With a history spanning back to May 4, 1776, and the small state’s size covering only 1,545 square miles, it is not surprising to discover the exceedingly small number of ghost towns in Rhode Island.
There are 17 ghost towns in Rhode Island. At the same time, not a city, the once beach community of Napatree Point was turned into a ghost community during a hurricane in 1938 and has since become a wildlife preserve.
There may not be many ghost towns to visit and explore within Rhode Island’s boundaries, but do not let that fool you. With the amount of history to uncover and the ghost-like adventures that can be taken in the small state, anyone visiting or residing here will surely find the thrills they are looking for.
Hanton City, RI Ghost Town
Hanton City’s remains can be found in an overgrown area in the woods off the Hanton City Trail near Smithfield, Rhode Island. Today, Hanton City is known by many names, including Lost City, Ghost City, and Haunted City.
There are a handful of theories associated with the town’s beginnings. One idea involves runaway slaves building a place to live in secrecy. A second theory is the town was built to house and quarantine victims of a plague.
Another approach is the founders and inhabitants were loyalists to the king of England. They were forced or independently opted to live away from others in an area for like-minded families and individuals.
A fourth theory that might be slightly less entertaining than heroic tales of escaped slaves, England loyalists forced in exile, or the eerie idea of a city for plague suffers is the town was established on land gifted from the king to three families.
The Hanton, Paines, and Shippees families fought in King Phillip’s War from 1675-1678 in southern New England, exchanging land as their payment. The residents of Hanton City likely worked as farmers, shoemakers, and quarry workers. Once the quarries closed and factories produced more shoes than handmade ones, the town’s income source started to dry out, forcing occupants to relocate.
Hanton City should be on your list if you seek an adventure off the trail. However, be warned, this town has been reclaimed by Mother Nature and is not easy to find. The best time to visit this ghost town is spring through fall for ideal temperatures and access.
Hanton City Trail is not marked, but the road will soon turn from paved to dirt as a steel commercial building on the right side of the street sits at the beginning of Hanton City Trail from Route 7 North, off exit 8b from route 295 north. The winding road will continue for about half a mile before a sharp left turn leads to a clearing. Once in the clearing, a trail can be found that will lead to Hanton City.
There have been rumors of the land where possible DOW Chemical Co-owners are developing Hanton City. Before going on an adventure, it would be beneficial to everyone involved to do a little research to ensure explorers’ safety and avoid any potential no-trespassing orders if the land is currently owned and planned for development.
Napatree Point, RI Ghost Community
Napatree Point is not a ghost town but rather a beach community destroyed by a hurricane in 1938. Napatree was an extension of Watch Hill, where many houses and barracks were once built. When the storm hit the point, all the buildings were washed into Watch Hill Harbor, also known as the Kitchen, due to the water and nearby dunes’ findings.
The area has no residents, and the old road has vanished. Still, items from the town’s past may be buried at the point, waiting to be found. The military fort in the area appears on military documents as an abandoned fort and offers quite the expedition. The fort is noted to have multiple levels, tunnels, stairs, and doorways hidden in the sand, covered by plant life.
Since the road to Napatree Point was destroyed and washed away in the hurricane, there is no close parking or drivable access to the military fort. After parking in town, enjoy the mile hike along the beach until the fort becomes visible.
History of Rhode Island
Rhode Island is the smallest of all U.S. states, measuring 48 miles long and only 37 miles wide. It is easy to understand why there is a lack of ghost towns.
The colony of Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams after meeting with the local Narragansetts to make a deal to purchase land and create an alliance. Rhode Island entered statehood on May 29, 1790.
Roger Williams had been banished from the Massachusetts colony for his views on religious freedom, tolerance, and separation of church and state, which were considered radical at the time. William’s ideas eventually inspired the future founders of the United States.
On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island was the first colony to renounce allegiance to England’s king. Presently, May 4th is recognized as Rhode Island’s Independence Day. Rhode Island is the only state still celebrating the end of WWII on V-Day, the second Monday of August.
Rhode Island is known as the Ocean State, with over 400 miles of coastline, and was a central hub for shipping during colonial times. As the Industrial Revolution came to be, Rhode Island was at the front line for textile mills.
Haunted and Terrifying Places in Rhode Island
Naturally, talking about ghost towns will lead to questions and interest in haunted areas and buildings. While there is only one currently documented ghost town in Rhode Island, there are plenty of haunted and terrifying places to discover for those that seek the adrenaline thrill of paranormal events.
The Ramtail Factory in Foster, RI, is known among other buildings as being haunted. In 1799, the Potter family started operating a mill. Eleven years later, their son-in-law started working with them as the night watchman before hanging himself inside the mill. Soon after his death, the bell would ring at midnight.
Even after removing the bell rope, the bell would continue to ring at midnight. At one point, the Potters were awoken by a fully operating mill at midnight. There were reports from other workers stating the son-in-law would be seen around the mill, which soon after went out of business. The mill is in the 1885 Rhode Island census as officially being haunted.
The Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, is one of the most haunted hotels in the state. As the hotel was under construction and first built, it was financially backed by a Satanist named Johan Leisse Weisskopf.
There are stories of satanic rituals and sacrifices happening on the hotel property. It is also known for murders involving high-status figures during the prohibition era. While staying in the hotel, guests have mentioned hearing voices and parties from empty rooms.
City Hall in Providence, RI, is also noted to be haunted. The City Hall staff have witnessed chairs moving independently, heard whispering in empty rooms, and can smell cigar smoke from empty spaces. The paranormal activity is thought to be from Mayor Doyle, buried within the building.
Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, RI, is one of the most haunted places in Rhode Island. There are reports of a ghost-like dog that go back to the Revolutionary War. The dog has been seen glaring at people, disappearing through walls, and sometimes heard howling, barking, or growling.
During 1776, when the British took control of the fort, they also mentioned seeing a dog around the fort. The dog was said to be black and considered an omen of death. Explorer, beware if this is on your bucket list of places to see.
Cumberland Public Library was once a monastery before being turned into a library. A frequent ghost story from the library involves a monk moving books from one place to another. Other stories include the library’s entire surrounding area as being haunted as unexplained screams can be heard throughout the grounds where Native Americans killed nine militiamen.
The homestead of Nathanael Greene in Coventry, RI, is known to have phantom footsteps, disembodied screams, and doors opening and closing on their own. The homestead was the home of General Nathanael Greene, who served during the Revolutionary War.
In Exeter, the Ladd School has an infamous history of being a school for those with criminal records, mentally ill, promiscuous women, and other undesirable people. The school was founded in 1908 and was the location of many horrible stories ranging from staff harming patients and students, individuals committing crimes against each other, harsh treatments, and forced sterilizations, to name a few. This building is considered one of the most haunted abandoned places in the state.
Seaview Terrace in Newport, RI, may look familiar from the outside. The house is in Rhode Island but was initially built in Washington, DC, in 1907 for Edson Bradley. It was used for exterior shots in the show Dark Shadows.
The move to Rhode Island took two years as the structure was dissembled, moved, and reassembled. Seaview Terrace is often said to have multiple ghosts within its residence. Footsteps can be heard, among other unexplainable noises, including voices, banging, and jiggling doorknobs. Some have seen Mrs. Bradley, Edson Bradley’s wife, playing her organ.
The Breakers Mansion in Newport, RI, is one of the most haunted mansions in Rhode Island and one of America’s largest National Historic Landmarks. Constructed in the early 1900s, the Breakers Mansion property includes gardens, ocean views, a private beach, and the ghost of Alice Vanderbilt. Mrs. Vanderbilt was the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the original owner. Alice died in 1934 and has often been seen throughout the mansion with a never-changing description.
Belcourt Castle, also in Newport, RI, is famous for a ghost of a monk and the haunted furniture. Two chairs are known to move and forcibly remove anyone who tries to use them when sitting or leaning against them. Also, look out for the suit of armor that is haunted.
If you were unsure of vampires, you might rethink their possibility now. Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter, RI, has a tomb of an alleged vampire on its grounds. Mercy Lena Brown, her mother, and two siblings died from consumption, also known as tuberculosis.
During this time, rumors were spread that Mercy Lena Brown was a vampire as the hysteria around vampires in New England was growing. Vampire hysteria led to the bodies of Mercy, her mother, and her two siblings being exhumed.
During an examination of the exhumed bodies, it was noted that three of them decayed as expected. Still, Mercy’s body was perfectly preserved and appeared to have longer hair than at the time of burial.
To protect the town’s people, Mercy’s heart was immediately removed and burned to keep her from returning from the grave as a vampire would. Mercy’s ghost has since been seen in the cemetery wearing a ripped gown and heard asking to rest in peace.
If you have seen or heard of the movie The Conjuring, you have heard of the Perron house in Burrillville, RI. The ghost around the Perron house is believed to be Bathsheba Sherman. She wanted to bind her soul to the property by hanging herself in the home after sacrificing her daughter to Satan.
Other locations worth checking out are; Slater Mill in Pawtucket, built in the 1700s and offers ghost tours throughout the year. St. Mary’s Church in West Warwick, Colt State Park in Bristol, City Hall in Warwick, featured on Ghost Hunters, and the Charles Looff Carousel in Crescent Park, Riverside.
Nearby New England Ghost Towns
Given Rhode Island’s small size, finding other ghost towns in nearby states is not difficult. Dogtown, located in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, was established in the 1600s and consisted of roughly 100 families at one time. The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were not kind to this town, and it eventually became a place for pirates, witches, and feral pets, which earned it the name Dogtown.
Glastenbury, Vermont, is a small area tucked away in Glastenbury Mountain. Residents in this town did not stay long. Glastenbury saw success as a logging town after the Civil War, but once the trees had been cut down, the residents again moved on. The city and area around Glastenbury are known for hikers mysteriously disappearing, bigfoot sightings, and the best hike in the state up the Glastenbury Fire Tower.
In Hebron, Connecticut, you can find a fully accessible ghost town. Gay City State Park harbors the ghost town of Gay City and offers explorable ruins, ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and even water that goes uphill.
Founded in the 1700s by proclaimed Methodist John Gay due to a religious feud, the residents believed drinking alcohol was their way to get closer to God. After numerous unsolved murders and fires at mills, the city’s inhabitants relocated, resulting in an abandoned town.
These are just a few nearby ghost towns in Rhode Island. To see a list of more ghost towns in any U.S. state, click here for a more detailed list.