Block Island History

Naming & Colonization

Giovanni de Verrazzano was the first European to note Block Island’s existence in 1524. Block Island was named after Adrian Block, the Dutch navigator who re-discovered the Island in 1614. Sixteen families from the English colony of Massachusetts settled on Block Island in 1661 and in 1664, the Island became part of the English colony of Rhode Island.

The oldest identifiable gravestone marks the burial of Margaret Guthry in 1687.

Invasions & Trade

From 1690 to 1704, the Town was invaded by privateers 4 times while England was at war with France, and in 1699, Captain Kidd paid a visit shortly before his capture in Boston. During the American Revolution between 1775 and 1783, the Island remained neutral, trading freely with both sides.

Interesting Facts

  • The first postmaster, maintaining an office out of his bedroom, was appointed in 1832.
  • Because the Island is surrounded by dangerous shoals and ledges, dozens of vessels went down near here in the years before 2 lighthouses were built on the island.
  • The first was North Light, built at Sandy Point in 1829. This lighthouse was replaced 3 times, the current granite North Light being constructed in 1867-68. The brick Southeast Light was built at Mohegan Bluffs from 1873 and 1875. By the early 1990s, 115 years of erosion had put the lighthouse on the endangered list. The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of America's 11 most endangered structures of historic significance. The building, once over 300 feet from the edge of the bluff, was then only 55 feet from the eroding bluffs and in 1993 it was moved 245 feet back from the bluffs.
  • In the 1870s, Old Harbor was created by building a breakwater on the east side. From 1875 into the 1890s, many Victorian hotels and stores were built at Old Harbor, which was recognized as a National Register historic site in 1974.
  • Still in operation today, the Island Free Library was founded in 1875.
  • New Harbor was created in 1895 by digging the Great Salt Pond Channel.
  • In 1933, the Block Island School was built, replacing 5 one-room schools.
  • The Block Island Conservancy was founded in 1972, and since that time approximately 1/3 of the island has been protected from development.