story & photos
by Kari Kline
In these days of high gas prices, closer, yet interesting summer vacation spots, are a priority. Watch Hill, a quaint seaside village enclosed on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, is one such destination.
Watch Hill is a town full of history, shops and glorious Victorian architecture. There are over 50 quality shops filled with all sorts of wares, from antiques to art.
Take a stroll down historic Bay Street, and you are met by the stately presence of the Watch Hill Inn & Annex, built in 1845, on a hilltop opposite the ocean. Don’t miss the Sunset Deck, where you can enjoy your favorite cocktail, an ocean breeze and the most spectacular sunsets.
Further down Bay Street, shops line the street like a string of pearls enticing visitors with their diverse wares. Watch Hill has something for everyone.
Tucked into the line of shops, the Olympia Tea Room exudes an imposing presence. Jack Felber, owner of the restaurant for 28 years, buys all his seafood from local fishermen. Pointing to a page in his menu, Jack says, “This is what our restaurant is all about.” The page reads that no pesticides, chemical fertilizers or growth hormones are used in the restaurant’s food. A further statement reads, that the Olympic Tea Room believes in “making food more wholesome and natural, as well as, preserving and restoring the environment.” Be sure to try the broiled whole flounder or the broiled scallops, two of the restaurant’s most popular entrees.
Margot Carlson, owner for 21 years of Puffins at 62-64 Bay Street, displays stunning art and gift collectibles produced mainly by American crafters. Glancing around the shop you can find specialty items ranging from handcarved Russian Santa’s, and pottery, to handmade jewelry.
The Book and Tackle Shop, filled with books, is owned by Bernard and Esther Gordon for fifty years. The original shop burned down three years ago, and was restored by the pair.
Bay Street culminates in a charming Flying Horse Carousel. The carousel is said to date back to 1883, and is believed to be built by the Charles W. Dare Company of New York. The tiny horses are suspended from chains so when the carousel moves, the horses fan out and appear to be flying. The horses have real horsehair manes and tails, and have saddles of genuine leather. Each ride lasts approximately three minutes, and children who succeed in getting the gold ring earn a free ride.
Next to the carousel is the entrance to a private beach, and beyond the slatted beach fence, you can see the beckoning white sand. To the right, you can see Napatree Point, RI’s farthest point west, stretching out like an arm reaching towards the gorgeous blue sea.
Going back down the sea side of Bay Street, you will find St. Clair’s Annex, a casual dining restaurant. Owner of 19 years, George Nicholas, originally from Pawcatuck, said the restaurant was started by his grandfather.
Another shop, called Comina, boasts products from all over the world such as fabric, furniture and lovely home décor.
When visiting Watch Hill, don’t forget to go around the back annex. There you will find the Candy Box. Owned by Roger and Jean Hall for 25 years. The last shop on this side, the candy shop opened in 1955. The fragrance of chocolate delicacies makes it hard to resist trying a sweet. “Sometimes we see the same faces two or three times during the week, when people are visiting,” says Roger. “We have a lot of repeat customers.”
Closer to the corner on this back side of shops, stands Jane’s Boutique, owned by Italian-born Romeo Grillo, and his wife Rosa. The owner for three years, Romeo says the store had been in existence for 39 years. “This is a beautiful place to be,” he exclaimed.
Walking back along Bay Street, visitors can read a sign exclaiming, “If you are lucky enough to live at the beach, then you are lucky enough.” Scanning the lovely store fronts, it is not unusual to see such diversity in products from silver slippers, light colored floral pillows on white wicker furniture, and lovely delicate beach dresses, to sparkling necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
Past Lanphear’s Dock and Ninigret, the bronze statue of the Narragansett Indian sachem known as “The Guardian of Watch Hill,” a small cluster of shops sits together, beckoning the departing visitor. J.C.’s of Watch Hill, with it’s large front porch, displays a large collection of women’s clothes. Harland Blanchard and his wife Ethel, have owned the shop for 25 years. “This is where my wife used to buy her bathing suits,” said Harland. One day the couple happened to see the shop for sale, the timing was right, and the two realized their dream of owning a shop near the ocean.
A few feet from the street, stands the quaint Fire House Antiques shop. Resplendent in history, the old building actually used to be a firehouse. It now houses rows of enticing recycled goods including wicker, pine and country pieces. Rob Richins and John Seidel are the owners of the shop for the past twelve years. John says many of the antiques come from local businesses – pointing to a table from a nearby restaurant and old lighting from the Ocean House.
Come visit these shops or some of the many others that Watch Hill offers. Extend your visit by staying in one of the nearby inns and give yourself time to truly enjoy the fining dining, the three public beaches, fishing, and bird watching.
Watch Hill is conveniently situated near Mystic, Foxwoods Resort Casino, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and many other CT and RI attractions. This quaint community is truly an undiscovered jewel worth exploring.