Of the countless things to do during summer in Rhode Island, there's one place that offers summertime fun—and a dose of colonial New England history—by the heaping handfuls throughout the entire summer.
And it's all summed by by two words: Gaspee Days.
The seasons-long celebration happens every year in Pawtuxet Village, the bayside community known for historic architecture, a peaceful downtown with shops and restaurants and a culture connected to the water. It abuts Narragansett Bay and spans the mouth of the Pawtuxet River where Cranston and Warwick are linked by a bridge.
And it comes alive this weekend for an annual Arts and Crafts Festival, which draws 50,000 people a day to browse dozens of vendors hawking food, souvenirs, art, local products and everything else under the sun. This happens daily in front of a backdrop of music, raffles, rides, and an avenue of the flags event. Perhaps the highlight of the weekend is on Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Aspray Boat House and Patio in Pawtuxet Park. Enjoy beer, music, and neighborhood camaraderie alongside Pawtuxet Cove.
All the money raised during the festival helps the Gaspee Days Committee put on its bread and butter events during the weekend of June 8 to 10. This is when its year's worth of work culminates in a traditional colonial encampment, giving visitors a feel for colonial military life. Dozens of militia camp out for the weekend in authentic military garb, erecting white canvass tents and cooking over open fires. Both militia members and civilians dress in Revolutionary War era fashion, donning traditional military uniforms and colonial bonnets and dresses.
Then there's the fireworks, the ecumenical non-denominational service, the Allan and Edna Brown 5k Gaspee Days Road Race along Broad Street in Cranston to Narragansett Parkway in Warwick and even a Parade. Don't forget Sunday in the Park with food and music, a fashion show and the climax on Sunday night—the burning of the Gaspee—a symbolic end of the Gaspee Days festivities when a model ship is set ablaze much how the original sparked the American Revolution in 1772.
The Gaspee was a British ship used as part of Britain's crusade to tax the colonies and intercept the smuggling trade that was flourishing in Narragansett Bay and other inlets and waterways. Its commander, Lt. William Dudingston, was an elitist and arrogant Navy officer who garnered little mercy when he was shot in the groin by a group of angry colonists who ambushed the ship after it was stranded on a sandbar in pursuit of the Hannah, a colonial boat en route to Providence that had no intention of stopping for British tyrants.
The ship was set on fire and its powder kegs exploded. The event did much to tip the colonies into war with Britain and is increasingly being recognized as a pivotal moment in the American Revolution.
In Pawtuxet Village, where the fiery conflict was centered, the moment in history is more than just a reason to party and celebrate. It defines a community that straddles two Rhode Island cities as the place where the spark that ignited the powder keg of revolution truly began.
If you go:
Festivities start daily at 10 a.m.
Narragansett Parkway is closed to traffic between Post Road and Canonchet Street between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
Saturday, May 26
Arts and Crafts Festival. The event attracts about 50,000 people a day. Browse items being sold by vendors and exhibitors. A food court and family music and entertainment are located in Pawtuxet Park.
Block Party. From 6 to 11 p.m., attend a block party at the Aspray Boat House and Patio. Entry fee is $5. Show ID and enjoy beer, music and the crowd. All proceeds benefit the Gaspee Days Committee. No coolers are allowed.
Music: DJ, Nick-A-Nees.
Sunday, May 27
Arts and Crafts Festival: The festival continues.
Music: Dan Lilley Band
Monday, May 28
Arts and Crafts Festival: Enjoy the final day of the festival.
Avenue of Flags. More than 500 American Flags are on display along the streets that line Pawtuxet Memorial park at 100 Harrison Ave.
Music: Black & White.
From the south: From Interstate 95 northbound, take exit 14 (Route 37, Warwick) to Post Road (Route 1A) North. Follow the road about 3 miles to Pawtuxet Village.
From the north: From Interstate 95 southbound, take Exit 16 (Route 12) to Park Avenue. Follow 1.2 miles straight through to Broad Street and turn right towards Pawtuxet Village.
From the west: From Interstate 295 take Route 37 East (Warwick) to Route 1A. Follow Post Road until reaching Pawtuxet Village.
For maps of all Gaspee Days events including directions, click here.
Parking is available in Warwick at the Pilgrim Senior Center, Pilgrim High School and Wyman Elementary School.
In Cranston, free parking is available at the .
Handicapped parking for the Arts and Crafts Festival is at the Narragansett Parkway and Canonchet Avenue.
For a history of the burning of the Gaspee, click here.