Revolutionary Heritage Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length6 miles
This historic byway travels through the quintessential New England town of Bristol, which is rich in history and culture that provides an unparalleled experience for the traveler. The route became a state byway in 2000 and a National Scenic Byway in 2021. Only 6 miles in length, it is packed with great shops, restaurants, and museums in Bristol’s historic downtown, waterfront parks, and wonderful views of the harbor.
Story of the Byway
The Revolutionary Heritage Byways is honored to be Rhode Island’s first and only National Scenic Byway. It received local scenic byway designation in 2000 and was elevated to be a National Scenic Byway in 2021.
This byway is a 6-mile section of road in Bristol, Rhode Island that travels through the heart of the community. Bristol (population 22,131) is a deep-water seaport nestled between the Narragansett and Mt. Hope Bays and is named after Bristol, England.
Bristol was a planned 17th century “grid” city, founded in 1680. Most of Bristol’s boundaries are water. Two dredged channels connect Bristol to other ports on the bay -one reaches from Fox Point in Providence past Poppasquash Point in Bristol to the southeast side of Prudence Island, with access from Bristol Harbor, and another traverses Mount Hope Bay east and north to Fall River, Massachusetts. These channels allow Bristol Harbor levels to remain constant, so the tide does not affect it.
The original settlers of the town were of English stock, from Boston and nearby Plymouth Colony towns. These Yankees were farmers, fishermen, shipbuilders, and traders. Native Americans were also part of this original community. Irish families began to arrive in Bristol in large numbers in the 1840s and 1850s. After the Civil War, the expansion of Bristol’s industrial base-- boats, textiles, and rubber products--resulted in an influx of newcomers who dramatically affected Bristol’s demography. By 1875 twenty-four percent of Bristol’s population was foreign-born. English and Scottish steelworkers came to build boats in the Herreshoff yards, and Italian and Portuguese families came to work in the Thames Street textile mills and in the National India Rubber Company factory. After World War II, Portuguese immigration steadily increased with the result that by 1970, seventy-eight percent of Bristol’s foreign-born residents were from Portugal and the Azores. Today, a majority of residents can claim a Portuguese heritage. Historically, the town’s population has been concentrated in the compact portion of Bristol; however, since World War II, northern Bristol has experienced a dramatic increase in population as historic farmsteads have been built up with new houses.
In the 1760s and 1770s, dissatisfaction with the British government grew and Bristol soon participated in the events and effects of the American Revolution. Bristol men served in the Continental Army, in local militias, and the newly independent Rhode Island government. Much of the normal commerce and farming of the town was interrupted for almost a decade, creating shortages; the town suffered British raids by both land and sea; and a large part of the town’s population was dislocated. The British, having twice occupied the port in Newport, seized cargoes, halted the ferry, and menaced ships.
In October 1775 fifteen British ships sailed into Bristol Harbor, demanded provisions, and fired on the town. The town delivered some supplies, and the fleet withdrew. Following this raid, Bristol, like other bay towns, constructed batteries and emplacements to defend itself. Fortifications were built along the harbor and at Bristol Ferry. Two companies of artillery were raised to man these batteries. Until the British fleet withdrew from Newport in April 1776 Bristol ships stayed in the harbor or, more often, sailed on their commercial or privateering voyages from other ports, especially in Massachusetts. A significant part of Bristol’s population fled to safer locations in other towns or moved from the compact part of town to outlying farms. Combined with the flow of refugees from Newport to Bristol, this further disrupted normal life in the town.
In May 1778 British troops raided Bristol. About 500 soldiers landed on Bristol Neck, marched north to Warren, then south to Bristol Ferry. The British burned a store of boats in Warren, made some arrests, and fired a substantial part of both towns; many buildings, including Saint Michael’s Church, were burned. The Bristol militia engaged the British force as it withdrew from the compact part of town along the Ferry Road and back to Newport. French troops, under Rochambeau and allied to the American cause, were also stationed at Bristol, a barracks and hospital were set up on Poppasquash during their occupation. During the war years, Bristol suffered considerable damage, not only physically but in the disruption of normal commercial and civic life. At wars end, suffering greatly, but not as much as other seaports, Bristol was poised for its greatest days as a seaport.
Much of the Revolutionary Heritage Byway (known as Highway 114 – also known as Hope Street and Ferry Road) runs parallel to the Bristol Harbor and offers great views of the both the harbor and Colt State Park across the harbor. In the center of the original town is Bristol Common, as square park-like block set aside for public use. Hope Street is the principal shopping area of the town, lined with early nineteenth-century dwellings converted to commercial uses and interspersed with commercial buildings constructed in the second half of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.
Bristol is host to the oldest Fourth of July parade - since 1785. The parade route is even denoted with a red-white-and-blue center line! The byway route is lined with a mature tree canopy, historic homes, waterfront parks, and a downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, Bristol was designated one of the National Trust for Historic Places Dozen Distinctive Designations. This corridor is also part of the network of land and water trails that comprise the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail; wayfinding markers are located on Route 114 to indicate this trail and guide tourists.
Take Route 114 south from the Warren town line for 6 miles to the Mount Hope Bridge. Route 114 is also called Hope St and Ferry Road as it travels through the city of Bristol, Rhode Island.
Points of Interest
Cott State Park
Panoramic Bay views, groomed lawn, trails, and museum.
Coggshell Farm Museum
Recreate the daily life of tenant farmers, live interpretation.
Linden Place Museum
1810 Federal period mansion in downtown Bristol.
Bilthewold Mansion Museum
33-acre summer estate with a 45-room mansion and garden paradise.
Mount Hope Farm
127 acreswith historic inn and listed as an Accredited Arboret.um
Water level remains constant as a new tidal by-pass was dug in 1809, preventing the tide from going out.
Home to the Pleasant Point Farm.
Audubon Society of Rhode Island Nature Center and Aquarium
Trails, natural history museum, 33-foot life-size model of North Atlantic Right Whale.
Mount Hope Bridge
Two-lane suspension bridge over the Narragansett Bay.
Spend the day in Bristol, Rhode Island
Starting from Warren, Rhode Island heading south along the Byway on Route 114, take a leisurely drive through the historic seaport of Bristol, Rhode Island for 6 miles. If you thrive history, you won’t want to miss the Coggeshall Museum located at 1 Colt Dr in Bristol. It is just to the west of the Byway on Poppasquash Neck. Pack a lunch to enjoy at nearby Colt State Park or enjoy local diners and restaurants sourcing local foods. If you’d like to stretch your legs a bit more, check out the East Bay Bike Path, as it runs from Colt State Park Road south to Thames St.
Continuing south on Route 114 (Hope St and Ferry Road), plan to stop at both the Herreshoff Marine Museum and the Blithewold Mansion Gardens & Arboretum. Enjoy a full day in Bristol and then settle into lodging either a hotel or B & B. Take time sit by the scenic waterfront, check out the local pubs, or just watch the harbor activity. Spend the day in Bristol before heading across the Mt. Hope Bridge and into Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
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