Rocky Point is a great spot in Rhode Island for a day trip. Today, it is a state park with almost 120 acres of land. One of the highlights for me was the pier that offers breathtaking views of the ocean. If you stay long enough, you’ll enjoy a stunning sunset and even a moonrise, if weather permits. Even though I visited in near-freezing temperatures, it was completely worth the trip. Since I only live about ten minutes away, I’ll be back again and again. But I almost forgot the best part! Before it was a state park, it was an amusement park with a pretty fascinating history.
Rocky Point State Park
Rocky Point State Park is located right on the edge of Narragansett Bay in Warwick, Rhode Island. The land has been a public attraction since the mid-1800s, most notably as Rocky Point Amusement Park. When the amusement park closed in 1994, it sat abandoned for years until the city and state purchased the land in stages between 2008-2013. It reopened to the public as a state park in October 2014.
Back in the day when the amusement park was abandoned, teenagers and thrill-seekers would sneak in and explore. My husband was one of those teenagers and these are the photos he took on his questionable adventures.
Rocky Point Amusement Park
The Rocky Point Amusement Park began unofficially in 1847 when William Winslow first began serving dinner and offering amusements when he purchased the land. By the middle of the 20th century, it was a very popular amusement park offering dozens of rides. These included a roller coasters, a log flume, Skyliner, Freefall, ferris wheel and a carousel.
It was also home to the Shore Dinner Hall, a 4,000-seat food hall just outside the amusement park gates serving clamcakes, steamers, lobster and the infamous New England clam chowder. I borrowed a photo from Rhode Island Memories – you can purchase some cool antique items on their website.
The Good Years: Rocky Point
“On Sunday, September 6, 1903, blue laws prevented the National League’s Boston Beaneaters from playing the Philadelphia Phillies at their usual home park, South End Grounds in Boston. The game was moved to a field at Rocky Point, where the ocean apparently came right up to the edge of the outfield. (Boston won, 3-2.)1940s postcard
From the 1950s through the mid-1990s, Rocky Point Park was one of the most popular attractions in Rhode Island. It featured rides such as the Skyliner, Corkscrew Loop Roller Coaster, Log Flume, and the Freefall (similar to the identically named ride at Six Flags parks), which fell 13 stories at 55 mph (89 km/h).
It also featured the Shore Dinner Hall, famous for its clamcakes, steamers, lobsters, and Manhattan style clam chowder, which seated over 4,000 patrons at a time. In later years, Rocky Point’s locally famous logo of a lobster tipping his hat was used in much of the park’s advertising both in TV commercials and in print. The park’s circa 1963 Castle of Terror dark ride (renamed House of Horrors in 1970) was one of its most popular rides and lives on in social media conversation decades after its demolition.
In addition to its amusement rides, Rocky Point also occasionally hosted concerts in its Palladium ballroom. The park was the inspiration for the title of Rocky Point Holiday, a 1966 composition for wind band by Ron Nelson.”Wikipedia
Why Was it Abandoned?
How could such a popular place end up abandoned? It operated from the late 1840s until it closed on November 7, 1994. In 1996, the park officially filed for bankruptcy. In the early 1990s, Rocky Point’s financial situation became shaky. The privately-held company that owned the park began to lose money in its attempts to leverage Rocky Point Park to fund other ventures.
Rocky Point closed in 1994, then reopened briefly in 1996 as a farewell to patrons. Rides such as the Flume and Corkscrew were sold in an auction and are now in use at other amusement parks. The Corkscrew was sold for $850,000 to Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way, Washington, in 1997, where it was renamed the Wild Thing and remains in operation as of 2015.
Reborn as a State Park
Safety concerns arose around the abandoned park after multiple fires, eroding structures, and pervasive vandalism. So the demolition of its remains began in May 2007. The City of Warwick purchased 41 acres with state and federal funding in 2007, taking the title in August 2008. Rocky Point reopened to the public in June 2011, with a freshly-paved walking path along the shore. It was the first time in 80 years that an acre of shoreline was opened in the city for public use.
On election day in 2010, Rhode Island introduced a ballot measure to purchase the remaining 83 acres in and around the site, combining it with the 41 already owned in order to establish it as a state park. The remaining buildings, including the Shore Dinner Hall, were demolished in summer 2014. Once completed, the space was cleaned, developed, and finally reopened as a state park on October 25, 2014.
Six years after the park reopened, I got to visit Rocky Point State Park for the very first time. It was really cool (literally, it was freezing) to explore the area and see some of the leftover structures from the theme park. I hope to come back in the summer and spend the entire day here. We had a chance to drone here and enjoy an almost empty park during a brisk winter day. There are many signs all over the area describing the history that I mentioned here and more! Now that you know the history and saw what it looked like in the past, check out this video again to see how it’s transformed!