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A Definition of Play, Leisure, and Recreation
Approximately 3 pages

"The settlers who planted the first English Colonies in America had the same instinctive drive for play that is the common heritage of all mankind," said Foster Rhea Dulles in America Learns to Play. With that statement there is a realization that the amusements and diversions we have today are not a new phenomenon. They have been a slow development from the beginning of time. Romans and Greeks had their theaters and circuses. England had its tennis and bear-baiting. Play, leisure, and recreation are all ideas that are common among humans.

Play, leisure, and recreation are all notions of having fun. There are many more that may spring to mind. Why so many words to describe a simple act, the act of fun? Humans all have a fairly common understanding of what work means to us as a people, but when defining our leisure time we tend to have many words to describe a simple idea. Defining all of these words is not an easy activity and many books have a hard time of nailing down the ideas of leisure, play, and recreation.

Play is the first and most basic notion of having fun. John Kelly states that "one of the simplest definitions is just that "Play is self-expression for its own sake." But he does go on to say that often times "play is used to refer to such activity by children and leisure to adult participation. Kelly finds that "the term play comes from the Anglo-Saxon plega referring to a game, sport, or even a fight." Basically, he found that play is non-serious in its nature, and although it may mimic real combat, it is only for the "satisfaction of the moment." Further it seems that leisure and play are "defined by how we do it rather than what we do."

Leisure is a bit more complex but tends to be the broadest definition related to fun. The Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive source for word origins states that leisure is "The state of having time at one's own disposal; time which one can spend as one pleases; free or unoccupied time," and has basically been in use since the 1300's.

Having unoccupied time seems to be a concept that would not be present that early in recorded history. Truly that is the case insofar as the middle and working classes are concerned. Throughout time there has been a loosening of work requirements. Since the Puritan work ethics have begun to slacken, there has been the reduction of work hours from over 80 to just under 40. That has included time in the evening as well as time on the weekends. This has produced a brand new leisure class, or a class that could afford the luxury of time away from work.

Of course this caused controversy among the conservatives. One of the most outspoken of the critics was Thorsten Veblen. Veblen defined leisure, in 1899, as "nonproductive consumption of time." Veblen said that the intent of leisure was different from work and was symbolic of high status because it did not create wealth. This use of leisure to show off wealth was referred to as "conspicuous consumption."

Meanwhile, those that were enjoying the new leisure reveled in the freedom. They toiled all week to have their half Saturday and full day Sunday's to themselves. Some of the hardest workers were also the hardest users of leisure. Witold Rybczynski's book Waiting for the Weekend, a great book for those consumed by the idea of the weekend and leisure, sets out his ideas on leisure and why some work so hard to attain it:


"All this has called into question the traditional relationship between leisure and work, a relationship about which our culture has always been ambivalent....[one way to examine this relationship is to look at the] Aristotelian view that the goal of life is happiness, and that leisure, as distinguished from amusement and recreation, is the state necessary for its achievement. "It is commonly believed that happiness depends on leisure," Aristotle wrote in his Ethics, "because we occupy ourselves so that we may have leisure, just as we make war in order that we may live at peace." Or, to put it more succinctly, as did the title of Lover Boy's 1982 hit song, we are "Working for the Weekend."
Rybczynski, Witold. Waiting for the Weekend. New York: Viking, 1991 pp. 21-22

The last notion of having fun is recreation. Recreation is the area in which this study will explore. But what is recreation? The Oxford English Dictionary find that recreation is "The action of recreating (oneself or another), or fact of being recreated, by some pleasant occupation, pastime or amusement." This word has been in use in this context since the 1400's. John Kelly finds that recreation is rooted in the Latin recreatio, which refers to restoration or recovery. He says that the "term implies the re-creation of energy or the restoration of ability to function." This way of looking at recreation points to the many beaches in use for recreation. But he also says that recreation "generally refers to more organized activity. Recreation is socially organized for social ends." When placed in this context, the Oxford English Dictionary find that recreation as a word has only been in use since the mid-nineteenth century.

Social organization is the defining feature of this study. John Kelly provides the most compelling look at recreation, and it is his definitions that will be used in this study.


"Richard Kraus has argued too much stress on the intrinsic and self-justifying nature of recreation ignores the fact that public recreation is in competition for financial support, for space, and for attention. Its purpose and

results will be evaluated. Recreation is intended to be good for the people of a society in specific ways and is organized and supported with benefits expected.

There are two elements in this more specific perspective. The first is that of restoration... Recreation is intended to restore us to wholeness, to health, for whatever purposes we may have. We do not recreate only to work. We recreate to live. Further recreation is itself a part of living and has its own value to us....

The second element is that of social organization. Recreation has purposes and is organized for social ends. It is not just "for its own sake." It differs from leisure in that recreation is not likely to be "anything, anytime, anywhere" if only we choose it for some personal satisfactions....

They [the quoted authors] go on to analyze the rise of recreation in modern society as an institution of the social system required by the loss of time and space in which leisure could be integrated with the ongoing work and family life. Recreation had to be provided for, organized, and even taught. Recreation as a separate institutional component of the social scene is found for the most part in urbanized societies with a high degree of organizational complexity. Leisure, on the other hand, in some form or forms is universal. Recreation is programmatic; it has organization and goals. It is a social phenomenon just as leisure is a human phenomenon."

Kelly, John R. Leisure. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982 p. 27
(Quoted from Cheek, Neil and William Burch, The Social Organization of Leisure in Human Society, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc.,1976, p 224.)

Basically Kelly finds that recreation must have a reason, a destination, a purpose. Leisure can be done by anyone at anytime and be done anywhere. Recreation is much more defined. It is this way of looking at recreation that will be used in this study. Although we all have an instinct for play, as Dulles says, and we have a desire for leisure as Aristotle and Rybczynski maintain, only some of us have penchant for recreation and all its social ramifications.

This study is a study in social recreation. Rhode Island developed itself as a center for social recreation. It is a concept that centers around people and having fun in a public or semi-public space. It is the highest form of Veblen's "conspicuous consumption."

Social recreation requires a place to see and be seen. For why else would one be recreating, but to be seen by the people that could not afford to socially recreate? This is the basic idea of "conspicuous consumption." Because there has to be a place to be seen, the summer vacation to a seaside, amusement park, or outdoor place became a popular venue to have social recreation.

When the Oxford English Dictionary defines vacation as "Freedom, release, or rest from some occupation, business, or activity," or simply "a period during which there is a formal suspension of activity; one or other part of the year during which law courts, universities, or schools are suspended or closed; holidays," it gives no indication to the social ramifications of what this word meant to the class system. This version of the word has been around since the late fourteenth century. It is not this form of the word that should be contemplated though; the form should be "vacationing," "vacationer," or "vacationist." All three of these words describe people and actions, and all three forms do not come into vogue until the late nineteenth century. They describe the people that now have the time, money, and freedom to take a vacation; thusly can partake in recreation and the architectural constructs.

Rhode Island like few other places in America after the Civil War became the "playground" for the rich. They had the free time to do as they pleased, and often it pleased them to vacation for the summer in places by the sea. They constructed large summer homes and golf courses for their massive free time. They had yacht clubs and started the America's Cup races. The rich made Rhode Island the place for recreation and would become the people from which Veblen created his theories.

Because Rhode Island was such a destination for the rich, the middle class in their struggle to be more than middle class, arrived to set up similar summer resorts and recreation sites. The deep inlet of Narragansett Bay provided the stunning backdrop for many of these activities. Steam ships would ply the waters, taking daytrippers to many of the different recreation areas, while summer resorts all over the state were filled with residents that would shuffle home at the turning of the leaves and the falling of the temperatures. The amusements were plentiful for the person that enjoyed the seaside and its healthful benefits. They could partake in their own, smaller version, of Veblen's consumption.

There were so many varieties of recreation in the state that for purposes of brevity, this study must define the limits of discussion. Most importantly, this study will work within the framework of a vacation or day trip. While the rich could afford a summer retreat or long vacation, the working man had only Saturday and Sunday to enjoy the summer. For that reason, the middle class soon developed the day trip. Day trips are outings that can be enjoyed in a short time, such as a park, golf course, or other small diversion. Those that were slightly more upwardly mobile could afford to pursue the short vacation. These people would enjoy such outings as summer resorts, where they could stay overnight and eat a shore dinner. It is within this framework that some of the decisions on what to keep and what to disregard has been made.

Secondly, decisions regarding the types of day trips and short vacations had to be made. Two types of recreation could be explored, active and passive. Both types have their representatives in Rhode Island. Active places include amusement parks, ballparks, speedways, yacht clubs, canoe parks, golf courses, and more. Passive recreation can include park walking, camping, beach lounging, watching a ball game, or a wide host of other activities. Both types have been included in this survey, but only if they fit within the larger framework of a day trip or short vacation.

Amusement parks, and the heart of an amusement park, which often stands alone, the carousel are obvious inclusions. Rhode Island has a long history of amusement parks and carousels. Charles Looff, one the most important carousel carvers in American recreation history, was based in East Providence. Rocky Point, until its recent closing, was the oldest amusement park in America.

Beaches and the related water recreation activities are a necessary element, based on Rhode Islands deep connection to water. But their scope must be limited because of the wide variety of activity that can occur at these water related places. Therefore summer resorts and beach colonies, for the most part, are limited to small discussions in a list form. Larger places such as Narragansett Pier and Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet are discussed in greater detail because of their importance.

Outdoor recreation will include elements, such as golf courses, parks, and camps. Parks are limited to the most massive parks with some element of recreation included in them. Roger Williams Park, with its zoo and carousel, and Slater Park and its carousel are obvious inclusions. Camp sites, in their beginnings, and even today in a smaller sense, were used as daytrips and short vacation sites.

Sporting recreation is the area of study that has passive and active elements. Watching an event is certainly an active one for anyone who has watched sports, but would seem like a passive happening compared to those that are competing. The sports of Rhode Island, besides having a great history of baseball and being indelibly connected to tennis and cricket, are included because they made easy summer day trips.

There is so much more that can be linked to recreation that has not been included. Heritage tourism and scientific recreation, such as planetariums, are both areas that have been left to the side. Both were important developments but are hard to classify and catalog in Rhode Island. Circuses, theaters and indoor events such as hippodromes have been left out, because they were not day trips or short vacations.

Furthermore, the whole host of recreational sites that have occurred after 1950, or before 1870, have been excluded. The reasoning for using these dates as brackets is because the notion of recreation changed so completely around 1870 and again changed by 1950. Still another reason is that by 1938 most of the shore resorts were washed out to the Narragansett Bay by the most significant hurricane in Rhode Island's history. Most places in the state would not recover from this damaging storm.

Overall, one section a piece will be limited to the subject of amusement park, water activity, outdoor recreation area, or sports activity, while remaining within the framework of a day trip or short vacation. The best place to begin is in the amusement park, for it is there that the world of social recreation was most available to the wide range of classes.

To Section Two--Amusement Parks in Rhode Island