Block Island History

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By Robert M. Downie

  • 1524 – reported by Verrazano, the 1st European to note the island’s existence.
  • 1614 – rediscovered by Adrian Block, who named it for himself. 1636 – taken in combat by Massachusetts soldiers, in retaliation for killing of a trader.
  • 1661 – settled by 16 families from English colony of Massachusetts. 1664 – becomes part of English colony of Rhode Island
  • 1672 – island government adopts the name “New Shoreham”. 1687 – Margaret Guthry buried, now the oldest identifiable gravestone.
  • 1690-1704 – invaded by privateers four times while England at war with France.
  • 1699 – pirate Captain Kidd visits Block Island a month before his capture in Boston.
  • 1737 – emigrant ship Princess Augusta wrecks, leaving Palatine survivors & dead.
  • 1775-83 – during American Revolution the island was neutral, trading with both sides.
  • 1812-15 – during War of 1812 against British, island returned to status of 35 yrs earlier.
  • 1832 – first postmaster appointed; office in his bedroom. 1867 – the present-day North Lighthouse was built, the 4th lighthouse at Sandy Point.
  • 1870s – breakwater successfully built on east side, creating the Old Harbor.
  • 1875-90s – many Victorian hotels & stores built at Old Harbor; now nationally historic.
  • 1875 – Island Free Library founded, and still operating.
  • 1873 – construction began on the brick Southeast Lighthouse; moved in 1993.
  • Amelia Earhart, 1929Airplane pilot Amelia Earhart visited the island in July 1929, staying at the Narragansett Inn. As a publicity stunt to further her fame, she dived in a hard-hat suit off a submarine in Great Salt Pond.
  • 1895 – Great Salt Pond channel successfully dug, creating the New Harbor.
  • 1907 – steamer Larchmont sinks off Block Island; hundreds dead; islanders heroes.
  • 1917-18 – In WW1, from a population of about 1,000 islanders, 63 go off to war.
  • 1933 – Block Island School built, replacing five scattered, one-room schools.
  • 1941-45 – In WW2, from a population of about 700 islanders, 95 go off to war.
  • 1942 & 44 – Two US aircraft carriers are named “Block Island”; the 1st sank 7 U-boats.
  • 1950 – State airport opens, replacing informal grass fields used since 1920s.
  • 1960 – winter population plunges to 486; the lowest since the 1770s.
  • 1972 – Block Island Conservancy founded; 1/3 of island now saved from development.
  • 1974 – Old Harbor village declared a National Register historic site.
  • 1993 – the massive brick Southeast Lighthouse moved 245 feet from eroding bluffs. 2000 – winter population surpasses 1,000 for first time since the 1930s.