Roger W. Wheeler State Beach (1929)
Sand Hill Cove in the Town of Narragansett was a state property for nearly a century and a half before being transferred by the Rhode Island Secretary of State to the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1929. It was the first state beach along the arc of the Atlantic Ocean destined to be the home to several other beaches. The ownership of the beach strand by the state stretched back to Revolutionary War times when it was stripped from of Tory sympathizer of King George III. Its proposed use as a public resort for recreation fit well with the expansion ideas of the Park Commission in the late 1920s.
Originally, the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1906 set out to create a ring of parks and reservations within a ten mile radius of the State House in Providence to serve the recreational needs of the industrial workers crammed into nearly air-less, densely packed, triple-decker neighborhoods of Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls. To access these peripheral parks, located on the rim of the urban areas, a series of scenic parkways and trolley lines spoking out along former turnpike routes were used.
Expanding the original park system, serving the needs of Providence and adjacent city neighborhoods, to include South County beaches marked a new departure. It was one which logically followed the connection to more remote areas by new state highways and the increased use of automobiles. In the decade which followed, the purchase of Scarborough Beach in 1935 to 1937, on the eastern side of Point Judith peninsula, merely seconded the decision.
Even though the policy for coastal park expansion occurred in these years, it took the state until the middle of World War II (1943) to clear away the last of ninety “squatters,” who had erected illegal beach structures at Sand Hill Cove. Actually, it wasn’t until at least 1955, another ten years, that the first modern bath house and parking facilities were put on the site.
The name change from Sand Hill Cove to Roger W. Wheeler State Beach happened on August 15, 1970. Captain Roger W. Wheeler (1907-1969) was the creator of the Rhode Island State Life-Saving System. Without a cadre of life guards at the beaches, who promoted safe swimming practices, the public use of our coastal waters would have amounted to little more than an “attractive nuisance.” Trained, alert, and capable life guards have prevented many family tragedies over the years.
Between 1996 and 1997, a redesign and renovation of the beach facilities at Roger Wheeler produced a new pavilion, coin-operated hot showers, a playground, concession building, a life-guard tower, and a environmental educational area.
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