a place where "time'sslowed to catch its breath."