When bells ring throughout the town of Westerly at noon on New Year’s Day it will usher in a year-long celebration of the 350-year anniversary of a community that has shown great resilience, rebounding often from devastating major coastal storms.
If there is an enduring picture of this town, it’s the hundreds of people lining the beaches in the months after Super Storm Sandy, linking arms in determination that it would not give in to nature’s wrath.
And it’s in pictures, large murals, that tell much of the story of Westerly, and neighboring Pawcatuck, from a long-standing high school football rivalry, to the granite industry that once dominated the area’s economy, to a civil war hero.
A full listing of anniversary events, a chronological history of the town, and more is available on the anniversary committee’s website, www.westerly350.com.
It was only a couple of years ago that mural painters from throughout the globe gathered in Westerly to develop several murals depicting the area’s history. A Bricks and Murals organization was formed for what was a large festival, repeated each year, with visions of new adventures.
Murals capture much of the area’s history, depicting such events as the great hurricane of 1938, the 107-year-old high school football rivalry with neighboring Stonington, Civil War Medal of Honor winner Cpl. James Barber, the Granite Industry, majestic Wilcox Park, and more.
Westerly was first settled by English colonists in 1661, when colonists from Newport – Robert Burdick, Joseph Clarke, John Crandall, and Tobias Saunders – purchased the area from the Niantic under Sachem Ninigret. Eight years later Rhode Island incorporated the town.
It was named Westerly because it is the westernmost town in Rhode Island, or for Westerleigh, the home of one of Westerly’s town fathers, John Crandall.
Vulnerable to coastal storms, the area was devastated by severe hurricanes in 1938, 1944, and 1954, and 2012 by Superstorm Sandy.
Industrially, the town has evolved from its robust granite industry to textiles and tourism. It was home to famed Guild Guitar from 1966 to 2001, when Guild was bought by Fender Musical Instruments and moved to California.
Located in the shadows of Foxwoods Casino, Westerly’s waterfront offers considerable recreation for locals and visitors, and has evolved as a popular tourism destination. Watch Hill’s Ocean House ranks among the premier oceanfront resorts in the world.
So, bells will ring at 10 locations throughout the town at noon on New Year’s Day, ushering in a year of activities. Among them are events telling the story of the town in some of its historic buildings, exhibits, a gala, opening of a time capsule, and Bricks and Murals next project, a Harmony Trail.
The trail will run through Westerly and Pawcatuck with a series of outdoor instruments Bricks and Murals, a 501c3 non-profit corporation, will be creating a Harmony Trail throughout the two towns. The Harmony Trail will consist of a series of outdoor instruments for the public to play. According to the Bricks and Murals website the instruments are designed and manufactured by Freenotes Harmony Park, outdoor musical instruments designed by Grammy Award winning musician Richard Cooke.
“They have been building and placing instruments around the world for over 20 years. Each instrument is durable, sustainable and perfectly tuned to enhance any outdoor space. They provide music therapy, educational experiences, cognitive function and bring community together,” the website says.
Bricks and Murals expects to install the Harmony Trail in the spring or summer, a fitting addition to a year-long celebration that will be ushered in by the collective bell ringing.