Like a Norman Rockwell illustration brought to life, Bristol, Rhode Island, is known as “the most patriotic town in America.” This is in large part to not only being home to the oldest continuous 4th of July celebration, but a month-long calendar of festivities surrounding the big day including concerts in Independence Park on the waterfront, galas, a carnival, fireworks and other town-wide events. Nestled idyllically on a peninsula between Narragansett and Mount Hope Bays, sailing and shipbuilding is woven into the very fabric of Bristol and it’s the quintessential coastal New England small town.
“Bristol is surrounded by water on almost all sides, and that has driven our economy for generations,” says Brian Jodoin, a real estate agent with Teri Degnan Real Estate & Consulting LTD. “Whether it's been manufacturing, fishing, boat building or sailing, Bristol has always offered a self-sustaining way of life for all of its residents and still does today.” Jodoin says although Bristol’s housing and population has seemingly exploded in the past decade, its small town vibe remains palpable. “Our downtown is so charming and boasts a slew of great restaurants, a nice seaside nightlife and plenty of history in every direction.”
Many Bristolians have called the town home for generations, including Brian, a proud fourth generation Bristolian, and there’s no shortage of hometown pride. Equidistant between Newport, Rhode Island and Providence, Rhode Island, and 67 miles from Boston, downtown Bristol can easily be described as a picture-perfect slice of pure Americana.
The history of Bristol, Rhode Island is riveting as evidenced by the many, many books written about the town. The original inhabitants of Bristol and the East Bay region were the Pokanoket, who eventually became known as part of the Wampanoag. Bristol as well as Warren, Barrington, and East Providence was known as the land of the Sowams, which is why you may see these names around town today on street signs and other locations.
Bristol played a pivotal war in our nation’s history. It was the site of the first battle of King Philip's War in 1675, considered the bloodiest war per capita in U.S. history. Immediately following, the land was retained by Plymouth Colony, the first permanent English colony in New England, where it remained until it was annexed to Rhode Island in 1747. During the American Revolution Bristol took it’s fair share of brutality, including a shelling from the British Navy and an on-ground assault in which dozens of homes, business and barracks were burned to the ground.
Bristol’s history couldn’t be fully told without including it’s role in the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. James DeWolf, part of one of the town’s earliest and most prominent families, was a well known slave trader for more than 50 years. Today, places in town, like Linden Place, a museum, educate people about the town’s role and economic impact. The Federal style mansion located in the center of town was built in 1810 for family descendants George and Charlotte DeWolf.
Though shipbuilding has been a part of Bristol’s industry for centuries, it was during the mid 19th century that the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company became nationally synonymous with the craft. The company was founded in 1878 by two Bristol brothers, each of whom had established boat building careers. The company would remain in business until 1947 but their vessels and reputation remain legendary today.
Types of Housing
Because of Bristol’s centuries-old history, the town is sprinkled with homes built in the 1700s and 1800s. Bristol has a wealth of single family homes both downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. The median listing home price is $575,000, and there is a good amount of homes to rent as well. In recent years, Bristol has seen a rise in the repurposing of old mill buildings, including on the waterfront. For example, the former Robin Rug mill will be redeveloped into a 127-unit development with additional commercial space. It’s been renamed the Bristol Yarn Mill. Bristol is also home to condos, townhomes and apartments.
View Homes For Sale in Bristol
The crown jewel of Bristol’s educational landscape is Roger Williams University, founded in 1956. The independent, coed university offers more than 40 majors and is well known for its academic expertise in marine science, shellfish aquaculture, ports and shipping, marine trades and defense, and marine and coastal law as well as its schools of law, business, architecture and the humanities.
The Bristol Warren Regional School District serves the two neighboring communities and operates Mount Hope High School in Bristol, Kickemuit Middle School in Warren, and four elementary schools. Both math and reading proficiency levels are above the state average. There is also one Catholic elementary school in Bristol. Mt. Hope High School in Bristol is the regionalized secondary (high) school.
Quality of Life
Home to well-loved restaurants and cafes, bars and breweries, coffee shops, galleries, captivating architecture, parks and ample green space, and an active communities with widely recognized events including the Bristol Christmas Festival and Grand Illusion, The 4th of July Celebration and parade, the springtime State Street Festival and more, it’s no wonder Bristol has been named among the Best Small Towns in America, Safest Cities in America, and Most Interesting U.S. Destinations.
When it comes to health services in Bristol, there are a number of resources. Medical Associates of Rhode Island, located at the Bristol County Medical Center, has a walk-in center available for routine care for patients. Lifespan Physician Group’s Metacom Medical in neighboring Warren offers urgent care. The Cardiovascular Institute of New England has an office in Bristol. East Bay Mental Health Center is about 11 miles from Bristol in Riverside, Rhode Island, and Bristol is considered relatively close to Newport Hospital and the major hospitals in downtown Providence.
There are myriad ways to enjoy and explore the great outdoors and vast natural resources in Bristol, Rhode Island. The Bristol Town Beach and Sports Complex, located near the entrance to Colt State Park, is a nearly 50-acre public facility with a beautiful beach on Narragansett Bay. Enjoy miles of trails and paths, sprawling laws, picnic tables and places to relax. You’ll also find soccer fields, baseball and softball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a street hockey rink, a bocce court, horseshoe pit – even a skate park.
You’ll also find the popular East Bay Bike Path weaves through the park, but it starts downtown at Independence Park. The path, much of which runs parallel to the bay, extends more than 14 miles to Providence and is used by runners, walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers and more and travels by coves and marshes, over bridges, and through state parks.
Bristol is home to ample public waterfront access points for launching kayaks and other small watercraft, including Bristol Narrows at the mouth of the Kickemuit River. The boat ramp at Bristol’s State Street Pier in the center of town provides access to Bristol Harbor for trailered boats at Independence Park, just a few blocks north of the State Street Pier, as does the ramp at Independence Park.
Also, Bristol’s Parks and Recreation Department offers myriad fitness programs for families, seniors and for young ones, there’s a town-operated summer camp.
Bristol is home to more than 1,000 employers in sectors ranging from higher education, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, the marine trades and more. Bristol’s proximity to Providence, Newport and Fall River and many other points make for a short commute.
With its rich history, solid school system, extraordinary restaurants, quaint shops, health services, and an active senior community, Bristol has an extraordinary quality of life in Rhode Island and is a great place to call home.