Rhode Island Ramble

Road to the White House
By Mark A. DeWolf
  |  Gorp.com

The payoff for becoming a scenic byway isn't exactly a king's ransom. The road picks up some federal funding for safety improvements, facility construction, and marketing efforts, but even DoT admits that the program is more about recognition than protection. Still, it's safe to say that the increased visibility brought on by official designation will make a road less prone to development and decay. Creating a future is about preserving the past, which is why the Rhode Island commission also looked at the history of 114.

There's plenty of it. Hope Street, Bristol's main artery, still retains a colonial feel; most of the structures along 114 can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The deep-red-colored, 305-year-old Reynolds House Inn on Hope Street, for example, was headquarters for French General Lafayette for three weeks during the American Revolution.

The most dominant structure is white-columned Linden Place, a mansion that sits regally on a small rise in the center of town. Built in 1810, it was home to the Colt and DeWolf families (Granddad is a descendant). The elaborate wrought-iron gate and bearded, muscular statues reflect the wealth and influence the families once had, entertaining such guests as Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Chester Arthur. So well preserved are the structure and gardens that they were used in Robert Redford's movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Sports history is represented as well, in the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America's Cup Hall of Fame. Two hulls sit on the lawn, one a turn-of-the-century wooden brown, the other a white, sleek modern design. Inside the building sit glittering trophies from past racing victories. Naval architect Captain Nathanael Greene Herreshoff ("Captain Nat") started the company with his brother John and ruled the America's Cup for decades.

But it's on July 4 each year when history truly springs to life. Thousands flock to Bristol for an event that's like Bastille Day, Mardi Gras, and the running of the bulls all rolled into one. The first July 4 celebration was in 1785; today, marching bands from all over America come to perform in what has become a matter of great prestige. Fans of the bands, as well as nearly everyone in the state, cram the little five-mile route in Bristol each Independence Day.

I cross the parade route, stepping across the patriotic center line. It's a quiet weekday, and I can almost hear the music of the Roaring Twenties coming from a party at one of Bristol's mansions. It's mixed in with the gay laughter of Fitzgerald's Daisy, who is perhaps celebrating an America's Cup victory or the Fourth of July.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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