Westerly, the principal city historically—really the onlycity—in southern Rhode Island, is rarely cited for the merit of its buildings. Yet there is much to see. What one expects architecturally of Watch Hill, one finds in Westerly. Above all, the spruceness of the city impresses the visitor. For whatever reason, it lacks the areas of dereliction and decay of other Rhode Island industrial cities, possibly because of a more middle-class work force, possibly because of a tradition of civic care. In some indefinable way, it seems more akin to the small cities in northern Connecticut than to those in Rhode Island and, in fact, it is substantially oriented to the adjacent area across the state boundary. It is perhaps the most contained of all Rhode Island cities. Whereas others in the state, with the possible exceptions of Woonsocket and Newport, typically run together as a metropolitan agglomeration, Westerly seems an entity, the largest of its small cities. In contrast to Woonsocket, Westerly has a visible urban core; in contrast to Newport, it seems (deceptively, perhaps) more secure against the pressures of rampant development. Although it grew as a center where highway, railroad, river mouth, and ocean come together, I-95, which smashes through most of Rhode Island's cities farther north, swings wide of Westerly. Hence it now possesses something of the character of an enclave; but, it must be confessed, a very busy enclave, with slow-moving traffic forever winding through its pinwheel hub. Its center boasts big houses with spacious grounds immediately adjacent to a predominantly early twentieth-century business center, with a fine park between them.
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