Exploring: Tiverton and Little Compton

By Bob Curley

Rhode Island is a very small state, but there are destinations that can transport you to the past and an environment that seems quite removed everyday life. Even if that’s just a couple of miles — or bridges — away. Tiverton and Little Compton are two such places.

White Head Preserve in Tiverton

Newport and all of Rhode Island are part of New England, of course, so it’s not really fair to say that these two East Bay towns are more “New England-y” than other regions of the state. But driving down Route 77, passing by farm stands, Colonial homes fringed by old stone walls and low hills unsullied by development, you start feeling more and more connected to a pastoral past that, by luck or intention, seems better preserved in Tiverton and Little Compton than other places.

In part, this is thanks to an abundance of protected open space. Acre for acre, it’s hard to think of another place in Rhode Island that has so much parkland mixed in with still-working farms and handsome homes on oversized lots (particularly in Little Compton).

This happy combination accrues an abundance of greenery.

The Tiverton waterfront and Fort Barton

Bordering the city of Fall River lends North Tiverton amore urban feel, but it doesn’t take long for development to thin out as you head south. Crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge from Portsmouth (by car or bike) not only puts you in close proximity to the Newport Restaurant Group’s excellent Boat House restaurant on the Tiverton waterfront, but also a cluster of shops and eateries near the site of the former Stone Bridge, which was severed during 1954’s Hurricane Carol. Today the stump of the old bridge serves as a fishing pier and linear park with lovely views across the river to Island Park; alongside the park is the small-but-sandy Grinnell’s Beach.

Coastal Roasters in Tiverton

Just steps away, Coastal Roasters brews up its own blends of coffee under labels such as “Wild Weetamoo” and “Sakonnet Light,” which can be sipped in a compact courtyard with colorful Adirondack chairs facing the water. Smoothies, frappes, and a variety of pastries are on the menu, as well. Next door, the Salt Shack sells East Bay-themed gifts, and those in search of a bigger meal can cross the street to the Red Dory, a seafood restaurant with an elevated, ivy-fringed patio for warm-weather dining.

A short but steep walk uphill leads to Fort Barton, a well-preserved Revolutionary War redoubt from which a raiding party of Continental troops led a successful mission to Newport to capture British General Richard Prescott in 1777. An observation tower at the summit offers unobstructed views of Portsmouth, Bristol, the Seekonk River, Mount Hope Bay and upper Narragansett Bay; it’s easy to see why this was an important strategic location during the Revolutionary War.

Trails from the summit connect to the Fort Barton Reserve and Highland Woods, which have 2.8 miles of hiking trails around Sin and Flesh Brook, site of a notorious attack during the 17th-century King Philip’s War.

The park is just the first of many you’ll encounter as you drive south toward Tiverton Four Corners, a historic crossroads that remains a vital hub in the town.

Shoreline and marshes

Plouf Plouf, which serves scratch-made rustic French food from an unassuming locale near Nannaquatucket Pond, helps mark the transition into rural Tiverton. Get closer to the shore by taking the turn west onto Seapowet Avenue, which leads to the Rhode Island Audubon Society’s Emilie Reucker Wildlife Refuge, which has trails through marshes to the banks of the Sakonnet River.

Arch Contemporary Ceramics in Tiverton

Continuing along the shoreline will take you through the broad Seapowet Marsh. The Seapowet Preserve is a nice spot to stop for a picnic lunch or to catch the sunset, while a turn south onto Puncatest Road connects to Fogland Road and Fogland Beach, a surprising crescent of sand and dunes more reminiscent of an ocean beach than a stretch of riverfront.

Fogland Road and Pond Bridge Road quickly take you back to Route 77/Main Road, and it’s a short jaunt north to Four Corners.

Groundswell, located in the former A.P. White General Store, is a charming French bistro and coffee house, right down to its Belle Époque decor and the Édith Piaf songs playing in the background. Petit dejeuner selections include quiche, salads, and a variety of baguette sandwiches. Four Corners can be a destination unto itself with its multiple art galleries, shops, and grounds, which include a sculpture garden and a picturesque mill waterfall.

The crossroads’ 300 years of history is highlighted by the Soule-Seabury House, dating to 1770 and now housing the Four Corners Art Center. Meeting the artists is part of the fun at galleries like Arch Contemporary Ceramics, which displays the works of 25artists including those of potter, sculptor, and gallery co-owner Charlie Barmonde. About a third of the ceramics in the gallery come right from the kiln in the next room.

Groundswell in Tiverton

The 750-acre Weetamoo Woods and Parson Grey Preserve, part of the homeland of the native Pocasset people and including a segment of the Colonial-era Eight Rod Way, is a short drive east on Route179; it’s well worth the detour before continuing south on 77 to Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, open on weekends for wine tastings with views of the vines.

Gardeners from all over Rhode Island make the pilgrimage to Peckham’s Greenhouse at the corner of Peckham Road to pick from their vast selection of flowers and herbs, while the Young Family Farm and Walker’s Roadside Stand offer an abundance of locally grown seasonal produce; the latter also recently became the latest outpost of cold-brew coffee purveyors The Nitro Bar.

The Commons

The Art Cafe in Little Compton

No trip to Little Compton is truly complete without a stop at The Commons, less than a mile east of Route 77on Meetinghouse Road — and a neat distillation of everything the town has to offer.

Classic Rhode Island jonnycakes are a menu staple at the Commons Lunch (which opens for breakfast, too), while you won’t find amore genuine general store in Rhode Island than Wilbur’s next door.

Spend a few minutes wandering the Old Commons Burial Ground on the village green beside the Congregational church, then return again to nature with a boardwalk stroll at the Whitehead Preserve at Dundery Brook; the trailhead is right behind the playing fields adjacent to the Wilbur and McMahon Schools.

If all this seems like a lot to squeeze into a day, the nearby Stone House Inn is a fine choice for an overnight stay in this quietest of Rhode Island’s coastal communities.

The Commons in Little Compton