Known for its picturesque bay views, cozy shops, and carefully preserved Colonials, any resident or frequent visitor could tell you Wickford is a New England darling. Earlier this year, just how beloved Wickford is was proved on a national scale when it earned the top spot of USA Today’s annual survey, “10 Best Historic Small Towns in America,” ahead of the likes of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Abilene, Kansas; Taos, New Mexico; and more.
It’s a special honor for the historic village within the town of North Kingstown. The ranking was no surprise, however, to boosters and residents of the seaside community, who came together to support the designation in a joint effort of local businesses and civic groups helping to make Wickford number one.
“North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, the Wickford Merchant Association, the Town Council, and HistWick (the Wickford historical association), all played a role,” says Kristin Urbach, executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce. “When we heard Wickford was in the top 10, the Town Council President encouraged supporters to vote. It was a collaboration of all these associations in town and various groups that promoted voting.”
A social media campaign launched by the chamber included photos highlighting the benefits of living, visiting, and working in the village. “The history is remarkable, as is the beauty of Wickford,” says Urbach. “The residents and businesses all take great pride in maintaining and preserving their properties. It’s evident when you stroll through the village. HistWick created a historic walk with markers where you can learn the history of the homes here.”
Made up of community members, HistWick is a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the
village’s cultural and historic features through these self-guided tours. It comes as no surprise that preservation is an ongoing effort in the community, too.
“HistWick is a neighborhood organization that started in the ‘90s and their goal was to preserve and protect the historic houses,” explains Mary Ann Hackett, president of the association. “We have nine or 10 of these markers. For example, Ten Rod Road was a cattle drive during colonial days, where people brought their cattle down to Wickford Harbor to ship out to different parts of the country. There’s a house on Pleasant Street that was owned by a Black mariner, one of the first homes owned by an African American man in New England.”
Wickford’s past is made up of fascinating stories. At one point in the 1800s, almost all the businesses on Main Street were owned by women. “Many of the husbands of these women were sea captains so they were gone; the women were trying to maintain the homes and businesses,” explains Hackett. Today, many Wickford establishments remain female-led, and business continues to go strong on Main Street, even during the pandemic. “During COVID, because it wasn’t inside a shopping mall, many businesses said they had their best year ever,” says Hackett.
“Wickford is hopping!”
Today’s Wickford sees unique events that draw huge crowds throughout the year. The summer season includes Harbor Lights, an outdoor celebration with food trucks, face painting, balloon art, horse-drawn carriage rides, live music, and more – with one more occurrence this year on September 8 closing out the summer season. And New Englanders flock to the Wickford Art Festival, one of the largest outdoor art festivals in the country, which can now host more exhibitors, patrons, and vendors than ever since moving to Wilson Park. The Merchant’s Association also sponsors Wicked Week, a Halloween celebration featuring the popular Horrible’s Parade with dozens of witches singing and dancing
in the streets.
The North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce boasts a 93-year track record of uplifting the community, so naturally, “we were really thrilled to see the town receive that recognition,” Urbach says of USA Today’s ranking. “We provide the official visitor’s center for North Kingstown, we greet dozens of visitors per day in the summer, and many come here specifically asking where Wickford is.”
No doubt, there’s a “team approach” to Wickford’s success. “The businesses come together for celebrations during the holiday season, the Merchant’s Association has Daffodil Days, the chamber hosts the annual tree lighting,” Urbach continues. “You really have a strong community working together, the businesses and the residents, and that really make an impact.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here