History of the Town of Barrington, RI


Prepared January 1997 by Ken Mason for the Barrington website

I. Introduction


Below is a summary history of the town of Barrington. It has been expressly prepared for the Barrington Website. As such, it is not intended to be comprehensive in any way. Those desiring more detailed information are directed to the Bibliography in Appendix B, particularly those volumes by Thomas Bicknell. The references there listed are available from most libraries in Rhode Island via the CLAN system.

It can be noted that the history of Barrington contains little that is unusual. In McLoughlin's 1978 history of Rhode Island, Bristol is referenced on seventeen pages, Warren on five pages, but Barrington on none. Barrington escaped the deleterious effects of the industrial revolution and the rapid population influx that plagued northern Rhode Island. Instead the town has been blessed, for the most part, with peace and prosperity, which continue to this day.

II. Pre-history (through 1620)


Before the Pilgrims landed, Barrington was occupied by the Wampanoag Indians. Archeological evidence indicates that the American Indian migrated into North America from Asia about 10,000 years ago, as the Ice Age was ending. However, evidence of Indians living in the Rhode Island area goes back only about 8000 years.

Some allege that the Northmen (Vikings) visited Barrington prior to 1492, but there is no documented evidence to support this theory.


It is known that the Italian explorer Verrazano visited Narragansett Bay and the Wampanoags in 1524; however, it is not clear that he visited Barrington.

II. Settlement of Town (1620-1770)


The early history of Barrington is tied closely to the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. Barrington occupied part of what was then the Wampanoag Indian Empire. Massasoit was the Chief Sachem of the Wampanoags. In 1621, two Wampanoag braves visited the Pilgrims. A week later, Massasoit visited with his retinue. He agreed to accept the King of England as the sovereign of his lands provided the English would protect his tribe in the event of attack. In 1623, upon hearing that Massasoit was ill, Edward Winslow and John Hampden traveled to see him. After giving him some jelly and water, Massasoit revived. The site of these happenings is believed to be the present Hampden Meadows. In 1632 a trading post was established at Tyler Point near the present Barrington Yacht Club. What is now called Barrington was then called by its Indian names, Sowams and Pokanoket.

In 1652, the Land Court in Plymouth decided to distribute the lands then occupied by the Wampanoags; Massasoit was paid 35 pounds in return for them. Myles Standish received much of the land in West Barrington north of the present Rhode Island CC, although he chose not to live there. Other proprietors were Thomas Prince (Prince's Hill),Thomas Willett, Joseph Peck, John Allin, and Thomas Chafee. Thomas Willett lived most of his life north of Bullock's Cove, in Riverside. He was a Baptist, and with others founded a Baptist church at Nockum Hill, north of Hundred Acre Cove. He is considered one of the founders of this town. In 1665, because of his knowledge of Dutch, he was selected to be the first English-speaking mayor of New York City; after a second year in New York, he returned to Riverside. Reverend John Myles was the pastor of the Baptist Church, as well as the local school teacher (tutor). The church later burned; there is a memorial stone at the location today.

In the 1600's Barrington was known as the "garden of the colony "(Plymouth) because of its fertile soil and scenic location.


In 1667, the town of Swansea was incorporated; it includes the land we now call Barrington. However, residents of Sowams, being Baptist, had religious differences with the rest of Swansea and petitioned for separation from that town in 1711. Hence, in 1717 Barrington was incorporated. It was probably named after Barrington parish in England [which was in Somerset County, from which most of Barrington's early settlers came].


Relations with the Indians grew tense in the area as more settlers arrived . In 1674, some young Indian braves started looting empty homes. Troops arrived from Plymouth to help defend the settlers. The Indians later attacked a group of churchgoers and killed one man. King Phillip, Massasoit's son and then the Wampanoag leader, fled from Rhode Island and continued his looting. In Dec. 1675, Captain Benjamin Church led Massachusetts and Connecticut troops in a battle with the Indians in southern Rhode Island. A number of Wampanoags and Narragansetts were killed there; this became known as the Great Swamp Fight. Sporadic raids continued until King Phillip was slain the following summer in Bristol. Peace then returned to Barrington. Pastor Myles also returned and a new church was built at Tyler Point.

In 1710, a Congregational church was founded on the present Jenny's Lane by persons dissatisfied with the Baptist Church. In 1737 it moved to the site of the present Congregational Church. The church also served as the town hall until 1856.


When Barrington separated from Swansea, it was still part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It had a town meeting form of government, but only landholders could vote. In 1747 Bristol County, including Barrington, became part of the Rhode Island Colony; however, Barrington was made part of Warren. In 1770 the Rhode Island General Assembly decreed it to be an independent town (separate from Warren). During this period Barrington had a primarily agricultural economy, with some fishing and ship building as well. In fact, Barrington remained largely agricultural into the early 20th century. In the 1700's the town had several shipyards. Nathaniel Brown had a shipyard on the south side of Bullock's Cove. Martin's shipyard was located at the foot of what is now called Ferry Lane.


Prior to the Revolutionary War there were no bridges between Warren and Barrington, and Colonel Nathaniel Martin maintained a ferry at the foot of Ferry Lane.

III. Forging a Community (1770-1848)


In 1774 the first census of Barrington was conducted. The population was 601 and remained at about that number until 1840.

Travel through Rhode Island in these years was largely via stagecoach. Barrington was on the route between Providence and Newport. It became known for its four taverns along this route, which were located in the general area of the Congregational Church.


In 1794, Duncan Kelly was licensed to build a toll bridge between Hampden Meadows and the west side of the Barrington River. In 1802 another toll bridge between Hampden Meadows and Warren was built. These bridges greatly facilitated travel between Providence and Newport.

The people of Barrington took interest in the spirit of rebellion shown in Lexington and Concord in 1775; sentiment was mostly against the British; a few "Tory" families fled to England. Captain Thomas Allin led the Barrington militia, which saw service at the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Barrington men,including a regiment led by Col. Nathaniel Martin participated in the battle of Rhode Island in 1777. Among the Barrington families then represented in the militia were Heath,Viall, Peck, Horton, and Martin. It is estimated that over 180 Barrington men served in the Revolutionary army, a number of whom lost their lives. Barrington maintained a standing militia until 1779 to repel possible British invasion. The Hessians invaded Bristol and Warren, but were turned back by troops sent from Providence before they reached Barrington.

Free schooling was mandated by the state government in 1803. Barrington proceeded to build a little red schoolhouse near Nayatt Road thirty-seven years later.

In 1842 Thomas Dorr, a candidate for Governor, advocated that the vote be extended to all adult males whether or not they owned land. The people of Barrington were severely split on the issue thus raised. When Dorr and his supporters formed a government, they were declared traitors. The state militia, including a company from Barrington, defeated this group at a location west of Providence. The RI Constitution was later changed to accord with Dorr's ideas.

IV. Years of Growth (1848-1920)


The population of Barrington increased significantly during this period, growing from 800 in 1850 to 3,697 in 1920; the state saw a similar population increase.


In 1848, Nathaniel Potter of Providence with a few others founded the Nayatt Brick Company, there being extensive clay deposits in that area. [Note that bricks had been made by hand in Barrington in the 1600's.] The clay pits were located at what is now Brickyard Pond. The company converted Mouscochock Creek into a canal for ease of transporting the bricks. The company was re-incorporated as the Narragansett Brick Company in 1864. This activity was a stimulant for road-building, steamship visits and other signs of prosperity in the town. Early employees at the brickyard were of French Canadian extraction.

The building of the railroad to Providence in 1855 made commuting to work in Providence practical, and Barrington began to take on a suburban character. In 1898, electric trolley service was started between Providence and Bristol, with stops in Barrington.


As more Episcopalians moved to town, the present St. John's Church was built in 1859; founders include the Martins and the Staples.


As the Civil War approached, abolitionist sentiment grew across the country; it is said that some homes in Barrington were part of the underground railroad. However, overall the townspeople were split on the slavery issue. A total of 51 Barrington men served in the war, eleven not returning. Some Barrington men who were drafted paid for substitutes to go in their stead.


The town's centennial anniversary was celebrated on June 17, 1870. It was held about where Chianese Field is today. Dignitaries from across the state and across the nation attended. Local historian Thomas Bicknell gave a long oration on the early days of Barrington; it is published in An Historical Address and Poem. The then famous poet Hezikiah Butterworth composed a poem for the event, "An Hundred Golden Years!"


In 1880 the Barrington Public Library was founded, with holdings of over 2000 volumes.The Barrington Water Company was formed in 1886 to supply water to residents of the Nayatt area, later expanding to other parts of town. In the '80's a bridge across the Barrington River was built at Federal Road. In 1884, the town's first high school was started in an existing building on Prince's Hill. In 1914, the present bridges across the Barrington and Palmer Rivers were constructed. These are scheduled for replacement by the year 2002.


In 1887, $17,000 was appropriated to build the present town hall. It was completed in 1888, originally containing the high school and the library as well as town offices.

In 1890, a new brickyard was built by new owners, the New England Steam Brick Company. Three years later, Saint Andrews Industrial School for Boys was founded by the Episcopal Church under the leadership of Reverend Chapin from St. John's . These were prosperous times in Barrington, especially for farming. Between 1820 and 1897, real estate valuation increased by a factor of twenty.


In the 1880's there was a severe economic depression in Italy and large numbers of Italians migrated to the U. S. A significant number (a few hundred) came to Barrington to work in the brickyard; they settled near the brickyard along Maple Avenue. They founded families still active in Barrington life today. For example, Camillo Gizzarelli, father of Barrington historian Nicholas Gizzarelli, came from Italy to work in the brickyard in 1908. In the early 1900's the Italian population was large enough to merit its own church and in 1913 Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church was founded on Maple Avenue. The land for the church was donated by the brick company in hopes that parishioners would purchase house lots near the church (which they did).


Subsequent to the coming railroad, several manufacturing facilities were established in West Barrington. The most noted of these is the R. I. Laceworks, founded by Charles Shephard who learned the lace business in France; its Barrington facility opened in 1904. It was large enough to have its own fire -fighting apparatus, which was used to fight fires in other parts of town for a fee. In 1897 the Annawamscutt mill was built; it specialized in coloring and finishing cotton goods. In 1908, Frost Finishing was established; it was a dyer, bleacher and finisher of leather goods for the Ford Motor Company. International Rubber also made leather goods for the auto industry. The O'Bannon Corporation bought out both Frost and International Rubber in 1914.

Barrington, being on the water, was becoming a summer "resort" for the well to-do in the late 1800's. The Barrington Yacht Club was established in 1908. In 1911, an eighteen hole golf course was laid out at Nayatt and became the present Rhode Island Country Club. Land for the club was purchased from the brick company.

V. Evolution to the Barrington of Today (1920-present)


From 1920 to 1970, the population of Barrington increased by a factor of 4.75, far greater than the growth rate in the state over the same period. This growth was caused by a combination of the following factors:

* ·The baby boom
* ·Continuation of the suburbanization trend, spurred now by the automobile
* ·A highly-rated school system
* ·Proximity to Providence
* ·The perception of Barrington as a good place to raise children


The Bay Spring section of West Barrington continued to be the center of manufacturing in the town in the early part of the century. The O'Bannon Corporation went bankrupt in 1930 but was bought out by Cranston Worsted Mills. A company named Pilling Chain, a manufacturer of imitation leather and zippers, occupied its facility in 1974 . The building was vacated some years later and is presently being converted into elderly housing. The R. I. Laceworks expanded in 1920 and again in the '30's. It employed up to three hundred persons, mostly of Italian and English descent. Toward the latter half of the century a significant number of employees were of Portuguese extraction, commuting from Warren and Bristol. The Laceworks continued operating until 1990 when its owners claimed it was losing money. Its forty-two lace-making machines were then sold off and dispersed around the world. The future of the laceworks buildings is at present uncertain. In the '30's, the Neweth Rubber Comany, makers of retread tires, built a facility at the site of the present Barrington Shopping Center. The building burned to the ground in the '40's and was not rebuilt; this was just as well, as its emissions were an environmental hazard. At present there are essentially no manufacturing establishments in Barrington.


The clay deposits at the brickyard began to run out in 1900, and by 1930 operations there had essentially ceased. The clay pits gradually filled with water to form Brickyard Pond. In 1940 the town purchased the brickyard's land and demolished all remaining buildings.


Barrington experienced two major hurricanes in this century. In the afternoon of Sept. 21, 1938, Rhode Island experienced its worst hurricane in recorded history. The storm caused extensive damage to shoreline homes and to pleasure boats. The Providence Journal's booklet on the hurricane has this to say about its local effects:


"Just as Narragansett Bay formed a funnel up which rushed a great body of wind-driven water, built wave upon wave for 30 miles, so did the Barrington and Warren Rivers present smaller but just as inviting funnels to the fury of the storm.....................


The waters from Rumstick Point north built up steadily, relentlessly, in a forward surging mass until they buried the bridges across the main State highway , smashed down the railroad bridges beyond, and then went on to carry away the long bridge at the White Church, which lost its steeple...........Yachts 40 feet long were hurled from the Barrington Yacht Club basin, carried over the parapet of the bridge and dropped athwart the State highway."


Three lives were lost in Barrington due to the storm. Damage to the trolley line was extensive, and it ceased operation for good.


In Aug. of 1954, hurricane Carol struck Rhode Island after following a similar path up the Atlantic coast. It was not as severe as the '38 hurricane although shoreline damage was still extensive; no lives were lost in Barrington.

The population growth was accompanied by an increase in home building, new commercial establishments, new schools, and increased town services. There was a residential building boom in the '50's and '60's. Areas affected included Rumstick Road near Ferry Lane , Primrose Hill , and the northern section of Hampden Meadows.

In the early '40's, Barrington had a limited number of commercial establishments. Chellel's Market, a gas station, and a general store were located on County Road near the present Barrington Shopping Center. Many Barrington people then shopped in Warren, which had two groceries, two 5&10 cent stores, a bank, and numerous other stores. In 1948 the Barrington Shopping Center was built. It included a supermarket (Almacs), a new pharmacy, a women's wear store (Cherry and Webb), a men's wear store, and a bank. In later years two smaller shopping centers were built further north on County Road. The town was now almost self-sufficient in terms of shopping.

Barrington's experiences during World War II were similar to those of other R. I. towns. To prepare for enemy attack, air raid wardens were appointed. To support the war effort, the town sponsered a victory garden where residents could grow vegetables; the women of the town made bandages under the guidance of the Red Cross. Many from Barrington served in the armed forces; twenty-seven lost their lives.

The growth of the school system was substantial. In 1951 a new high school was constructed on Lincoln Avenue, adjacent to Victory Field. The Peck school became a Junior High. Four new elementary schools were built: a new Nayatt school and the Primrose Hill school in 1954, a new Hampton Meadows school in 1956, and the Sowams school in 1964. In 1959 a new middle school was built on Middle Highway; it was enlarged in 1969.

Town services also grew dramatically during this period. In 1934 a full-time police force was initiated and was housed in the former trolley car electric station at Barrington bridge. A full-time fire department was not implemented until 1953. In 1939 an addition was made to the town hall to accomodate a larger library collection; another addition was made in 1964. In 1960, in response to its rapid growth, the town adopted a council-manager charter.

Several new churches were built during this period. They include St. Luke's Roman Catholic in 1942, Barrington Baptist in 1952, St. James Lutheran in 1954, Barrington United Methodist, and Barrington Presbyterian in 1964. Temple Habonim begun in 1963, occupied a small building on County Road across from Chellel's Market, has refurbished the former Hampden Meadows School and School Administration Building in1980. A new Holy Angels Roman Catholic church was constructed in 1963.

The Providence-Barrington Bible Institute was originally founded in 1900 in Spencer, Mass. In the mid-1950s the Institute moved its campus from Providence to the former Peck estate on Middle Highway and became a four-year coeducational Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences. The name was subsequently changed to Barrington College. The College campus grew to accommodate 600 undergraduate students. In 1985 the board of trustees decided to merge the College with Gordon College in Wenham, Mass because of declining enrollments. The campus was acquired by the Zion Bible Institute whose mission is "to enrich the lives of men and women who have chosen the path of Christian Ministry, academic excellence, and personal fulfillment".

Until the late fifties Barrington shared its newspaper with Warren (the Warren and Barrington Gazette). Then the East Bay Newspapers came to Bristol County; it bought out the Gazette and started the Barrington Times, along with the Warren Gazette and the Bristol Phoenix.

As 1970 approached, residents formed the Barrington 200th Anniversary Committee, under the chairmanship of Robert H. Hurst. The stated goals of the committee were to honor our heritage, to create new civic awareness, and to focus attention on the Barrington of tomorrow. Activities during the year included a bicentennial ball, a bicentennial parade, and the publishing of a bicentennial booklet which contained the history of Barrington through 1970.


Since 1970 there have been few noteworthy events in Barrington. Internally, the real estate tax rate and zoning remained controversial topics. Two events did, however,attract state-wide attention. In the early nineties suit was brought against the town for displaying a creche at Christmas in front of the Town Hall; subsequently, a private individual has placed a creche across the street from the Town Hall. Similarly in 1996, the ACLU sued over the town's practice of snow-plowing church parking lots at no cost; the town has declined to contest the suit.

VI. The Future


As Barrington faces the twenty-first century, it shows signs of modernization. School curricula have been adapted to the needs of the computer age. The state-wide library holdings are available online via terminals at the town library. The library now has both a technology coordinator and its own web site. Town offices are slowly being computerized. Several town businesses have web sites. And, of course, the town itself now has its own web site. Increased world travel has resulted in a small but significant group foreign-born residents (businessmen and professionals, some retirees). The town's 250th anniversary should reflect continued change.


  • Bicknell, Thomas W. An Historical Address and Poem. Providence: Providence Press Company, 1870

  • Bicknell, Thomas W. A History of Barrington Rhode Island. Providence: Snow &Farnum, 1898

  • Bicknell, Thomas W. Sowams. New Haven: Associated Publishers of American Records, 1908

  • Providence Journal Co. The Great Hurricane and Tidal Wave, Rhode Island, Sept. 21, 1938. Providence: Providence Journal Co., 1938

  • Peck, Henry J. 200th Anniversary of Warren Rhode Island, Historical Sketch and Program. Warren: Town of Warren,1947

  • Anderson, Robert E. et al Barrington Two Hundredth Anniversary (Booklet). Barrington: Two hundredth Anniversary Committee, 1970

  • Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, Historic and Architectural Resources of Barrington, Rhode Island. Providence: Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, 1993

  • McLoughlin, William G.,Rhode Island:A History. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.,Inc.,1978