Barrington, Rhode Island, (population 16,500), is a coastal suburban town, located on two peninsulas extending into Narragansett Bay. The town’s character owes much to its rolling terrain and coastal landscape. In the early 17th century, the land known as Sowams and Pokanoket was the territory of the Wampanoag Indians. It changed hands and names several times–included in the Massachusetts Bay Colony town of Swansea in 1667, incorporated as Barrington in 1717, transferred to Rhode Island Colony as part of the town of Warren in 1747, and made an independent Rhode Island town in 1770.

In colonial times, Barrington was a farming, fishing, and trading community. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, industries like the Nayatt Brick Company and Rhode Island Lace Works, as well as a new railroad line, attracted some newcomers to town. The agricultural landscape was gradually subdivided for housing, including seaside and riverfront houses for the affluent of metropolitan Providence, and more modest resort and year-round development for middle-class families.

Today, Barrington is a desirable suburb in urbanized Rhode Island, and its beauty and historic character account for much of its appeal. Major landmarks remaining from the turn of the century include the Tudor-style Town Hall (1887-88) and Leander Peck Memorial School (1916-17), the latter now the public library and senior center.  Barrington’s Historic Districts—City Center, Alfred Drown Road, and Jennys Lane—are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are mills, a lighthouse, a church, and historic homes.

The Town of Barrington and the Barrington Preservation Society recently installed a series of interpretive wayside signs along the Barrington section of the East Bay Bike Path and in the town center. This route, part of the East Coast Greenway, traverses five towns along an abandoned railroad line by the shore of Narragansett Bay. Convenient to numerous historic sites, recreational facilities, commercial districts, and historic neighborhoods, the path is an important component in the network of heritage tourism offerings and the economic vitality of the five communities. Part of the funding came from a Preserve America Grant made to the Rhode Island State Historic Preservation Office and sub-granted through its “Preservation is Local” grant program, and part from other state and private funds.

“Barrington by the Bay: A Brief History” is a recently developed interactive curriculum, teacher’s manual, and book, designed to help third graders gain an appreciation of local history and historic resources. To complement the book, all third graders visit the Barrington Civic Center Historic District, tour the Barrington Preservation Society Museum, and are encouraged to go exploring. This collaboration between the Barrington Preservation Society and the Barrington Public Schools won one of two annual statewide Preservation Education and Advocacy Merit Awards, recognizing its importance in educating “the next generation of preservationists.”

Other programs geared toward students include classroom presentations by members of the Preservation Society, a fourth grade oral history project using new media, and the Senior Projects Mentors Program. Member of the senior class are assigned a particular aspect of the town’s history or civic life to research, under the guidance of a mentor from the Preservation Society, who assists with research in the society’s collections. High school students volunteer in the museum as part of their community service requirement, as do local Girl Scouts working on their community service badge.

Another interesting project of the Barrington Preservation Society was the creation and publication of “From World War II to the Millennium: The Transformation of Barrington,” a series of interviews with long-time residents to document the changes of the last 50 years.

Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2011.

For more information

Barrington Preservation Society

Town of Barrington historical overview