Approximately 7 pages
Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the nineteenth century and its relationship to recreation is how it spawned both a private and a public recreational realm. Witold Rybczynski, in Waiting for the Weekend, explores a bit of this dichotomy:
"Around the same time [as new domestic developments], another leisure institution made its appearance. Belonging to a private club, for men, was also a way of keeping the crowd at bay. The changes in such sports as horse racing, cricket, and football all reflected a general desire on the part of the better-off to distance themselves from the general population...
Now there were two ways of looking at recreation, and especially outdoor recreation. One was an inward seeking version, while the other was an outward public looking one. Both were popular in Rhode Island, especially the private developments, which were just further developments of the private resorts. The "rational recreation movement" was one that was also popular in the state but was such a large and complex concept that this study will focus solely on the outdoor portion of the movement, the parks.
Shore resorts, by the turn of the century, were starting to be left behind for the more rugged outdoors types of recreation in large parks, or for the more gentile of gentlemen's clubs and country clubs. Golf courses and their related country clubs developed from the obvious shore resorts and upper class strongholds. Outdoor recreation, both in the camp form and the park form, were developed from other sources, such as the "rational recreation" and the City Beautiful Movement.
The City Beautiful movement was the process by which the two greatest parks in Rhode Island were created. Roger Williams Park and Slater Park were developed from a need in the urban setting for fresh air and clean living that the politicians perceived was necessary. Foster Rhea Dulles explains that the turn of the century was an important changing point for the urban life.
"America had become a pleasure-loving nation, but the character of its amusements, in so far as the urban population was concerned, could not but cause serious misgivings....The new century was to witness many changes. Living and working conditions were to be improved, stricter and more honest supervision was adopted for places of amusement that was definitely undesirable, and the growth of the city park systems soon held out the promise of greater opportunities for outdoor activities."
Parks would fast become important parts of urban life. Providence was left behind, unfortunately, because of its deep industrial society and development without the typical Puritan town green. This would be soon corrected after the development of the urban park formed from a urban center. The park was of course Central Park.
Central Park was championed as early as 1836, when social reformers began to call for a reserved green area in New York City before it became completely developed. A competition was held in 1850 to create this green space. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, the greatest and best known of any landscape architect, submitted the winning design, entitled Greensward. The park was underway by 1856.
Olmstead, along with Vaux and another landscape architect Horace Cleveland, called for more green space in urban settings. They soon formed the Urban Parks Movement based on their work in Central Park.
"The Urban Parks Movement triumphed with the development of Central Park. Its major practitioners, Olmstead, Vaux and Horace Cleveland, shared a picturesque approach to design. They saw the landscape as a progression of constantly varying artistic scenes, almost photographic images, which generated an illusion of naturalness. These landscape compositions, however, respected the existing topography and natural features of the site. The leaders of the Movement also clearly perceived a political dimension to their work. Parks were to serve as instruments of social change, as great experiments where members of all classes might mingle in the pursuit of recreation..."
It was under these pretenses that Roger Williams Park was developed. The original site for the park was chosen as Fields Point, near the Bay. However, there were pollution problems that plagued the site and a new site was chosen, farther back from the Bay. This site was bequeathed by Betsy Williams, a descendant of Roger Williams, and was mostly swamp land.
Roger Williams Park was located, originally, partly in Cranston. After deeding the land over to Providence, this land started to become developed. The Union Railroad was laid through Elmwood to the park, and even before there was any plan for the park, the land was being formed into a landscape.
"The Park comprises 102 acres of land, with a fine growth of shade trees, a variety of hill and dale, a miniature lake, etc., all calculated to render it a delightful place to the lovers of nature, even without the improvements which have been made to increase its attractions."
Soon though just the land itself could not sustain the people coming. A plan had to be made for the future of the park. Horace Cleveland was contacted, but only after Olmstead and Vaux turned down the commission because they felt more land was needed for this park.
Horace Cleveland was trained as an engineer and had a deep passion for horticulture, both of which lent themselves to the profession of landscape architecture. He presented his plan in October of 1878. This plan was originally intended to connect the park to Fields Point, in a linear fashion, so as to create a waterside element for the park. However, this was reduced to just the Roger Williams Park section. Cleveland, though, made this plot of land well worth the effort.
"Nature itself provided Cleveland his greatest challenge. In the great tradition of the Urban Parks Movement, he completely transformed the terrain of the land and water while retaining a naturalistic environment. Swamps were drained and transformed to create clear water ponds known today as Willow Lake and Polo Lake. Cleveland used the play of shadows on the water to create a pictorial effect. He drew walks and drives that circulated and followed the natural landscape."
Cleveland created islands linked by stone bridges. He created bench stops for those to reflect on the natural landscape. Generally this was the kind of landscapes that were being created at the time, but it was a welcome respite from the urban harshness of Providence.
"Many city dwellers came to the Park to relish the changing seasons in their full glory. Spectacular plantings of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths heralded the arrival of warm weather throughout the park."
When summer arrived, not only did the flowers bloom, but the people came out of hibernation. Park goers could rent canoes to use on the 105 acres of lakes. Amusement seekers could rent bicycles, swings, and ponys. Fireworks and hot air balloons lit up the sky at various times throughout the parks history. Horseshoe pitching courts, rifle ranges, bowling greens, and tennis courts were all available. Parades, weddings, and picnics were constantly going on in the Park. Even a horse track, in addition to other sports fields, was built.
Animals have played an important role in the history of Roger Williams Park. The zoo there is the third oldest zoo in the United States. It was referred to as the Menagerie from its beginnings in 1872 until the 1920's, and has been, for most of its history, a clean, efficient natural environment. The main building was built in 1890, when the animals were mostly small exotic animals and birds of various origin. This building was a long brick building with open air cages attached to the sides and a large cupola for light and air.
In 1891, lions were introduced, followed by larger animals such as alligators, bears, monkeys, and a leopard. A monkey island was provided for outdoor viewing of the monkeys. This method of outdoor viewing and showing of animals is a progressive one. One of the first zoos to present animals this way was in Germany in 1907. Animals were show in natural settings, separated by moats, and were unobstructed by any bars.
"Though the new exhibits were hardly reproductions of the animal's natural living environments, they were a major improvement over cages because they gave the animals more living space and the opportunity to be placed with other members of their species. The new barless exhibits were also tremendously popular with zoo patrons."
In 1893, the first elephant, Roger, arrived at the Park. This was the start of one of the best examples of public support for the Park. The elephant was not formally bought by the Park Department, in the hopes that someone would buy it and present it to the department. When no buyer stepped forward, schoolchildren banded together and raised the $1,500 for the animal. There were over 2,300 children that offered their support and well over 100 poems were written about Roger. Roger was replaced in 1928 by Alice who remained at the park for 39 years.
Another variety of animal was the carousel horse, though it required much less care. The carousel was built in 1897 and was a steel frame structure, eighty feet in diameter. The organ used flat sheets to play music and wooden figures were automated to clap in time. In 1937, the original carousel was replaced by one from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. This ride had sixty-six horses, and was accompanied by the traditional brass ring mechanism.
Just up from the carousel was the Casino. This structure is the focal point for the park. Built in 1896 and designed in the Colonial revival style by Edward Banning, this structure was three times the size of the "What Cheer Cafe," the structure it was replacing. The building had a private dining room, cafe, a large ballroom, and several lounges.
The Casino was not the only major structure in the Park. There was a huge bandstand, the Temple of Music, built of marble in 1923 to house some of the many music related events that were constantly happening. Sundays had major musical events and the park was often awash in music. Down by the lakes, there was the Dalrymple Boathouse built in a Queen Anne/English Tudor style that served as home for the canoes. This building was constructed in 1896, and replaced an earlier structure. The Park Museum was constructed on a hill above the lakes. This structure, built between 1894 and 1895 was designed as a French Chateau-esque building. Originally intended to be a dual art museum and natural history museum, it has become solely natural history and was joined by a planetarium.
The Park Museum, or the "People's University," as it became known, was a major force in educating the people of Providence about the natural sciences. Outreach services and Sunday lectures were common occupancies. During the 1920's, a dynamic teacher, Maribelle Cormack was brought into the park to help increase the educational use. She developed "evening classes, training programs for camp counselors, and evening celestial observation sessions." She offered lessons in botany, natural history, science lore, and geology; taught Native American arts and crafts; and presented dramatic plays and events at the Temple of Music and Museum auditorium. She funded and had built the planetarium for the park and led the first major overhaul of the museum since its inception. Altogether she managed to make the park a learning environment for everyone.
That is perhaps the most important development of the Roger Williams Park. It is a people's park. There was no major class structure at the park. People could stroll, learn, boat, or do whatever they desired without the pressures of society. But even this haven could not long remain safe from the outside world. The Hurricane of 1938 and 1954 had some effects. The park struggled through the rise of the automobile and alternate recreational activities and mostly failed. Maribell Cormack, in discussing her museum, summed up the feelings for the park when the automobile, the television, and the wider world of recreation alternatives had taken over:
"Gone-to-dust now are the days when 200-400 children would walk two miles across the Park to hear a nature story told to black-and-white home-made lantern slides! Kodachorme and television marked the end of this Era."
Although the park survived, especially after the environmental movements in the 1970's, it was certainly in a diminished state. This state is where most other urban parks ended up by the beginning of the 1940's. Slater Park, in Pawtucket, was no exception.
Slater Park was another Urban Parks Movement type of park. Its development paralleled the development of Roger Williams Park. Although it was started much later, 1894, the park was still of the same nature as Roger Williams. The National Register of Historic Places nomination form gives a concise overview of the beginnings of the park.
"Slater Park, like most parks in America's burgeoning nineteenth century industrial cities, provided a major recreation outlet for the urban working class. Once a week the laborer and his family could escape the crowded factories and tenements in the heart of the city and ride the trolley out to the recreation facilities and more natural environment of the large public parks. The decision to create such a park on the old Daggett Farm is an indication that the image most Pawtucket residents held of their community at the turn of the century was no longer that of small-scale manufacturing village; rather, it was one of a major industrial city. In this sense, Slater Park is one mark of Pawtucket's coming of age as a community."
The park was begun by purchasing 181 acres on a former farm, the Daggett Farm. The farm had a section of the Ten Mile River crossing through the land. This land was under utilized until 1903, when the Daughters of the American Revolution asked the town to stabilize the old farm house. This structure is the only remaining eighteenth century structure in Pawtucket. One of the D.A.R.'s requests, in return for preserving this structure, was that the City of Pawtucket establish some roads to the house. When these roads were built the city started to work on the park officially.
Plantings and clearings were made to improve the farmland. Ponds were created from depressions in the land. Trees were left that were original, while more were added to create a balanced vision of open lands and wooded glens. Two major island plantings were made. One was formed into three islands and held all 68 varieties of plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works. The other was worked to be more of an entrance pond and island.
Nineteen hundred and nine saw the first buildings built on the land. A wooden boathouse was built on the lake and a small shelter was built on the hill by the pond. The next year a carousel was moved on to the land. This carousel was built under a ten sided pavilion and was most likely a carousel by Charles Looff, of Crescent Park fame. Because of the types of horses, the carousel can be considered Looff's style in the 1880's, and therefore had to have been moved from an earlier location.
Slater Park's heyday was in the first decade of the twentieth century. A new casino was built in the Colonial Revival style, again marking a parallel to Roger Williams Park. However the actual structure was anything but like the Roger Williams Casino. This one was a low one story structure that had a boathouse in the basement and a single large lounge on the main floor.
Also, at the same time as the Casino's construction, a bandstand was constructed at the opposite side of the pond. This bandstand was built on the edge of the shore of the pond, surrounded by water on all but one side. At the same time as these structures a new barn for the maintenance and a greenhouse for the landscaping was constructed.
In addition to the buildings and landscaping of the park, there has always been some recreational facilities. Athletic fields, such as baseball, cricket, and tennis, were all present with the first developments in 1905. There was a zoo built in the park, although it was only small native animals and birds. Exotic animals were not added until after the 1940's.
The park suffered the same fate as Roger Williams Park. By the 1930's the park started to slide into is decline. Automobiles provided the working classes an easier escape from the work world. By the 1950's, television started to erode whatever remaining attendance there was at the park. A small resurgence has been made thanks to the environmental movement, but overall the park has declined from its heyday in the first parts of the century.
The environmental movement has allowed for the regrowth of another outdoor recreational site. Overall these sites have not seen the same sort of decline, but is one of Rhode Island's most often missed resources. This resource is related to the very passive recreation of camping, the campsite.
By the middle parts of the 1880's camping was starting to gain ground among the middle class.
"Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands were being recruited annually to fill the ranks of a growing army of sportsmen and sportswomen. The outdoor movement was gathering increasing momentum. There was a vogue for walking and mountain-climbing, fishing and hunting, camping in the woods."
However, the big change in the camping world came in the late 1920s, when both the automobile was available and the development of the Scouting movement had begun. As the scouters became older they started to have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of the outdoors, while those with automobiles could spend the day or weekend out in the country.
"The outdoor movement drew campers, canoeists, hikers, and mountain-climbers into the country. Every summer saw the lakes and trails more crowded with young people discovering for themselves that living in the open, sleeping in log huts or under canvas, and cooking before a camp-fire constituted one of the most satisfying contrasts to the indoor routine of city jobs..."
Within Rhode Island, there were campsites all over the state with this new appreciation of the outdoors. Certainly the YMCA, YWCA, or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts hold much more of the camping land in Rhode Island. There were several scouting camps in Rhode Island.
Camp Fuller, in South Kingstown and on Point Judith Pond, was established in 1914 for the Greater Providence YMCA. This site is significant in the development of camping. The camp has been on this site since leaving its site on Hog Island, which was established in 1887. Second only to a camp in the Adirondacks, this camp is the oldest youth camp in the world.
The site is 35 acres and has nearly 25 structures. The oldest is the 1931 dining hall, while most range from that period on. There is a recreation hall, an administration building, three wash buildings, a boat house, and an infirmary. Most of the other buildings are cabins of various size.
There were two more camps in rural South Kingstown. Both were for the Scouting movement and both are still in use. The older is Camp Hoffman for the Girl Scouts.
"Camp Hoffman is a 75-acre Girl Scout camp along Larkin Pond, comprised of a caretaker's house, a workshop, a longhouse, a skills center, and a large number of cabins and houses. The Girl Scout camp was started here in 1921. At first, there were tents in the center. In 1923, encampments were set up around the edge of the central meadow and a summer cottage was transformed for the use as an infirmary, a camphouse and kitchen were built, and the waterfront developed. Many of the buildings were constructed of second-cut lumber known as "wainy-edged" boards, by Paul Eldred, the camps caretaker and builder..."
Further on down Ministerial Road is Camp Aquapaug. This camp was developed in 1931 as a wildlife sanctuary.
"A Boy Scout camp extending from the road to Worden Pond and encompassing about 250 acres. There are a cabin, a ranger's headquarters, and 3 shelters. The property was once owned by Albert E. Lownes, who used it as a wildlife sanctuary. In 1931, John Hutchins Cady designed a replica of a 17th century house, which was built near the pond; he also worked on other camp buildings, which were built in rustic fashion. In 1935, Albert Lownes gave his property to the Boy Scouts for camping and as a wildlife sanctuary..."
Another Boy Scout camp, this one more well known, is Yawgoog Scout Camp. This camp is located in Hopkinton and has been the main campsite for the Rhode Island Boy Scouts since the first decade of the twentieth century.
"A Boy Scout Camp founded in 1916 in the northwest part of town on the site of the old Palmer farm. The original camp was destroyed by fire in 1931 and immediately rebuilt. The Bucklin Memorial Building, of 1931, a wood shingled and stone sided structure, is the focal point for a large, well landscaped tract which includes a house, log-and-board cabins, amphitheater, barn, pod, playing fields, etc. It is very well maintained."
There are several other camps in Rhode Island tied to the Boy Scouts of America. Sandsland is located on Block Island, while Chaplin Scout Reservation is located in Cranston. Feinstein Youth Camp has just recently been built on Buck Hill Scout Reservation, which is located in Burrillville.
One camp in South Kingstown was not dedicated to youth organizations. Epply Camp, constructed about 1920, is located along the Queens River. The buildings are rustic in design and are centered on the main lodge. The lodge, in the typical outdoors architecture, has a large, stone fireplace. There are also a "cook house, a guest house, a corn crib, a garage, a boat house, and a log cabin." Originally the site was part of well over one thousand acres, but most was donated to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. This camp was for private use.
Religious camps are another type of campsite. Camp Aldersgate, a more recent camp located in Gloucester, is a retreat style camp with one major office building, built in the rustic style, with board and batten walls and a fieldstone chimney and base. There are cabins and lodges along the lake and in the woods. The camp is owned by the Methodist Church and is one of several retreat style camps in Gloucester.
State parks comprised the rest of the camping lands in Rhode Island. One of the oldest is Burlingame Reservation, built in 1927. This park is nearly 2,100 acres and is located in the western part of Charlestown. The park was used as the headquarters for a branch of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression era program. This program helped establish miles of trails, built water holes, and constructed several buildings. Burlingame is distinguished by the fact that it is the "most heavily used state park in Rhode Island," and is "New England's largest state-owned campground," with over 700 camp and trailer sites.
A quick look at a current map of Rhode Island points out dozens of other sites. Most of these sites are lined up along the rural Rhode Island/Connecticut line. Foster and Gloucester are dotted with sites. Hopkinton plays host to several more sites, as does Charlestown, and South Kingstown. Rhode Island, long known for its water recreational sites, should also be recognized as a camping state.
Camping and urban parks are integral parts of outdoor recreation in Rhode Island that, fortunately, survive. Perhaps it is because they were so inland from the path of the Hurricanes of 1938 and 1954. Or, perhaps it is because they are middle class recreational sites that required little social status to survive. Or maybe they were just left behind by the automobile, in the case of the urban parks, or saved by the automobile, in the case of the camp sites. Whatever the reason they have survived to today, one thing is certain, everyone enjoys a day in the outdoors.
An outdoors recreational site that is closer to an urban park in its landscaping, and provides much of the same recreational opportunities is the golf course. But the golf course provides deeper social ramifications than a park. Foster Rhea Dulles provides insight into these social limitations:
"Society had been the pioneer in the promotion of sports. We have seen that in the middle of the century the more wealthy had been almost the only people with the leisure and means to enjoy them. As the opportunity to play games became available for a wider public in the 1890's, the world of fashion tended more and more to favor these activities of which the expense definitely excluded the common man...
Golfing was developed in Scotland as early as 1414 at St. Andrews. But courses as they are known today were not developed until well into the 1880s. America boasted nearly eighty courses by 1896, and nearly one thousand by the turn of the century, four short years later.
The two earliest courses in Rhode Island were developed in 1894 for Newport and Point Judith Country Clubs. Both clubs were designed by Scotsman, William F. Davis. The Point Judith was a bit more middle class than the Newport club, but was spawned from the same exclusive ideas as Newport. Formed by disgruntled members of the Casino, the club was noted mostly for its polo players. The course, however was just as impressive. In a report by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission on Rhode Island's golf courses, there is some indication on what these courses looked like:
"The first courses developed in this country obviously took their design cues from British links. The original golf links were developed on Scotland's seacoast, where rich alluvial deposits from adjacent estuarial flow mingled with the sandy coastal soil. The natural dunes and hollows dictated the arrangement of the links, and the links' natural roughs, sandtraps, and bunkers inspired similar features installed in courses around the world...
These other clubs were often designed expressly for golf. However there were clubs established for other sports. As said earlier, Point Judith, as well as Newport, were originally used for polo. Even if most were used for other uses, were almost exclusively golf related by the 1940's.
Agawam Hunt Club was one of the clubs established for sports other than golf. This club is the oldest country club in Rhode Island, predating Newport by a year. Originally it was, as the name implies, set up for hunting and canoeing, mostly because it was on Ten Mile River. Land was purchased in 1895 and Willie Park, Jr. was hired to design the course. The original 1840s house on the land was remodeled to become the club house. In the first part of the twentieth century, the course was redesigned by Donald Ross.
Further up the road from the Agawam Hunt Club was a newer golf course, the Wannamoisett Country Club. This land was another farm landscape, turned into a golf course with open land and shaded glens. William Campbell was hired to design a nine hole course in 1899. The course was rebuilt into an eighteen hole course by Donald Ross in 1914, and later he remodeled his own course in 1926.
Donald Ross is one of the most important designers in Rhode Island's golf course history. An immigrant from Scotland, Ross was the key designer and redesigned of the courses in Rhode Island. He worked on the designs such as Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, Metacomet Country Club, and Little Compton's Sakonnet Golf Club. He redesigned Newport, Agawam, and Misquamicut.
Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington is one of the most important courses in the state. Typical of many of the country clubs, the clubhouse was a Colonial revival style building built in 1912. The designer of the course was Donald Ross, while the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead developed the rest of the landscape.
"Between 1911 to 1914 the Olmstead firm developed an overall master plan for the country club. The Olmsteads' extensive site work included improving the turf, revising outlines of the woods, filling wet areas and improving drainage, designing the main drives near the club house after its completion, designing a dam and bridge at Cook Street to hold back the tide and to drain the marshes, and developing grade and planting plans for the tennis courts, bowling green, and clubhouse..."
Today Rhode Island is littered with golf courses, most within easy range of the highways and easy reach of the businessmen that have populated the courses. Golf courses themselves have not disappeared, but the social elite that attended them have become the middle class and white collar workers of the business world. This is where the world of golf has remained. But in the minds of the non-players, golf has always been an upper middle class or more socially elite game. Even today, to declare one a golfer take a bit of panache, and usually elicits a bit of surprise from the listener to find that one golfs for pleasure.
"No other game has evoked such scorn among the unitiated. The democracy still considered tennis a rather feminine game, a chance to sport white flannels and gay-colored blazers rather than exercise. It simply did not know what to make of the absurd spectacle of enthusiastic gentlemen in scarlet coats furiously digging up the turf in frenzied-and wholly serious-efforts to drive a little white ball into a little round hole some hundred of yards away...The public guffawed, little dreaming of golf's popularity in another two decades or of the public courses of to-day."