Wickford, Rhode Island | Could You Live Here?
Water is at the heart of Wickford, Rhode Island, where you’ll shop to the tune of gulls, take your morning coffee within sight of swans, and find the harbor a constant companion.
It’s a safe harbor, buffered by the land, spliced through with a busy Main Street that’s been called “One of America’s 10 Best.” Shade trees line up like spectators at a parade, overhanging rose-brick storefronts. Dogs amble the sidewalks with people in tow, and it’s impossible to stroll without stooping to pet something. Just 25 minutes from the bustle of Providence and Newport, but with a sensibility that still celebrates men like Remington Straight and Jabez Bullock. Their nameplates, fixed on historic houses, remind us that we, too, are merely walkers through history.
Wickford attracts “people whose hobby and love is restoring houses,” says Sue Macy, a Main Street resident, who with her husband, Bill, restored their first Wickford house 42 years ago.
Wickford suggests candlewicks and dim lamplight, pewter dishes and brick ovens. An Updike ancestor, Lodowick Updike, plotted out the town in 1709. Revolutionary War–era houses still stand, wavy glass facing a harbor where sailboats dock in place of tall ships. Daytrippers can sail into town, tie up for a few hours, and sniff out the bones of history, following the tributaries of wobbly little streets as they run, inevitably, back to the sea. For water is at the heart of Wickford, where you’ll cross paths daily with the harbor, shop to the tune of gulls, and take your morning coffee within sight of swans.
Three streets bunch together like a fist at the center of town, before reaching toward water. Main Street leads to Gardner’s Wharf Seafood Market, where stacks of crusted traps wait for work. Brown Street follows the harbor, with access to the Town Dock and restaurants that straddle the view. West Main Street (Scenic 1A) curves past salt marshes. Elsewhere, Pleasant Street ends in a boat launch, and bright kayaks dart like minnows escaping from the Kayak Centre on Phillips Street. Some call it “Nantucket at a fraction of the cost.” Hard to believe that Route 1, lined with shopping plazas, is just minutes away—handy, but out of sight.
With one of the densest collections of 18th-century houses in New England, it’s easy to fall hard for a historic home. Buyers from Connecticut and New York consider Wickford’s waterfront a relative steal, although demand is on the rise, says agent Ginny Gorman of Phillips Post Road Realty in North Kingstown.
“A Wickford home buyer looking to pick up a deal at $400,000 can be a possibility if the timing is right,” Gorman says. “There’s no fixed range; it’s house-dependent.” That said, she zeroes in on a prime favorite location: “The historic side streets from Bay to Washington, and Pleasant to Esmond Avenue, are all lined with historic homes. I call them my Fabergé egg collection, because the colors of the paints can mesmerize you.”
Al Rubin came up to me on Main Street and introduced himself. He didn’t remember me, this bubbly 79-year-old, but he’d done the same thing a few years ago. Again, he caught me by surprise, an ambassador of goodwill. “There’s something about Wickford,” Rubin says. “It’s fun, small, on the water, and people love to walk.”
Walking, in fact (preferably with a dog), seems to be a direct route to Wickford’s social scene. “In a five-minute walk, you meet everyone,” agrees Sue Macy, as we turn onto Bay Street, accompanied by her two friendly dachshunds. And just like that, we bump into Willem and Kathleen van Rijn (he’s the former COO of Greenpeace), who took two years to bring back “Old Yellow,” a chunky 1735 Colonial that’s the oldest house in the village. “There are two defining moments in renovating,” Willem says. “The first is when you ask, ‘What have we done?’ The second is when you say, ‘To hell with the budget.’” These two “fell in love with Wickford because it’s a community.”
Clearly, historic preservation is another fast track to fitting in, bolstered by groups like HistWick and Historic North Kingstown. And the arts get a big boost from the 400-member-strong Wickford Art Association, host of the annual summer Wickford Art Festival (this year, July 12–13), when artwork literally pours onto the streets.
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