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Dutch Island

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The marina at the end of Narragansett Avenue occupies the former landing of the West Ferry, which ran to and from Narragansett before the erection of the old (1940) bridge to the mainland. It is a good place from which to view nearby uninhabited Dutch Island, just offshore and reachable only by boat. Named for Dutch traders who used it as a trading outpost (called Quentenis) of their New Netherland colony, it has remained virtually unsettled on any permanent basis. From 1827, a lighthouse occupied its south end. The square, white-painted tower now standing there dates from 1857. A lighted gong buoy displaced it as an operating entity in 1979.

More interesting is the record of the fortification of the island, of which considerable evidence remains, although little has been done to stabilize or make evident the nature and purpose of the remnants. Purchased in 1863 from the owner of an unsuccessful fish processing plant, the island became the property of the United States government. It initially served as the training center for the Fourteenth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, an African American regiment with members from all parts of the union. The regiment built the first of a series of fortifications, this a temporary earthworks at the southern end.

Low lying, it was often flooded and early disappeared. The strategic position of the island for protecting the West Passage into Narragansett Bay led immediately after the Civil War to a better-constructed and located facility at the center of the island—hence “middle emplacement” (1866–1867). But as peace persisted, the battery and the troops assigned to it inevitably appeared increasingly anachronistic and wasteful. By the end of the 1880s, a single caretaker watched over the defenses. The Spanish-American War broke the slumber. There followed two decades of building and redeployment of troops to what at last was officially designated Fort Greble, for John T. Greble, the first regular army officer to die in the Civil War. Although soon obsolescent as it became clear that battleships had greater range and accuracy than its artillery, Fort Greble maintained its utility through World War I as a National Guard station. By World War II, however, electronic surveillance at the mouth of the passages had largely superseded the Maginot Line concept. Fort Greble's batteries were dismantled, and the fort ceased to exist in 1947. Today most of the island is owned and operated by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Parks and Recreation as the Dutch Island Management Area. In keeping with its new use, it is a destination for walkers, with paths winding through the ruins and vegetation in keeping with its new use.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Dutch Island", [Jamestown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-JA15.

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