Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Day at the Beach

Since Newport, Rhode Island is on an island . . . there are many beaches. Back in the Gilded Age, the last few decades of the nineteenth century, two were notable—yet opposite in who frequented their sand and sea.

Easton's Beach and the Boardwalk

First there was Easton’s Beach, on the eastern side of Aquidneck Island, south of Easton Pond. This beach actually became too popular, as Newport grew to be not just the summer retreat of the East Coast rich, but a retreat for the working and middle class. The fact the trolleys made it easy for mill workers in nearby Fall River to go to Easton’s in their free time, added to its popularity.

From Bailey's Beach

But the wealthy, seeking exclusivity, left Easton’s to those … other classes, and moved their patronage south to Bailey’s Beach. Where Easton’s could be reached by trolley, Bailey’s was truly isolated, and could only be reached by foot or bicycle.  The same is still true.

Here’s a photo of a trolley in 1889. In Chapter 17 of An Unlikely Suitor, I have a young couple take the trolley to Easton’s, where they wade in the ocean. For a nickel you could ride the trolley anywhere. In the early 1900’s a roller coaster was added (below.) 

Bailey’s Beach was private, with its own club house and clinentele. It’s owned and run by the Spouting Rock Beach Association, and they determine its members. It’s located at the south end of the Cliff Walk near Spouting Rock—which is a rock formation where the water…spouts.  

bathers on Bailey's Beach

At the southeast corner of Bailey’s is “Rejects Beach”, a portion of the beach that is separated from Bailey’s by a rope that marks its boundaries on the sand—and even into the water. Well then!

In the 1890's, the attire for swimming was ponderous. Soggy blanket anyone? And yet . . . hmm. It would have covered a multitude of body flaws. But somehow, I don't think modern day bathing beauties will go for it.//Nancy


  1. Hi Nancy:

    I bet those pictures were made with the original 1888 Kodak camera or perhaps the later Brownie. To the photographer these were just fun snapshots. To us, they are history. I think those women swimmers would be right at home in Saudi Arabia!


  2. We all take photos and think nothing of them in relation to history, but someday our family photos will help others see what life was like now.

    I just got done helping my parents move into a retirement village and we went through tons of neat old photos. Even the ones from a few years ago are historical. They capture a slice of time--even as they make us cringe at the cheesy hairstyles and fashion!