Only by way of the Mount Hope Bridge and Route 138 east, across the northern tip of the town of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island, thence across an inlet on the bridge to Tiverton, can one stay in Rhode Island to conclude the journey of those towns which line the eastern shores of Narragansett Bay. Except for their attachment to Rhode Island by the imaginary string of the state boundary, both Tiverton and Little Compton would be adrift in Massachusetts. Both towns were, in fact, part of Massachusetts, until redrawing of the contested state boundary in 1747 shifted them to Rhode Island.
For most of its length Tiverton extends along what is customarily called the East Bay, one of the three channels that together embrace the commonly accepted extent of Narragansett Bay. The map speaks differently, however. Officially, this channel is the Sakonnet River (known locally for much of the nineteenth century as the “Seaconnet”). Like the Providence River, the Sakonnet is really no more than a short, swollen tidal mouth that conveys water, in the first instance, from rivers upstream into the bay proper, and in the second, directly into the Rhode Island Sound of the Atlantic Ocean. Tiverton occupies most of the eastern shore of the Sakonnet, which narrows to the north at the bridged inlet, then swells again into Mount Hope Bay. This tapers, in turn, into the mouth of the Taunton River at the city of Fall River.
Lying between this heavily industrialized city to the north and the consciously pastoral town of Little Compton to the south, Tiverton shifts from one context to the other within its length. The residue of its agricultural heritage, however, very much predominates, with hills sloping to idyllic water views along the whole of its shoreline. Along this shore exist remnants of Tiverton's former maritime industries. Although these were always limited by the lack of a good harbor, the town has a rich marine tradition of shell and fin fishing, whaling, and international shipping. The histories of its houses abound in seafaring owners and occupants, as though, major harbor or no, the constant presence of the sea sufficed to draw the adventuresome from farms to ships. Today, the water is mostly given over to recreational boating and some fishing, its former farms increasingly attracting residential development, together with a couple of incipient industrial parks. Inland, as this is written, except at its Fall River end, Tiverton retains many beautiful stretches of field and water, very much at the mercy of the course of future development.
Most settlement in the town is on or close to major highways along its western and eastern edges, on ridges rising from swampy, low-lying land between Main Road (Route 77) on the water side of the town and Crandall and Stafford roads (Route 81) along its land edge against the Massachusetts border, which is of less architectural interest.
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