Tucked away in the middle of South County, Charlestown has always been one of the region’s best kept secrets. Divided by Route 1, part of it is rural and woodsy while the other part is full of secret beaches, coves, and nature preserves. Both sides offer a quaint New England atmosphere coupled with unexpected surprises such as shops, restaurants, and attractions that sneak up around every corner along scenic Route 1A. Driving Route 1, you may find yourself stopping and turning around to revisit something that caught your eye. Lately, the sleepy town has been getting lots of buzz and rightly so, with a revamped inn, headline-making James Beard award-winning chef, and popular ever-expanding festivals that bookend August.
Named after King Charles II, Charlestown was incorporated in 1738 with the General Stanton Inn opening just two years later, making it one of the oldest inns in the country. George Washington once slept here, along with other US presidents Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, and George H.W. Bush. Fast-forward to today, the property opened in July for its first season after being treated to a $2 million renovation courtesy of new owners Jackie and David Moore, a visionary couple of empty nesters who returned to the state after raising their family in Simsbury, CT. Mindful of retaining the colonial charm, modern updates like air conditioning and Wifi have been added. Says native son David, “this historic inn needed a facelift and we welcomed the challenge.” Jackie nods, adding, “this summer our goal is to welcome guests to our newly renovated bedrooms which feature sumptuous bedding, each with a private newly tiled bathroom. We're confident guests at the Inn and the restaurant will relax and enjoy themselves.”
With rich history comes the lore of the inn being haunted. So, are there ghosts? “Oh yes, three sets of ghosts have been reported,” Jackie grins, explaining that the last General Stanton died at the inn in December of 1821 and is buried in the cemetery on the back lot of the property. “Guests over the years claimed to see him peering from a second-floor window and some said they felt a touch on their shoulder or a saw doorknob turn on its own.” Jackie is quick to regale with more tales like a ship captain’s widow who died of a broken heart waiting for her husband who perished in the hurricane of 1815. “She can be seen in a long flowing white night dress on the third floor.” There’s also the story of a ghost-cat whose tail disappears around corners. “Bartenders have felt it brush up against their ankles and some have even heard it meowing.”
The Tavern at the Inn has a storied past as well. It served as a secret gathering place for George Washington’s revolutionary war spy ring, a hideout for Block Island rum runners, and gangsters such as Al Capone, to a secret speakeasy where renegade actress Talulah Bankhead could party into the wee hours. Today The Tavern serves elevated comfort food showcasing farm- and sea-to-table dishes and creative cocktails behind the same walls that housed the notorious guests of the past.
"When we opened the General Stanton Inn last August, our objective was to build a reputation for excellent food and great service," says Jackie. "Our chef, Westerly native Tom Hagist, put us on the map as an exciting new dining destination in Southern Rhode Island; we feel like we accomplished our first goal.”
Another part of The General Stanton that’s been brought back to life is the flea market, which ran on the property for 56 years. Rather than take that on themselves, the Moores partnered with Field of Artisans, producers of popular art markets. “Hearing of their stellar reputation, I reached out to Kevin [Momenee] and Katrina [Meehan] to transform the old flea market into an upscale antique and craft market,” says David. “They have done a marvelous job, and this summer we’re adding food and beverage service including delicious wine slushies.”
Meehan, founder and field producer of Field of Artisans, has a special connection to the area, having grown up in South County. “My partner Kevin and I have so much appreciation for what former General Stanton owner Janice Falcone built with the flea market. It's an impressive feat to create such a name, following, and platform – especially without the internet back then. When tasked with the revival, we wanted to make sure we honored the roots of the experience.” What the pair did change was the name, dropping “flea”; it’s now simply The General’s Market. “We feel this reflects our version while also aligning with the atmosphere David and Jackie are providing at The General Stanton Inn and The Tavern.”
Putting Charlestown in the national conversation is Chef Sherry Pocknett, the first indigenous woman (and only the third RI chef) to win a James Beard Award, an annual recognition of talent and achievement in the culinary arts. Pocknett won in the category of Best Chef: Northeast for her work at Sly Fox Den Too, a charming restaurant and cultural center on South County Trail where diners can experience Northeast Indigenous cuisine prepared from fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The extensive menu is packed with delectable choices like the hefty Indian Sammich: venison meat, fried potatoes and onions between Chef Sherry’s fry bread; The Fisherman: fresh fish of the day, lightly breaded and deep fried, served with plain nausamp (yellow corn grits); and the Grown-Up Mac-N-Cheese, generous portions of lobster meat served in a lobster shell.
This old town also knows how to party. The Charlestown Seafood Festival kicks off the month (August 4-6), marking the 38th year of the seafood extravaganza held at Ninigret Park. The now three-day event which started as a single-day with seven vendors back in 1985, today boasts 160 vendors (15 new ones this year), live music, and fireworks, with an expected attendance of over 38,000 people. “I’m really excited to bring the festival back again this year,” says Heather Paliotta, executive director of the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce who serves as producer. “The Seafood Festival is such a summer icon. We’re just hoping to have good weather and see lots of visitors this year!”
Capping off summer on Labor Day weekend is another three-day fête at Ninigret Park, Rhythm & Roots, but swap lobster rolls for live music, craft and food vendors, and more. The family friendly event attracts 5,000 people daily and attendees are encouraged to stay the entire time at an onsite camping area or take advantage of nearby lodgings. The schedule includes Trombone Shorty, Greensky Bluegrass, The Robert Cray Band, Shinyribs, The Infamous Stringdusters, and JJ Grey and Mofro. New this year is a camp stage, where there will be special late-night performances exclusively for the campers. “Of course, we’ll still have our quiet camping area that won’t be impacted by that,” says Tyler Grill, CEO and co-founder of Goodworks Entertainment who runs the festival.“We’re excited about the line-up this year and have a lot of great bands. It’s really exciting that this festival has been around for 25 years and is still going strong.”
1 Charlestown Beach Road
489A Old Coach Road
3963 Old Post Road
5402 Post Road
178 Nordic Trail
5193 Old Post Road
4 Charlestown Beach Road
This popular family-oriented town beach offers spectacular views of Block Island Sound. Amenities include lifeguards, outdoor showers, restrooms, changing rooms, a concession stand, and picnic tables. Beach-accessible wheelchairs are available at no charge.
469 East Beach Road
This public beach offers a panoramic view of Block Island Sound and is known as one of the best saltwater fishing areas in the region. There is an onsite campground and boat launches available.
812-774 Charlestown Beach Road
This quiet, town beach is located right next to Charlestown Breachway.
557 Charlestown Beach Road
This unspoiled barrier beach is three miles long and considered by many to be the most beautiful in the state. Parking is limited and there is no bath house.
East Beach Road
2183 Matunuck School House Road
4115 Old Post Road
4470 Old Post Road
4043 Old Post Road
Rent a boat from Ocean House Marina and float on Ninigret Pond
60 Town Dock Road
Explore Burlingame State Park & Campgrounds
1 Burlingame State Park Road
See stars at Frosty Drew Observatory on a Friday night
Bird watch, bike, and hike at Kimball Wildlife Refuge, and view life-like habitat dioramas and hands-on discovery stations at Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary at Kettle Pond Visitor Center
180 Sanctuary Road
Charlestown Art Gallery
5000 South County Trail
The Fantastic Umbrella Factory
4820 Old Post Road
5193 Old Post Road
Mills Creek Natural Market
4436 Old Post Road
South County Habitat for Humanity ReStore
1555 Shannock Road
16 West Beach Road
Quonnie Siren Oysters
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