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Colonel Randall A. Harrington
(1854-1918) ~ Inducted 2013
Harrington, Randall A. (Randall Augustus), 1854-1918
Colonel Randall Augustus Harrington (1854-1918) was born in the mill village of Phenix, then a part of the town of Warwick in 1854, the son of Randall A. Harrington and Mary Madison Harrington. The Harringtons and Madisons were descended from early Rhode Island families. In Colonel Harrington’s long career he was known as a major promoter of theatrical and amusement enterprises. His management and innovative development of Rhode Island’s most prominent shore resort, Rocky Point, made him known from coast to coast. Locally, he was prominent in the Republican politics of Warwick and in the fraternal and club scene of Providence.
Educated in both the public and private schools of Warwick, he began his professional career in the theatrical world of New York City, where he became acquainted with most of the popular stage stars of the late 19th century. Then he brought his theatrical flare from New York into the shore dinner halls and amusement venues of Crescent Park and Rocky Point. It was at the latter location that he earned his reputation of impresario and master of amusements.
Rocky Point as a family fun destination began its days in 1846 under the ministrations of Captain William Winslow of the steamboat Argus. Originally catering to sedate excursions such as Providence Sunday school picnics, Winslow earned for Rocky Point a reputation as the premier shore dinner location, a place for carousel rides, and the location of the forerunner of the Ferris Wheel, known as the Spanish Fandango.
In 1865 Winslow’s interest was bought out by Byron Sprague, a member of the family that created the famous Sprague textile empire. Byron added a palatial mansion house for himself, an iconic observation tower, and a 300-room hotel to the emerging resort. Despite this flurry of activity, Sprague sold Rocky Point four years later to the American Steamboat Company, which in turn transferred its ownership in 1884 to the Continental Steamboat Company. It was under this ownership that Randall Harrington leased the park and began his program of pleasing the popular appetite for summer fun.
By the time Harrington assumed direction of the resort, Rocky Point had already risen to prominence among the amusement sites that were developing along the shores of upper Narragansett Bay, and it included a casino featuring minstrel shows. The location became a favorite reunion site for Civil War veterans groups. By the end of the century, well-known chefs and Providence hotel managers added gustatory appeal to the site; and Rocky Point was serving 4000 shore dinners a day. Six steamboats each hour were bellying up to its pier.
By then, famous associations had already taken place at Rocky Point: John L. Sullivan fought Steven Taylor there before an audience of 2000. President Rutherford B. Hayes visited in 1877, where he chatted on the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell in Providence. In 1883, however, the hotel and several other resort buildings were consumed in a major fire. After that, the resort aspect of Rocky Point faded in favor of amusement fare.
Randall Harrington met the challenge of maintaining Rocky Point’s reputation. In the 1890s he installed a toboggan ride and an $8000 organ, said to be the world’s largest. He built a scenic railway, added a carousel, and built a new shore dinner hall on pilings cantilevered out over the bay. In the early 1900s he brought vaudeville shows and the novel amusement of silent movies. Taking advantage of the Providence ban on playing baseball on Sundays, Harrington built a grandstand to seat 10,000 people and drew nearly double that number when the Providence Grays played there. Even Babe Ruth played a few games at Rocky Point.
Harrington’s heyday was the time when electric trolleys ran on the now-defunct Warwick Railroad, bringing thousands of toilers from the urban areas of Providence and Pawtucket for a nickel a ride at a time when the steamboats were charging a quarter or more. In 1910, Harrington purchased the park outright from the steamboat company and continued adding amenities until his death in 1918.
It was during Harrington’s management that Rocky Point became a summertime staple and the favorite destination chosen by many working class families for their annual summer outing. Harrington’s descendants continued as owners through the 1930s and WW II, selling the park in 1945. Within a couple of years the Ferla family assumed control and launched Rocky Point into another forty-year period of activity.
Harrington, Randall. History of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Biographical
NY: The American Historical Society, Inc. 1920
- Albert T. Klyberg, L.H.D.
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