Watch Hill is an exclusive coastal "village" located in the southwestern section of Westerly, Rhode Island. As a state-charted Fire District (1901), Watch Hill is authorized to tax residents to fund their volunteer fire department, but the bulk of property taxes goes to the town to fund municipal services and schools.
Watch Hill is situated on a stubby peninsula jutting into Block Island Sound. It includes the westernmost point in the state known as Napatree Point. Together they have formed Little Narragansett Bay which has made Watch Hill a popular harbor around which a business district has grown. The community is a secluded and seasonal resort community with shopping, a golf and beach club, yacht club and public and private beaches. Once occupied by Niantic Indians in the 1600s, European colonists used the area as an important lookout point during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, hence the community’s name. Watch Hill is probably most noted for its expensive mansions, but other landmarks in town include the Watch Hill Lighthouse the first of which was built in 1745, and the The Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest continuously-operated carousel in the United States and a National Historic Landmark.
Another point of interest in Watch Hill is Napatree Point, a 1.5 mile long sandy spit (landform) that extends west from the Watch Hill business district. At the end of Napatree Point are the ruins of Fort Mansfield, an old costal artillery post which was one of a series of such forts constructed to guard the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound as part of the costal defense network for New York City. It was in operation between 1901 and 1909. The land was sold in 1926 and all the government buildings were demolished during the winter of 1928-29 leaving the three concrete gun emplacements behind.
The Hurricane of 1938 caught Watch Hill by surprise and took a terrible toll. On Fort Road, which connected Watch Hill to the old Fort Mansfield, all the 39 houses, the Yacht and Beach Clubs, as well as the bathing pavilion were destroyed. Fifteen people were killed there alone and others survived by clinging to wreckage as they were swept across the bay to Connecticut. Several breach ways were created in Napatree Point and to this day the former northern extension of Napatree remains an island. The shortened Napatree Point is now barrier beach about 1.5 miles long without any roads or houses. It is a public beach and offers great bird watching and surf casting. Some of the fortified gun emplacements of old Fort Mansfield have survived and while overgrown, offers adventurers tunnels and underground rooms to explore. Occasionally at low tide some of remains of the Battery Connell can be seen. As the sea and sand shift, old weapons and sometimes artifacts from the hurricane are revealed.
The Watch Hill waterfront was once lined with huge victorian hotels. Fire and hurricanes destroyed almost all during the 1900's. The two remaining hotels The Ocean House Ocean House and the Watch Hill Inn went through huge changes during the 2000's. The Ocean House was originally opened in 1868 and was torn down in 2005. The Ocean House will reopen in 2010 with 24 residential condos and 48 hotel rooms, a far cry from the 159 rooms the old building originaly had. The Watch Hill Inn & Annex now contains modern residential condos as well.
Bay Street in Watch Hill is lined with shops, restaurants, and businesses. East Beach and Nappatree point are the main beaches in Watch Hill.