In order to protect our community we are following recommendations made by the CDC, State and Local governments and will remain closed until further notice. During this time, we will explore new ways to keep you informed and involved in our mission to strengthen the community’s connection to our past, to each other and to the future.
For now, you might enjoy browsing our website for great photographs, Block Island Times columns, or oral histories (start with conversations with Rob Lewis). There are so many people to hear from and their stories will put today’s circumstances into perspective.
We thank you for your ongoing commitment to the Block Island Historical Society and will see you soon!
Bob Champagne-Willis, President
The Block Island Historical Society Museum, Gallery & Shop is located at Bridgegate Square, which is the intersection of Old Town Road and Ocean Avenue. The street address is 18 Old Town Rd, New Shoreham, RI 02807. Look for a three-story building with red mansard roof.
The museum is closed indefinitely during the COVID-19 crisis. As soon as it is safe to do so, we will return to a schedule of weekend hours during the fall and spring, and daily hours during the summer season.
For urgent help during this closure, contact Bob-Champagne-Willis at 781-956-7728
Students High School/College) $5
Members & Children (Under 12) Free
Seasonally rotating exhibits exploring Block Island history.
Walking tours of the Old Harbor, a Manissean Village site, and more.
Artwork, historical photos, maps, T-shirts, and all things Block Island.
The Society hosts a number of popular events on the island.
Long-Term Residents: Trees of Block Island
Trees are rare on Block Island. Agricultural deforestation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had left the land relatively low and bare. Perhaps as a consequence, the oldest trees on the island take on remarkable stature. And so we present the portraits of Sarah Bird, an artist dedicated to “the beauty and complexity of these great protagonists in our web of being.” Under the advisement of the Historical Society, Bird has photographed Block Island’s most iconic actors in the landscape: trees located at familiar landmarks or on historic properties. Some mark sentimental journeys or points of transition in the use and treatment of the land. All carry stories of island history: long-term residents and partners in the life and preservation of the Island.
The exhibition consists of nine works installed in the newly renovated galleries in the Museum’s second floor. While this group of artworks depicting beautiful, historically noteworthy trees is by no means exhaustive, it is rather a jumping off point to examine trees’ unique role in the overlap of natural and social history of Block Island. Limited edition prints are available through purchase at the Museum Shop. The exhibition runs from 25 July through 14 October 2019.
Sarah Bird is an interdisciplinary artist whose work investigates relationships between humans and the natural world in an attempt to catalyze us to protect our planet’s precious bio-diversity. She is based in Brooklyn, NY and Santa Cruz, CA.
Susan Sellers organized the exhibition. Island summer resident, Sellers is Partner and Creative Director at New York City design firm 2×4, and former Head of Design, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Artist: Sarah Bird,
Curator: Susan Sellers
Executive Director, BIock Island Historical Society: Pam Littlefield Gasner
Horticultural Consultation: Ned Phillips
This exhibition was made possible with the generous financial support of Seedworks.
2019 Summer Exhibits
Updated exhibits tell the story of the Manisses through a full size replica of a shell midden dating 500 BC that also includes displays of stone points and arrowheads to tools and ceramics. (Manisseans were the Indigenous coastal people who inhabited Block Island for over 4000 years)
The summer exhibit focusing on the maritime history of Block Island encompasses the cultural significance of shell fishing, with their harvest becoming many families summer tradition in Great Salt Pond for visitors and Islanders alike. The quahog shells were traditionally offered as tokens of appreciation and represented as works of art. The Museum will be interpreting this iconic species through scavenger hunts, educational programs and new items in the Gallery and Museum Shop.
Other exhibits showcase printed maps, new information on the archeological surveys conducted around the island since Hurricane Sandy, newly donated artifacts and other memorabilia that give you a peek into daily life and industry on the Island over the past 2500 years. One of the most intriguing items is a sperm whale tooth found at a midden site and new objects and photographs related to scenes that have long disappeared. Not to miss is our postcard collection with images of North and Southeast Lighthouses, historic hotels, farm views with oxcarts, fishing scenes with the daily catch and other scenes of island life.
Block Island History Tours
Unfortunately, we are not able to offer tours during the COVID-19 crisis. We will resume tours when we can do so safely.
Walking Tour of Old Harbor
Tuesdays at 10 am, rain or shine — meet in front of Chamber of Commerce office on Water Street. The tour ends at the Museum, and the price includes admission to the exhibits.
- Adults $15
- Members $10
- Children $5
Native American Village Site Tour
Learn about the indigenous maritime culture of the island with trained guides. “Manisses” was the name given to the island by the Niantic tribe, who may have settled here as early as 500 BC. The Manissean Village Site Tour is a challenging but peaceful walk on a greenway trail on protected Conservancy land. By appointment only.
- Groups of up to 4 people $75
- Each extra person $10
The Society offers custom genealogy tours by appointment, for a cost of $75–$150. If you’re interested in exploring the history of your ancestors on Block Island, get in touch!
Schedule a Tour
- Groups of up to 4 people $75
- Each extra person $10
Support Block Island History!
The Society is supported by memberships and donations from people like you — people who love the island and see the value in preserving and celebrating its history. Consider helping our mission by becoming a member or making a donation today.