Located on Ocean Drive, Brenton Point State Park is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon in Newport. Brenton Point is located right where Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic and has one of the greatest views in town. Picnicking, hiking and fishing are some of the activities that can be enjoyed here, as well as simply sitting back and enjoying the cool ocean breeze.
Brenton Point’s history dates back to early Rhode Island history. Brenton Point State Park was named after Governor William Brenton, a religious refugee from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After living in Boston for four years he was “vigorously excused” in 1637 and spent time in Anne Hutchinson’s Portsmouth community before settling at the southern end of the Island in 1639. He divided his land, which today would not only be Brenton Point, but Castle Hill, Hammersmith Farm and Fort Adams, into two farms. Brenton understood that this area was very good for raising sheep (one of Rhode Island’s earliest economic export), and eventually he was raising 11,000 sheep. Brenton not only became a prosperous land owner, but also a prominent political figure in the colony.
William Brenton became the governor of Rhode Island and served from 1666 to 1669. Brenton happily took chances in annual elections and held office under the Charter of 1663. He died in 1674. Two years after Brenton’s death, Newport faced its first real challenge when the Wampanoag Indian Chief, Metacomet, united Indian tribes to expel white settlers in the mainland Massachusetts and Rhode Island towns. Fortunately, Newport and Portsmouth avoided massacres and being burned to the ground, and instead took in refugees from the areas that did. During the time that followed, Brenton Point and Castle Hill held their guard against pirates who were also seeking refuge in Narragansett Bay.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, Brenton point became a “portal” to the Privateers (commercial ships ready to wage war on England’s enemies). In 1776, Newport was a captured town, behind enemy lines, in the American Revolution. Cannons at Brenton Point and Castle Hill defended any attempts of the Americans to free the inhabitants under British garrison control for three years.
When the war was finally over, Newport and the surrounding farms were devastated for decades. Eventually the city was rescued by those seeking summer fun. Farm houses from before the civil war were transformed into guest houses. Wealthy industrialists from New York and Pittsburg began building mansions along Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive. Theodore M. Davis from Boston built a house known as “The Reef” in 1885 at Brenton Point, which became famous for its walled gardens and green houses. The estate took up eighteen acres, and after Davis’ death it went to Mr. and Mrs. Milton Budlong who used it until 1941.
During WWII, the site was one of the gateways to Narragansett Bay, making it an ideal location for coastal artillery battery. The house was returned to the Budlongs in 1946, but remained unoccupied and thus continued to deteriorate, until finally, a fire destroyed the villa in 1960. In 1969 the site became “open space property ,” under the control of the State of Rhode Island as part of the Green Acres Program. It became a Brenton Point State Park in 1976.