Barrington, Rhode Island
Barrington is a suburban, residential town in Bristol County, Rhode Island located approximately 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Providence. It was founded by Congregationalist separatists from Swansea, Massachusetts and incorporated in 1717.
Barrington was ceded to Rhode Island and merged into Warren in 1747, though it was later made into a separate town by the Rhode Island legislature. It was a sparsely developed, agricultural community until the arrival of brickmaking companies in the 1850s, which employed large numbers of French-Canadians and Italians. The construction of a railroad to Providence in 1855 further contributed to suburban development, attracting residents of neighboring urban areas and contributing to the development of manufacturing industries. The post-World War II baby boom increased suburbanization trends, resulting in a large population increase.
Schools were constructed throughout the 1950s to accommodate this population. Three Barrington schools are National Blue Ribbon Schools, and its high school was ranked No. 189 in the United States by Newsweek in 2019. Money noted the appeal of Barrington’s high test scores and relative affordability, naming it one of the best places to live in the United States.
Historical sites provide examples of architectural and suburban development during various stages of the town’s history, including the Allen-West House, Barrington Civic Center Historic District, and O’Bannon Mill. Nine sites in Barrington are listed under the National Register of Historic Places.
As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 16,310.
The land that comprises Barrington was originally occupied by the Wampanoags whose territory spread from Narragansett Bay through Cape Cod.:54 Epidemics largely eliminated their coastal settlements, however, and their main settlement was roughly Bristol, Barrington, and Warren, Rhode Island:5 at the time of the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620. The Narragansetts called the area Sowams.:104:5 In 1653, investors from Plymouth Colony bought “Sowams and Parts Adjacent” from the Wampanoags, corresponding to Barrington and portions of Bristol, Warren, and Swansea, Massachusetts.:43:6 Some areas in Barrington draw their name from the initial proprietors of this land, such as Prince’s Hill named for Thomas Prince.:1
Religious differences between settlers of Sowams and the neighboring Wannamoissett and Rehoboth prompted the incorporation of Swansea in 1667. Plymouth created Bristol County in 1685 to improve administration of western lands, which was followed by a merger of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies orchestrated by the British government.:6 Baptist residents petitioned for separation from Swansea in 1711, and Barrington was incorporated as an independent town in 1717. Barrington likely received its name from Barrington, Somerset, the origin of several settlers. Barrington was ceded to Rhode Island in 1747 and made a part of Warren. In 1770, the Rhode Island legislature separated Barrington into a separate town.
Agriculture provided the basis for the town’s economy in the early decades. Farmers typically cultivated grains, especially corn, rye, oats, and barley. Many farmers planted fruit trees and some developed large orchards, as apple cider was an important commodity for trade. Farming significantly affected the town landscape, separating large grassland fields with fencing and stone walls.:12
Religion continued to influence Barrington politics. The new Congregational Society was formally declared the town’s religion, following Massachusetts custom. Taxes supported the Congregational minister until 1797, and he was employed by the town meeting.:12 Baptists and other religious groups were given the option of supporting their own meetings in 1728. In 1737, discussions about relocating the Congregational church proved divisive between the southern and northern portions of Barrington. The southern area was the historical center of town where the Congregational church and original Sowams settlers had been. However, rapid increases in population shifted influence northward, where abundant marshland and fertile soil allowed farmers to establish large, successful farms. Ultimately, the church relocated to the north, using a lot provided by Joshua Bicknell along County Road.:13 The north continued to develop due to a combination of commercial establishments (mainly taverns and inns) and farmhouses near the relocated church.:14
Industrial production and suburbanization
In 1847, Nathaniel Potter founded Nayatt Brick Company which used the extensive clay deposits in Brickyard Pond. The company was reincorporated as the Narragansett Brick Company in 1864, and the New England Steam Brick Corporation was founded in 1890 as a competitor.:20 Brick production resulted in road-building, visits from seafaring vessels, and other such economic activity. The original employees of these companies were mainly of French-Canadian descent, but Italians immigrated to the United States as a result of economic depression in the 1880s. A few hundred came to Barrington and worked at the brickyard, and their descendants make up a significant portion of the town population. Barrington’s population grew from 850 in 1850 to 3,697 in 1920, mirroring overall trends in Rhode Island. Clay deposits began to deplete in 1900, and brickmaking operations ceased by 1930.
The construction of a railroad between Bristol and Providence in 1855 allowed residents to commute to Providence, resulting in an increasingly suburban atmosphere.:3 The railroad led to the creation of several manufacturing industries in West Barrington, such as O’Bannon Mill and Rhode Island Laceworks (which provided commercial firefighting services for the town). New public facilities were also constructed during this period, such as a high school, town hall, and library. Developments catered to wealthy residents of urban areas who came to Barrington in the summer for its location near the shore, such as the Barrington Yacht Club and Rhode Island Country Club.
Manufacturing establishments continued to operate in West Barrington throughout the 20th century. Throughout the 1930s, the Neweth Rubber Company produced retread tires, but its building burned down in the 1940s and was not rebuilt. Rhode Island Laceworks continued to operate until 1990, when its owners deemed profits insufficient. The 1938 New England hurricane caused considerable damage to homes along the shoreline and pleasure craft, and railroad service was discontinued shortly afterwards.
Trends continued towards suburbanization, spurred by the availability of the automobile and the later post–World War II baby boom. Commercial establishments on County Road further reduced the need for outside travel, and significantly altered the existing town landscape. Barrington Shopping Center was constructed in 1948 and included a supermarket, pharmacy, and bank; two smaller shopping centers were constructed afterwards. Six schools comprise the modern education system of Barrington, constructed throughout the 1950s. Town services grew with the establishment of a police force in 1934 and a fire department in 1953. Rapid population growth lead the town to adopt a council-manager charter in 1960. New churches also opened, accommodating Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian citizens. In the 1980s, the East Bay Bike Path was constructed along the former railroad lines connecting Providence to Bristol. In the 1990s, a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was brought against the town for its Christmas display, which featured a crèche. The town removed the display, and an individual placed a privately owned scene on the road neighboring the town hall. Similarly, a lawsuit filed in 1996 by the ACLU regarding the town’s decision to plow church parking lots for free was not contested. Barrington was the sole “dry” town in Rhode Island until 2011, when the town council approved 2 liquor stores.
Barrington Public Schools consists of four elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school.Barrington High School, Barrington Middle School, and Nayatt Elementary are National Blue Ribbon Schools, and the high school was ranked number 189 in the United States in a 2019 analysis by Newsweek.Money Magazine praised the Barrington school system in 2005, naming it as the sixth best place to live in the United States.
Private schools in Barrington include Barrington Christian Academy, St. Luke’s, and St. Andrew’s School. Two Christian colleges occupied the Belton Court estate throughout the 20th and early 21st century. Barrington College was founded in 1900 and merged with Gordon College in 1985.
As of the 2010 United States Census, Barrington had a population of 16,310. It is a predominantly white community at 94.7 percent of residents. There were 6,011 households; 40.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 68.7% were married couples living together, 7.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.6% were non-families. 18.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.73 and the average family size was 3.14. The population was spread out, with 28.2% under the age of 18, 5.1% from 18 to 24, 26.4% from 25 to 44, 25.6% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.0 males.
According to 2017 United States Census estimates, the median income for a household in the town was $117,408, and the median income for a family was $139,591. Males had a median income of $93,125 versus $76,534 for females. The per capita income for the town was $59,515. About 1.7% of families and 2.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.6% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over. Barrington’s $117,408 median household income ranks it as the wealthiest town in the state.