A landmark is one of those words that has a different meaning ashore than it does at sea. On land, it is mostly used to describe a historic or signature building that is often a popular attraction. When navigating however, the word still maintains its traditional usage: a structure or geographic feature that is easily recognized; a reference point. The Ocean House in Watch Hill fits both definitions.
On the 20-plus mile, harborless passage from Point Judith, it is this building I first spot as I make my way west towards Long Island Sound. There is a lighthouse nearby, but it is no match for the large yellow victorian with the mansard roof, rising high above the bluff.
Built in 1868, the Ocean House was one of many grand hotels that dotted the shoreline. While Block Island still boasts several of these grand old ladies, most others have been lost to fire, redevelopement, and plain old decay. In the past few decades, it seemed as if the Ocean House would meet a similar fate. Each time I saw her, she looked a little more rundown, and by the late 1990's large portions of the building were no longer in use. Unable to meet the fire-code, she closed in 2003. A new owner drew up plans to build 5 McMansions on the site.
Efforts were made to save the hotel, but it was not until New York investor Charles M Royce stepped in that it became a possibility. Hoping to restore the building, it was soon determined that the structure was too far gone and would need to be replaced. Rather than restore, Royce would replicate. Thousand of items including fireplaces and moldings were salvaged before the original Ocean House met the wrecking ball in 2005.
The rebuilt Ocean House is now open, though after looking at their rates ($1700/weekend for 2-meals not included) I won't be staying there tonight. Yet when I am in Watch Hill, I will often walk by and take a look. And when I am 7 miles from shore, I will be looking for her too. As with all good landmarks, I just like knowing she is there.
Art In Ruins: Original Ocean House (photos)
Hartford Courant: New Ocean House Opens
Centerbrook: To Save It We Had To Destroy It
References: Summer By The Seaside: New England Coastal Resorts
photo credit: original Ocean House (bottom) Art In Ruins