Size, Coffee Milk, and the coastline are some of the things we instantly associate with Rhode Island, but besides these what is Rhode Island famous for?
Located in New England, Rhode Island shares borders with Connecticut to the west and Massachusetts to the north and east. It also shares a small maritime border with New York to the South. Rhode Island is one of the original 13 colonies, and it is considered the 13th state, as it was the last original colony to ratify the constitution.
Rhode Island has very recently changed its official name. Until 2020, the official name was the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The name change was fueled by the negative meaning of the word plantation during the slavery period.
But, without more delays, let’s explore what is Rhode Island famous for!
9 things Rhode Island is known for
What is Rhode Island famous for? Almost everyone will answer the same… The small size. Rhode Island is by far the smallest US state by area. It is only about 48 miles long and 37 miles wide. Only Delaware is comparable, but even Delaware is almost twice the size of Rhode Island. Furthermore, about one-third of Rhode Island is water, making the land available even smaller.
Maybe a better way of understanding how small Rhode Island is is by comparing it with other places. With 2,706 sq km, Rhode Island is roughly the size of Luxembourg or about 221 times smaller than Texas. You can easily cross the entire state in an hour, both north-south or east-west.
Despite being incredibly small, Rhode Island has about 1.1 million people, making it only the seventh-least populous state. On the other hand, with 1006 people per square mile, it is the second-most densely populated state, only trailing New Jersey.
Not an Island
Despite the confusing name, the state of Rhode Island is not really an island. Though it has islands, one of them used to be called Rhode Island, now it’s most commonly named Aquidneck Island. Aquidneck Island is located in Narragansett Bay – it is the biggest island in the state, but it still is a very small part of it.
As we mentioned above, the state used to be called Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations, which meant it was mainly composed of the island of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations on the mainland. With time, the Providence Plantations part was dropped, and now it was officially removed from the state name.
So, the major part of the state is composed of what used to be called the Providence Plantations. On the other hand, Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island) is only 37.8 sq miles with roughly 60 000 people living in it, and it is home to three towns: Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport.
There are several theories about the origin of the name Rhode, but we will explain the two main ones. The first tells us that it refers to the Greek Island called Rhodes, which the navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano thought resembled the American island in 1524. While no one can be sure if the island Verrazzano found was today’s Rhode Island, the following explorers used the name, and it stuck.
The second theory says that Rhode comes from the Dutch name “Roodt Eylandt,” which means red island and was later anglicized to Rhode Island. It is said that the Dutch explorer Adriaen Black named it “Roodt Eylandt” after seeing its red autumn foliage or the red clay dirt on the shore.
One of the things Rhode Island is famous for is Coffee Milk. It is the state’s official drink and one of the most popular drinks. Curiously, it is not that popular outside Rhode Island.
Made with cold milk and coffee syrup (or coffee extract), coffee milk is a delicious, sweet drink. It is somewhat similar to chocolate milk, but you use coffee instead of chocolate. As we mentioned, it is heavily associated with Rhode Island and something you can’t miss when in Rhode Island.
The origins of coffee milk are unclear, but most sources track it back to the 19th century and the huge influx of Italian immigrants to Providence, Rhode Island. Italians love coffee, and they brought some of their costumes to the state, particularly drinking sweetened coffee with milk, which eventually led to the invention of coffee milk in their households.
Known as the Ocean State for its long coastline with large inlets that is about 15% of its total area, it is no surprise that the coastline of Rhode Island is one of its most prominent features.
Despite its tiny size, little Rhody has about 400 miles of coastline. So, it can’t be a surprise that it is a popular beach destination. Furthermore, it has a large variety of beaches that offer something for almost every kind of beachgoer. Rhode Islands’ stunning coastline is mostly famous for its fine sand shores, refreshing sea breeze, and picturesque coastal towns.
As a dreamy ocean destination, Rhode Island is an excellent place for sailing, kayaking, SUP, swimming, surfing, and many other water sports and activities. Some of the best beaches in Rhode Island are:
- Goosewing Beach in Little Compton
- Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly
- Easton’s Beach / First Beach in Newport
- East Beach in Watch Hill
- Narragansett Town Beach in Narragansett
What is Rhode Island known for? Mansions, or cottages as they were initially called, are a common answer. Built as summer homes in the second half of the 1800s, these massive houses are some of the most famous landmarks in Rhode Island and a very popular tourist destination.
These famous Gilded Age mansions are mainly located in Newport, RI. Many are privately owned, but some are open to the public, including:
- Marble House
- The Elms
- The Breakers
- Rough Point
Built by rich New York, Philadelphia, and Boston tycoons, they are now open to the public and have some wonderful and informative tours. They also host special events, balls, parties, and shows during Christmas and summer.
Rhode Island is famous for being the Jewelry manufacturing capital of the world, particularly costume jewelry. It produces about 80% of all costume jewelry (or fashion jewelry) made in the USA. Manufacturing is mostly concentrated in Providence and its suburbs, but it employs about 25 000 workers in 900 Jewelry companies.
In RI, Jewelry is a $1.5-billion industry making it the largest manufacturing sector in the state. And it has been the core of Rhode Island for more than two centuries since a revolutionary process of plating base metal with gold was invented by Nehemiah Dodge in 1794 in Providence.
In the last decades, the industry suffered competition from foreign producers who managed to produce at lower costs. Still, in the last years, it’s returned due to demand for American-made products, higher quality, and better design.
Rhode Island’s factories continue producing imaginative and high-quality bracelets, pins, necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, chains, tie tacks, cuff links, and much more.
Despite being tiny, Rhode Island has its own Ivy League University, Brown University. Founded in 1764, it is the seventh-oldest higher education institution in the US and one of only nine colonial colleges.
Brown was the first North American college to admit students of any religion. It is home to the oldest applied maths program in the US, the oldest engineering program in the Ivy League, and one of the oldest medical programs. Since 1969, Brown University is also famous for its open curriculum, allowing students to study without any course requirements outside their chosen concentration (major).
In 2021, Brown had an acceptance rate of only 5.4%, making it one of the most selective Unis in the US. According to USNews, it is considered the 14th best college in the US, and the tuition and fees cost $62,404. With more than 7000 graduate and 2000 undergraduate students, Brown is one of the most popular universities in the US.
Waterfire is a public art installation on downtown Providence, RI rivers. Created by Barnaby Evans in 1994 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of First Night Providence, it has become an annual urban festival and one of the most popular things in Rhode Island.
Held between May and November, Waterfire attracts an average of 40 000 people a night. Lightings are typically on Saturdays and are done once or twice a month. They are scheduled to take place when sunset coincides with a high tide.
On WaterFire nights, the riverside areas of Providence are transformed by 86 fires of 33 pieces of wood spread through the surface of the rivers, the piers, former bridges, etc. The series of fires light almost a mile of public places and parks while people stroll along the river, enjoying music, performances, and the aromatic scent of wood burning.
This urban festival has quickly become a civic ritual, a communal ceremony where the viewers are surrounded on all sides and impacted in all five senses. It’s symbolic and evokes emotions.
Fun Facts and Records about Rhode Island
Lastly, besides being very small, not really an island, and the ocean state, Rhode Island is also notorious and famous for a series of records and quirky fun facts. Let’s explore some of the most popular and entertaining:
- Rhode Island was the first state to declare independence from British rule in May 1776.
- In 1774, Rhode Island was the first colony to prohibit slave importation.
- Providence was founded in the 1630s by Roger Williams. It was the first permanent white settlement in America with a policy of religious and political freedom.
- The oldest bar in America is the White Horse Tavern, which opened in 1673 in Newport, RI.
- The primary setting of the TV show The Family Guy is Quahog – a fictional city in Rhode Island.
- Quahog is also the name of a very popular clam in Rhode Island.
- Rhode Island was the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes in 1852.
- The precursor to the U.S. Open was first played in Rhode Island in 1881. It was the National Lawn Tennis Championship.
- Newport, Rhode Island, is now home to the Tennis Hall of Fame.
- Rhode Island has five counties, but they don’t provide governance. Local governance is done at the city level, with eight cities and 31 towns.
* Cover photo by sepavone via Depositphotos