Hurricane Changed 'Summering' Here

Barrington before the 1938 hurricane in Rhode Island was a haven for thousands of tourists and summer residents who came for the boating, fishing and swimming.

The Hurricane of 1938 changed everything in Barrington.

More than 400 people died in the massive destruction caused by that monster hurricane, said Jean MacIntyre, a historian and educator, in an illustrated presentation she gave in the library Wednesday night.

Sponsored by the Barrington Preservation Society, it was titled: “Summering in Barrington: The Way We Were.”

The tent villages and houses built on the edge of the water in Bay Spring disappeared. The summer cottages built on Nayatt Point by the captains of industry were heavily damaged. So were Barrington’s hotels and boarding houses.

Barrington soon declined as a summer “hotspot” for many Rhode Islanders as World War II heated up, she said.

Before the hurricane, though, she said, Barrington was a different story.

Trains brought thousands of summer residents and visitors to Drownville and West Barrington and Nayatt Point to take advantage of the boating, swimming and fishing on Barrington’s waters.

MacIntrye showed dozens of photos of the days before the hurricane – and a few of the destruction caused by the hurricane itself.

There once were several hotels in Barrington – Nayatt Hotel on Nayatt Point and The Gables and the Mathewson Hotel on the Barrington River. The former was advertised widely as a “summer boarding place.”

“It fell apart in the early 1900s,” she said. “The (Rhode Island) Country Club was built on that spot for that reason.”

There were two yacht clubs – the Bay Spring Yacht Club and the Barrington Yacht Club, which split off from the former. 

“It was the center of the community in Bay Spring,” MacIntyre said of the yacht club. “There were some wild parties held there. Records show that the police were called several times – including for nude bathing, now known as ‘skinny-dipping’.”

Barrington Yacht Club records also show that the town fathers had to remind the club about prohibition, MacIntyre said.

There was a “casino” on Barrington Beach, she said, although probably not a casino as we know it. It, perhaps, was more of a source of alcohol during Prohibition.

Tent villages in Bay Spring and Hampden Meadows for a variety of religious faiths went up on Memorial Day and came down on Labor Day, she said.

Then came the unexpected Hurricane of 1938. It rode up the Atlantic Ocean without hitting land until Long Island and barreled into Rhode Island on a moon tide on the east side of the storm – the most violent side.

The storm changed everything in Barrington.


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