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Island Park: Recreation “On the Water”

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The Bullet Roller Coaster was one of the prime attractions at Cashman’s Park.

Cashman’s Dancehall stretched over the River.

The Island Park section of town was mainly a farming area until trolleys began to cross Stone Bridge from Tiverton.   The trolley company began to encourage recreation development to lure Fall River workers to come on their day off.  Barker’s Merry-go-round opened in 1898 and  in 1902 Joseph Lunan’s Shooting Gallery opened as well.  The area gradually added a wide variety of amusements such as glider swings, speak-easies, fortune tellers, tea rooms and food concessions. The biggest development was by Thomas Cashman who opened an amusement park in 1926.  It boasted the second largest roller coaster in New England. The Comet.  Cashman’s Park offered a Ballroom built over the beach,  a boardwalk into the Sakonnet River and a beach with boat rentals.  The park was devastated during the Hurricane of 1938.

The Portsmouth Historical Society has postcards of the hurricane destruction.  Our exhibit. “On the Water,” includes photos of Portsmouth families enjoying themselves at the Island Park beach.  You are welcome to add your family photos to the display.

Portsmouth Grove

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Diagram from a Civil War Medical book in the Portsmouth Historical Society Collection.

An area on Portsmouth’s west side (known as Portsmouth Grove, Bradford or Melville) was an important tourist destination “On the Water.”  Edmund Cole operated the “Portsmouth Grove House” before the Civil War.  During the Civil War Portsmouth served as the location for Lowell General Hospital near the Melville area of Portsmouth (known as Portsmouth Grove).  The Portsmouth Historical Society has the diaries of David Durfee Sherman in our collection, and he writes about the amusements there.  Portsmouth Grove welcomed hundred of guests who arrived on steamships.  For their recreation pleasure, Portsmouth Grove offered picnics, swimming, shore dining, a “fandango” and flying horses.  Groups like the Sons of Temperance came a thousand strong for clambakes and chowder.  There were even moonlight and torchlight excursions to Portsmouth Grove.

All that ended as the Civil War wore on.  The Portsmouth Grove House became the administration building for the Lovell Hospital.  The hospital, built in 1862, cared for wounded Union and Confederate troops. Again, these soldiers arrived at Portsmouth Grove by steamships.   The Rhode Island Hospital Guard which was made up of soldiers too disabled for battle, kept the peace and watched over prisoners.  After the war the hospital was dismantled and there are no signs of it left.  Frank L.Grzyb has written a book, Rhode Island’s Civil War Hospital:  Life and Death at Portsmouth Grove and he will be speaking at the Annual Meeting of the Portsmouth Historical Society on June 18th.