Charlestown Breachway History (1952)

Since the mid-1800's the residents of Charlestown recognized the value of Pawaget/Ninigret/Charlestown Pond, the towns largest bodies of water extending along the town's coastline as an asset in the resources of the town. So in 1897 an appropriation of $1,000 was received for Charlestown's first standing breachway. This contract was awarded to a Mr. Ward and ended in a failure. In 1904 the townsfolk again asked the General Assembly to appropriate monies for a permanent breachway using the arguments that the natural breach was filled in by the tides depositing sand thereby creating a barrier that separated the pond from the ocean. Also, a permanent breach would prevent the water in Ninigret/Pawaget/Charlestown pond from becoming brackish and unfit for the cultivation and harvesting of oysters, an industry important to this area. With these arguments in mind, the General Assembly approved $5,000 to connect Charlestown pond with the Atlantic Ocean on Block Island Sound. Colonel Rodman of the state of Rhode Island Engineers Office completed the surveying, mapping, and layout for the proposed permanent breachway calling for "two jetties to extend into water beyond the low tide mark from shore, one to be on each side of the channel". The jetties were to be 18 feet at the base and 60 feet apart. An additional $10,000 would be required for the completion of the west wall, but there is no documentation showing that this was completed at this time.

The contract was awarded to John Bristow of South Kingstown, the builder of the breakwater at Point Judith, for $1.75 per ton of boulders taken from Hill Pasture, a meadow bordering the upper end of the pond and the sandy road leading to the beach and owned by Edgar Burdick, a local farmer.

Construction of the breachway was not easy work. The workmen drilled holes on each side of the partially exposed stone tightening "Great Dawgs" - trade name of the hooks - into drill holes and with stone pullers hitched to a team of work horses, the stone was pulled out of the earth and carried to a supply pile at the end of a narrow gauge railroad. The railroad cars would then take a circuitous route from the head of the pond along the shore, behind the cottages, then back along the beach for a mile and a quarter to the westerly side of the farthest cottage on the beach, in use as a hotel.

The stones, weighing approximately 400 pounds, were carried to the wall on small flat cars, each carrying about 900 pounds, drawn by a pair of workhorses. The railroad was laid on cord wood sleepers through the sand and where it crossed the pond ran along a low bank. The narrow gauge railroad ran to the end of the wall where the boulders were again stockpiled on the beach.

The proposed east wall was to be 200 linear feet beginning at the high-water mark. The beach on the easterly side of the east wall, under construction, had been lowered approximately 3 feet while on the westerly side of the east wall the sand had piled 8 or 9 feet.

Even after the wall was finished, the problems at the breachway did not end. Even in more modern days the seasonal clogging has continued. In 1951, the state of Rhode Island Division of Harbors and Rivers awarded the rebuilding of the east wall and the construction of the west wall to Gencarelli Inc., of Oak Street. Westerly. The walls were completed in four months during severe winter storms. The official opening was on April 7, 1952.

A few days after the official opening, a storm hit the area. At the northeasterly end of the breachway, where 30,000 yards of sand had been dug, it was completely filled in and at low tide a person could walk from one side to the other. Hence the old motto: "you can't fool mother nature".

Today on the east side of "the Breachway" this is a camping area for self contained RV's, a state beach, some of the best salt water fishing in South County and a panoramic view of Block Island Sound.

Return to Charlestown Breachway State Beach

More Park Histories