Take This Tour of Riverside

The East Providence village is a magnet for exercise mavens and nature lovers.

My bike squeaks cantankerously as I pedal along the East Bay Bike Path’s smooth lanes. The roads are grimy with salt, and a cold wind whips off the water. During the summer, folks will walk, bike and rollerblade along this East Providence stretch of the oceanfront bike path.

But now, in the icy heart of winter, fellow travelers are few and far between.

I stop my labored pedaling and admire the view. The Providence skyline shimmers in the distance across the water. Near the shore, pilings and wooden debris jut from the water while, further away, a jumble of wood rises just above the waterline. I’m overlooking Green Jacket Shoal, the watery grave of almost thirty ships.

Nancy Moore, president of the East Providence Historical Society (she didn’t join me on my arctic bike ride but did act as a gracious host when I visited their headquarters), explains, “Several years ago, it was agreed by  everyone that the waterfront needed to be cleaned up. It was dangerous; there were pilings and bits of debris everywhere.”

But what appeared to only be a nuisance was actually much more.

“David Robinson (East Providence native and archaeologist) found twenty-nine ships, twenty-seven of which are at least eighty-five to 150 years old,” she says. “They are all different; there’s everything from small sailing boats to steamers like the Mount Hope or the Bay Queen.”

Now, looking out over the shoal, the water is rough and turbulent in the winter breeze. Across the Seekonk River, near the industrial Providence waterfront, a lone ship drifts by, keeping its distance from the obstacle-laden water.

 “You couldn’t navigate across the shoals, so it seemed to be a good place to use as a dumping ground,” Moore says of the area. “Boats were taken there to be scuttled and, fortunately for us, the area appears to have never been disturbed since then. And now, here it is: You’ve got twenty-nine legitimate pieces of marine shipping history.”

I try to imagine the stories of those ships resting beneath the waves, to let the weight of their historical significance sink in, but my frozen hands are slowly losing the ability to feel or move. I had planned on biking the remaining four and a half miles to Riverside’s Crescent Park Carousel, but considering the useless nubs that my fingers have become, I instead quickly retreat to my car.
 

The Crescent Park Carousel. Borealis Coffee Company is a small-batch artisanal coffee roaster. Hanging out on a chilly perch.
 

Not prepared to give up entirely, I drive a couple of miles and park along the bike path about a mile away from the carousel. I dutifully remove my bike from the trunk and resume my ride. My hands are now protected by the only winter apparel available to me: two right-hand gloves, one of which is intended for a woman. No longer distracted by the beginning stages of frostbite, but looking completely ridiculous, I can actually enjoy the scenery: a brackish inlet populated by a small army of Canada geese, a charming street lined with burgundy houses and a row of barren trees that would be a verdant tunnel in the summer. Veering off the path, the carousel’s peaked roof looms in the distance.

I spot the parking lot and glide in. The scent of pine drifts off an enormous pile of mulched Christmas trees in the center of the carousel’s parking lot. The ride is closed up for the winter, but I take a peek into the darkened windows. The horses’ brass poles glint in the light streaming through stained glass. I can just make out ornate hand carved details. The ride is still impressive after more than 100 years of use; it’s not so hard to believe that this was once the epicenter of the Crescent Amusement Park.

“They came from Taunton, they came from Bristol, they came from anywhere on the bay and beyond; Crescent Park could draw in 15,000 to 20,000 people in a weekend,” Dave Kelleher, member of the East Providence Historical Society and another knowledgeable local, explained to me a few days before.

The former theme park sprawled over 300 acres in its glory days but, despite being one of the most popular in Rhode Island, it wasn’t the largest.

“The biggest one was Vanity Fair, off of Pawtucket Avenue,” Kelleher says. “The place was built in the 1890s. They had their carousel, their dance hall and a bunch of rides. But, unlike Crescent Park, Vanity Fair charged an entrance fee, which apparently didn’t go over too well. The trolley would go by it and nobody would get off. Eventually Vanity Fair went bankrupt.”

Vanity Fair and Crescent Park were only a few of the numerous amusement parks throughout coastal Rhode Island. But the amusement park boom couldn’t last forever. As their popularity declined in the twentieth century, they were shut down and demolished one by one. Now, only the carousel remains.

Although the town has quieted down in recent years, considering its lively history, it’s not too hard to believe it has big things  coming in its future. Industry still slowly trickles in, beautiful oceanfront communities are being developed and laidback recreational attractions, like the East Bay Bike Path, continue to pull in visitors from near and far. But what comes next for this once bustling town? Rhode Island’s first historic underwater district? Crescent Park 2.0? Only time will tell.
 

Great places for foodies

EAST PROVIDENCE

Oxford Tavern  
Looking for some quality Portuguese food? Head to the Oxford Tavern. It offers variations on classic Portuguese fare in hearty portions. If you want to celebrate the weekend, order a stiff cocktail. Just make sure your wallet is stocked; the tavern only accepts cash, although there’s an ATM on the premises. 446 Waterman Ave., East Providence, 572-3799, oxfordtavern.com.

Broadway Diner  
For those hankering for some good ol’ fashioned diner grub, East Providence’s own Broadway Diner has it all. Try the delicious homemade hash along with a cup of strong coffee. It’s open weekday mornings at six, so early birds can swoop in and get a quick meal before work. Make sure to try one of the specials; the diner offers tasty treats using quirky ingredients like lox and Portuguese bread. 446 North Broadway, East Providence, 432-6553.

A SHORT DRIVE AWAY

Chengdu Taste
Using only fresh ingredients, Chengdu Taste serves up some of the state’s best Chinese food. Specializing in authentic Szechuan fare, it has classic dishes like ma po tofu with pork or chong qing chicken. If you like to feel the burn, there are plenty of entrees that are as spicy as they come; they also have a wide selection of non-spicy options for the faint of heart. 701 Main St., Pawtucket, 729-5699.

10 Rocks
Tapas are all the rage nowadays, but if you’re looking to try something a little different, check out 10 Rocks. The restaurant’s mission is to share the culture, music and, most importantly, food of Cape Verde with Rhode Island. From pineapple chicken to calamari Pilon, it seems like good things definitely can come in small packages. If you’d rather skip the small plate options, there are full-sized entrees as well. 1091 Main St., Pawtucket, 728-0800, 10rockstapasbar.com.
{ great places to shop }

EAST PROVIDENCE

Hot Leathers
Diehard bikers (I’m not talking bicyclists, mind you) and weekend riders alike can appreciate the protection and style afforded by leather. Grab a jacket, a pair of gloves or even accessorize your motorcycle at Hot Leathers. The store is part of a small chain operating across the United States and has been supplying Rhode Island and New England communities with motorcycle apparel and accessories for more than thirty years. 90 Newport Ave., 435-6346, hotleathers.com.

Asiana Food Market
Maybe you are looking for that perfect kimchi or some wonton wrappers to make authentic steamed dumplings; whatever your reason for scouting out various Asian ingredients and cuisine, the Asiana Food Market is one of the state’s best places to find what you’re looking for. The small but well-equipped store is packed with goodies from countries across Asia, but specializes in Japanese and Korean foodstuffs. From packaged ramen to produce, it has it all. 92 Warren Ave., 438-9992.

A SHORT DRIVE AWAY

Rhode Island Antiques Mall
If your favorite hobby is shopping for the perfect vintage or antique item, you might think you’re in heaven when you visit Rhode Island Antiques Mall. It has space for 150 antique vendors and more than 20,000 square feet of dealing space. The mall is two levels, with one floor dedicated to collectibles, furniture, art and decor, and another floor dedicated to a constantly changing collection of odds and ends. 345 Fountain St., Pawtucket, 475-3500, riantiquesmall.com.
 

Great places to explore

EAST PROVIDENCE

Comedy Connection
Laugh the night away at Comedy Connection. Stand-up comedians from around the country hold shows here, including some pretty famous folks in the industry. For those looking to eat, drink and be merry, it has a full-service bar and a well-stocked kitchen. For philanthropic patrons, it also regularly hosts fundraisers for nonprofits, schools, youth leagues and families in need. 39 Warren Ave., East Providence, 438-8383, ricomedyconnection.com.

Cape Verdean Museum
Learn about one of the most fascinating groups of immigrants to come to this country. Operated entirely by volunteers, the museum is stocked with a variety of objects and records, from sixteenth century maps to recent artwork. Nearby Pawtucket has the second largest Cape Verdean population in the United States; the museum tells the story of one of Rhode Island’s integral communities. 1003 Waterman Ave., East Providence, 228-7292, capeverdeanmuseum.org.

A SHORT DRIVE AWAY

Sky Zone
Children and adults alike can enjoy an hour or two of bouncing around. Sky Zone has multiple trampoline courts and foam-filled pits, so there’s plenty of space for you to let loose. It regularly hosts special programs: Glow Night with a live DJ and light show; Sky Fit, classes meant to keep you in shape; and Skyjam, where everyone is encouraged to play games and enjoy pizza. 70 Pawtucket Ave., Rumford, 383-6000, skyzone.com/providence.
 

4 places where you can  get pedaling

TRAILS
East Bay Bike Path
Perhaps one of Rhode Island’s best known bike trails, the East Bay Bike Path offers an unbroken fourteen-mile stretch of biking from India Point Park in Providence all the way to Bristol. Cyclists can enjoy the stunning natural beauty of Narragansett Bay and the shops and attractions of seaside towns and cities like Bristol, East Providence and Warren. Veterans Memorial Parkway.

Ten Mile River Greenway
For some of East Bay’s best freshwater views, take a ride on the Ten Mile River Greenway. This scenic trail follows the James Turner Reservoir from Ten Mile River Park in Pawtucket through Slater Park and ends in East Providence at the Kimberly Ann Rock Fields. This three-mile bike path is perfect for those looking for a brief and bucolic ride.
Kimberly Ann Rock Fields, 220 Ferris Ave., Rumford.
 

SHOPS
NBX Bikes
For forty-five years, Helen and Rob Foulkes ran their shop Bicycle Folks, but now it has passed into the hands of Matt Bodziony and has become NBX Bikes. East Providence is his fourth Rhode Island cycling store, and it offers everything bike-related for sale and rent as well as a variety of repair services.
414 Warren Ave., 434-3838, nbxbikes.com.

Your Bike Shop
With locations in Warren and East Providence, Your Bike Shop has faithfully served the East Bay community for years. Although it sells a variety of bikes, the specialties are Raleigh and Fuji. It also offers maintenance and repair and runs the Ocean State Bike Path Association, a group that organizes small cycling adventures in Warren and throughout southern New England.
459 Willet Ave., 433-4491, yourbikeshopri.com.

 

Leave a reply