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Monday, July 11, 2016

Colt State Park - Bristol, Rhode Island

Sometimes, it is so nice to head out of town with absolutely no plans.  A few towns in mind, sunny skies, a tank full of gas, dive gear in the trunk and an open agenda...that was the tune of my fourth of July weekend.  On Sunday, we loaded up the car and headed north.  We had nowhere really to be, but a few destinations in mind.  The sorta plan was to head down and check out the cute town of Bristol, Rhode Island, before back tracking to Newport and then Jamestown Rhode Island for a dive, checking out new dive sites and any fun areas along the way. 

Fourth of July in Bristol, RI

Driving through Bristol on the fourth of July weekend was an activity in itself. I knew nothing about this little town (absolutely nothing) and was pleasantly suprised to drive through this quaint little town ALL decked out for the holiday.  On July 4th, every year since 1785, the town of Bristol hosts a national celebration that’s actually older than the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1790).  A little town that is part of the oldest fourth of July celebration in America, I am not sure any town had more red white and blue than this one.  People take their parade activities so seriously that we even saw staging set up for lofted couches and prime parade views.

We continued driving and our first detour of the day was to Colt State Park in Bristol.  Looking at Apple maps as we coasted down the busy roads, I could see a large State Park bordering the ocean to our right.  Ocean, state park,  free admission...we saw the signs and made the turn to see what the park was all about.  

Large bulls guarding the entrance to Colt State Park

The entrance to the park was so unlike any other, with the tone of a private estate instead of ranger stations or a booth where every car stops to pay a fee.  Two large bulls (named Conrad and Pomeroy) are perched on marble columns guarding the entrance.  The marble bases are believed to have been modeled after the approach gates to french king Louis XVs chateau Petit Trianon at Versailles and were unveiled to the public in 1913.  Instead of a big State Park entrance, you will find Conrad and Pomeroy and the iconic marble sign displaying some of the parks history  “Colt Farm. Private Property, Public Welcome”.  

"Private Property, Public Welcome" Entrance to Colt State Park

Colt Farm (once a private estate turned Rhode Island Colt State Park) became a symbol of wealth in the area.  Mr. Colt was known to allow the public on his property, to picnic on the grounds and go clamming off the beach hence the famous saying above.

Large bulls guarding the entrance to Colt State Park
Drive into the park
Bike path through the park
We noticed a few things about the park right off the bat.  First off, we noticed the busy bike path making its way through the park (more on that later).  We also noticed there was no entrance fee as we followed the drive along, stopping by the fishing pier to walk around and enjoy the views.  People were out picnicking, kites were flying, families fishing, and teens sunbathing on the lawn.  We drove around, past day sites, extensive barbecues, and bikers making their way across the park.  The park was clean, well maintained, and best of all, free to the public (there is a fee to park at the beach).  

Fishing Pier at Colt State Park
ABOUT:  Colt State Park covers 464 acres on “Poppasquash Neck” in Bristol, Rhode Island.  The property was once owned by Samuel P. Colt, a well-known industrialist.  The park, once owned by the businessman and gentleman farmer, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Drive through Colt State Park
HISTORY:   The Colt family has a long history, but it was really Samuel P. Colt who gave the family their success.  "A lawyer, like his brother, but less successful in politics, Samuel P. Colt made his fortune in banking and manufacturing. Not only did he manage to restore his family’s money, but he erased a good deal of the blot on the family crest caused by the fall of the DeWolf family and the ruin of the town.  Operating in an age of aggressive capital, 1875 to 1915, Colt assembled a collection of local banks leading to the emergence of the Industrial Trust Company, the forerunner of Fleet Bank which became the largest financial institution in the State of Rhode Island. He also knitted together nascent rubber companies in Bristol, Providence, and Woonsocket which evolved into United States Rubber Company (Uniroyal). He served as president of the Industrial National Trust until 1908 and U.S. Rubber until 1918. He supported local civic projects like the Colt Memorial High School as a way of ingratiating himself to the town, and he opened his private estate, the Colt Farm, to be enjoyed by the public".

In 1905, Mr. Colt purchased and consolidated the property from Chase, Church and Van Wickle farms, forming the current park and area known as Poppasquash Neck. When Mr. Colt first aquired the property, he built a summer house called the “casino”.  He also built a stone barn for his collection of prize-winning jersey cattle.  

"As local town histories note, no expense was spared on Colt’s prized herd. There was one employee for each cow. The cows horns were polished and their tails washed daily. When in their stanchions, the cows always had a thick bed of fresh straw. Cork and rubber covered the concrete floor where the cows stood. The spotless, comfortable barn was even heated in the winter. Each summer Colonel Colt’s finest Jersey cows, and his prize Berkshire sows, were transported in specially padded railroad cars to state and county fairs throughout the East. The show season ended in September with the annual Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. Every show season brought more trophies and ribbons to the elegant trophy room. In one season alone the Berkshire sows won 125 ribbons"

Map of Colt State Park
Map of Colt State Park
The stone barn can still be seen on the property while the summer house was demolished in the 1960s. The bronze bulls are still guarding the property at the main entrance gate on Hope Street (Route 114). 

Drive through Colt State Park
Colt passed away in 1921 leaving the land to his Industrial Trust Company in Providence.  According to Colt’s will, the farm was to remain open to the public in perpetuity.  Unfortunately, the park suffered several acts of vandalism, with some of the statues being stolen or ruined.  Many of the statues were relocated and now can be found at Linden Place.  
State of Governor John Chafee
The land known as Colt Farm moved into the hands of the State of Rhode Island in 1965 and in 1968, opened as Colt State Park by the Rhode Island Governor at the time, John Chafee.  A statue of the governor was installed in 2003 and can be found by the fishing pier. 

Bike Path 
ACTIVITIES:  Activities at the park include biking, horseback riding trails, walking, running, picnic groves, boat ramps for boating, a skate park, a fishing pier (built in the 1980s and reconstructed in 2014 for wheelchair fishing access), an observation tower, and an “open air Chapel-by-the-Sea”.  

Bike and Walking path
The park is also a stop on the East Bay Bike Path.   "The East Bay bikeway, connecting Colt to a string of other state parks from East Providence through Barrington and on to the Bristol Center will soon be linked to the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor with its Blackstone River State Park and Bikeway route stretching all the way to the Woonsocket boundary with Massachusetts, a scenic parkway of over thirty miles."

Walking path through the park
Colt State Park
Colt State Park
Colt State Park
Colt State Park

Overall, I was really impressed by this State Park.  Spending so many years living in Connecticut, and even closer in Massachusetts before that, I am ashamed to say it wasn't until this weekend that I have ever even heard of the area.  It was a beautiful weekend spent exploring a Rhode Island State Park.  Clean, well maintained and enjoyed by the public.  A lot of history and amazing water views.  I will definitely be back, with a bike or horse in tow. 

1 comment :

  1. Looks like it would be a nice place to bike or roller blade! - Alicia @


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