At just over 1000 square miles, it would take more than 545 Rhode Islands to cover the surface area of Alaska. Though it is best known as the smallest state in the country, the following lesser-known facts prove that the Ocean State is as interesting as any of its 49 brethren.
It Rejected Prohibition
That’s right. The 1920 constitutional amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol nationwide, also known as the Volstead Act, was never ratified by this tiny seaside state. This was not merely an act of defiance, however. The opposition to such a law was due in large part to the fact that Rhode Island had, in fact, already attempted to enforce its own prohibition in the late 1800s, and found it to be an exercise in futility. Being the only state to eschew the ban after Connecticut eventually caved in to political pressure led to the area becoming a popular destination for bootleggers seeking to distribute their product to the masses. It also turned Rhode Island into one of the staunchest advocates for the repeal of the law, which eventually occurred in 1933 when Congress ratified the Twenty-First Amendment.
It’s Rich in History
It should come as no surprise that many of this nation’s oldest structures would reside within one of the original thirteen colonies. For instance, the country’s oldest merry-go-round, The Flying Horse Carousel, resides in Watch Hill – where it was abandoned by a traveling carnival in 1879. Back in those days, it was powered by horse and later water, before being converted to electricity around 1914.
Rhode Island is also home of what is claimed to be the oldest schoolhouse in the nation. Southermost School in Portsmouth was built in 1725, and today this little red schoolhouse is one of the last remaining one-room relics. At the time of its construction, eight grades were taught in the tiny room and punishments (i.e. lashings) were doled out for transgressions such as climbing trees and telling tales out of school.
The White Horse Tavern, which has been in operation since 1673, has earned the distinction of being the oldest such establishment in the United States. During the American Revolution’s Battle of Rhode Island, Redcoats holed up in the barn-like building – which is located in Newport, site of the area’s British invasion. These days, the tavern serves a much less combative clientele, with popular menu items including local favorites such as clam chowder and a variety of lobster dishes.
It’s Home to The Tennis Hall of Fame
A convert of the Newport Casino, the International Tennis Hall of Fame has been honoring legends of the sport since the 1950s. Many of the game’s most influential champions have been enshrined here, including Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, and Pete Sampras, as well as trailblazers such as Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe.
The museum features several interactive exhibits and boasts more than 25,000 artifacts spread across three separate areas (The Birth of Tennis, The Popular Game, and The Open Era), each celebrating a different era of the sport. Perhaps the most unique feature at the museum is a Roger Federer hologram, which allows guests a front row seat to view the legend in action, dropping in lob shots and smashing home aces.
Its Name Isn’t Actually Rhode Island
Okay, so its name isn’t just Rhode Island. The state’s official moniker is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which refers to the first European-American settlement of the area. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams – a Puritan minister – settlers of Providence Plantations sought to maintain a separation of church and state, a somewhat radical idea at the time that would later become one of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution. The area also became a safe haven for oft-persecuted religions of the time, which included Quakers, Baptists, and French Huguenots.
It Has a State Drink
Rhode Island is one of 28 states to designate a “state drink”. While many of its sister states have selected plain old milk as their beverage of choice, the nation’s smallest state has instead opted for coffee milk. It is believed that Italian immigrants introduced the drink to the area, though a more cynical explanation for being named the region’s beverage of choice may lie in the fact that a local coffee and tea extract company in Lincoln produces the syrup used to make the unique concoction, which is added to milk in the same way one would add chocolate syrup. Unsurprisingly, Rhode Island is the only state to make coffee milk its official drink, a title it has proudly held since 1993.
Its Highest Point is Just 812 Feet Above Sea Level
Located just across the border from Connecticut, Jerimoth Hill is a popular destination for highpointers – recreationists who have made a sport out of visiting the highest point in a given area. Prior to 2005, however, ascending the summit was much more difficult than the elevation would suggest, as navigating the terrain at that time required hikers to risk trespassing on the grounds of a notoriously surly landowner. Today, the land is owned by the state and visitors are free to come and go as they please. Though 812 feet might not seem like the highest of high points, there are actually several states with lower peaks in elevation, including Florida – which tops out at the lowest acme point of any state at just 345 feet above sea level at the top of Britton Hill.
It Made the First Strike Against England During the Revolutionary War
It may be the smallest state in the union, but what it lacks in size Rhode Island makes up for in spirit. During the American Revolution, it was the first of the colonies to take action against England by burning one of King George’s ships after it had run aground just off Narragansett Bay. Known as the “Gaspee Affair” (after the name of the boat), the incident predated the Boston Tea Party by over a year.