How to do Prudence Island in under six hours

Never been? Here’s how to cram as much good stuff in as possible (using a car)

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/16/23

PORTSMOUTH — If you’re a typical Portsmouth resident, chances are you’ve never stepped foot on even one of the several bridge-less islands that are part of our town.

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How to do Prudence Island in under six hours

Never been? Here’s how to cram as much good stuff in as possible (using a car)


PORTSMOUTH — If you’re a typical Portsmouth resident, chances are you’ve never stepped foot on even one of the several bridge-less islands that are part of our town.

You should, however, plan a day trip to Prudence Island, the largest of these islands which is easily accessible by ferry from Bristol. (Visit for a schedule).

Although I’ve been to the island several times, those trips were mainly to cover the semi-annual Town Council meetings that focused on island-related issues. I had never truly explored the island, but that finally changed on Sunday, Aug. 13.

My partners in crime were my wife Michelle and our two tour guides — my East Bay Media Group colleague Ted Hayes and his wife, “ghost folk” singer-songwriter Allysen Callery. Having been to Prudence plenty of times, renting homes for short stays and digging clams, they knew the island well.

While you can hop the ferry and bring a bike over — the main roads are in much better shape now than in past years — we reserved a spot for Ted’s car because we wanted to cram in as much good stuff as possible within our short timeframe. We took the 9:45 a.m. ferry from Bristol on Sunday, and came back on the 4:15 p.m., so we we had just under six hours on the island. (Don’t take a low-lying car; some of the island’s roads can be rough.)

While we certainly couldn’t see everything the island has to offer — Prudence is about seven miles long and one mile across at its widest point, after all — we left satisfied in the knowledge that we had packed a lot in. And, we came home with a bunch of quahogs for a dinner feast immediately afterwards. 

The first thing you’ll want to do after getting off the ferry at the Homestead landing is to head over to the nearby Prudence Variety store (837 Narragansett Ave.), for a coffee, water, or any last-minute items you may have forgotten. (The wives opted for ring pops.)

After that we headed onto Broadway, the major east-to-west thoroughfare that bisects the island, and stopped at Blueberry Hill’s “Farm-a-Cy,” a tiny roadside stand that uses the honor system for purchases. (Put your cash in the cigar box and leave them a note!) We got some amazing zucchini muffins, jarred homemade pickles, blueberry preserves and a lime. The stand also had fresh garlic, lemons, and other preserves when we were there.

Next we drove through the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (55 South Reserve Drive) — its mission is to preserve, protect and restore coastal and estuarine ecosystems of Narragansett Bay through long-term research, education and training — on the south end of Prudence. Part of that area includes the T-Wharf, where massive Navy ships once tied up and is now a popular spot for anglers. (A section of the wharf is blocked off due to safety reasons.) From the wharf you can get a good view of Melville to the east.

Leaving from there, we went down a few dead-end finger streets to get a glimpse of the many leftover (and now closed-off) storage bunkers that used to be packed with ammunition ready for loading onto Navy ships during World War II.

Heading back to Broadway, we traveled west until arriving at the former Prudence Park, the island’s first summer resort established in 1875. Steamboats used to make regular stops here between Providence and Newport.

Next we headed north up Bay Avenue until we got to Pulpit Rock, located on Blind Allen Trail — one of the many well-maintained trails that cut through the otherwise untamed woods of Prudence. This is where Roger Williams is said to have preached to the Native inhabitants of the Island.

After that we continued north on Bay Avenue and then Neck Farm Road, past Luther Blount’s old oyster hatchery to Boystown Fly-in Ranch, a small private airport, before arriving at remnants of the abandoned Garland Mansion. Multimillionaire magazine editor and yachtsman James A. Garland started building a two-story, 36-room home (200 feet long and up to 50 feet wide) entirely from selected field stone. Unfortunately, he died in 1906 before the home was ever finished. Although it appears to be two separate buildings, the middle section burned down in the 1960s. In 1978, the state purchased much of the land for use as a park. 

We then turned around and headed back south until we stopped at a beach on the west side of the island’s neck and dug for quahogs for our dinner later in Bristol. (Make sure their hinge width is at least one inch, the minimum requirement under Rhode Island law. Toss the smaller ones back in.) 

Schoolhouse and disc golf

After a picnic lunch on the beach — sandwiches courtesy of Riccotti's in Bristol — we continued back south and stopped at the one-room Prudence Island School (413 Broadway), built in 1896. Once used by the Portsmouth School Department, it’s now operated by the private Prudence Island School Foundation.

We left the car and hiked on nearby Schoolhouse Trail for about 20 minutes until we came to Baker Farm, once the site of the old Prudence Inn. Only stone remnants of the building’s basement remain, but the rugged land has since been transformed into a pretty neat little disc golf course. 

Then it was on to Sandy Point Dock next to the Prudence Island Lighthouse on the east side, where Ted (and only Ted) dove in from atop a piling three times, mimicking a ritual shared by all the island’s children.

After drying off, we sought out Prudence Memorial Park (097 Hornbine Ave.), a natural burial ground and the first exclusively green cemetery in Rhode Island. (If you’re still wondering, a natural burial doesn’t use embalming fluid or a casket. The remains are placed directly into the earth, which allows the body to decompose naturally.) It’s a quiet, meditative spot featuring wood chip paths and a gazebo.

We still had some time to kill before catching the ferry, so we took another loop around the island before heading back to Homestead.  We raided the store again, this time for frozen ice cream treats, before taking the 4:15 p.m. boat home. All in all, a perfect summer day.

If you do take a trip out to Prudence, remember one thing: The islanders all wave to you, so make sure you wave back. It’s a different world.

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