Coastal Westerly (population 22,966), tucked into Rhode Island's southwest corner on the Connecticut border, has been a favorite seaside vacation spot for more than 100 years. The area originally known as Misquamicut, located on Block Island Sound and the Pawcatuck River, was home to Narragansett Indians prior to the establishment of an English outpost in 1637.
By 1661, settlers had forced the Indians across the river and established a permanent settlement on its banks. After a division in 1669, this site became known as the "westerly" section and incorporated.
Westerly grew as a shipbuilding center, and U.S. naval officer Oliver Perry built gunboats here before the War of 1812. Westerly has had textile and other light manufacturing industries and much of the granite used for Civil War monuments across the county was mined here.
Westerly has several significant historic areas and was recognized in 2002 as one of America's "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The well-preserved 19th and 20th century commercial center, known as Westerly Village, is the economic heart of town. Along the Pawcatuck River, the industrial villages of Bradford, Potter Hill, and White Rock still reflect their 19th century origins.
Avondale is a historic maritime community, and Watch Hill, home of the oldest operating carousel in the United States, is one of several 19th-century summer resort areas. Among the historic highlights of Westerly are the circa 1734 Babcock-Smith House, home of Dr. Joshua Babcock, friend of Benjamin Franklin, Westerly's first doctor and postmaster, and later chief justice of Rhode Island.
Wilcox Park is a prime example of a turn-of-the-century Victorian strolling park that continues to serve as an attraction for visitors and a community gathering place. When Westerly's 1902 armory was no longer useful for the National Guard, a group of citizens and the city partnered to restore the armory's physical fabric and return it to its historic role as a center for community activities.
The project has been assisted by a Save America's Treasures grant, State preservation grants, and private foundation funding. Westerly has also received Transportation Enhancement funding to convert the 1872 Old Town Hall to a transportation museum and for improvements in the mill village of Bradford historic district.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2004.