Westport River Watershed

The Westport River is an estuary, where fresh water merges with salty tidal waters from the ocean. These environmental conditions created rich biodiversity in fish and wildlife that has long been exploited by Native peoples and Europeans. When Richard Sisson settled at the Head of Westport in 1671, the area was occupied by groups of native people who endowed the Acoaxet and Noquochoke Rivers with spiritual meaning, drew food from their waters, and used them for transportation. European settlers cleared land for farms, introduced livestock, and transformed the native peoples’ familiar ecology.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, parts of Westport grew into a bustling port and industrial center that utilized the renamed East and West Branches of the Westport River for water power and for ports of call for whaling, fishing, and merchant vessels. At the Head of Westport, ship builders used trees from nearby forests to fill a growing demand for vessels of all kinds.

Cod fishing dominated in the 18th century, but gave way to whaling by the early 19th century. With the growth of whaling, the town’s economic activity consolidated at the wharves at Westport Point, where sailors could buy supplies and visit taverns before departing for arduous voyages that lasted up to four years. Trade ships brought goods to Westport and Little Compton, supporting the thriving whaling industry and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs like Paul Cuffe. The Westport River and its tributaries also provided power for a variety of small industries, like George Gifford’s grain mill and later shingle and spoke factory.

The Westport River is a watershed, capturing rainwater from the surrounding land, and waste products from all of these endeavors flowed downriver to the Atlantic Ocean. Today, much of this runoff contains farming fertilizers, pet and livestock waste, sewage from malfunctioning septic systems, and pollutants from roadways including oil, antifreeze, and litter. In recent years, ecologists have experimented on Cockeast Pond with oysters, which filter water and remove excess nitrogen produced by manure.

As Westport moves into the future, the river continues to serve many purposes. It waters provide nurseries for fish, food for humans and wildlife, and places to paddle, sail, and swim. There is now a greater recognition of the fragility of this resource and the responsibility of people to maintain it. The Westport River is a physical link to the past, and along its banks stand reminders of the town’s rich history.

Brookside Conservation Area

According to local legend, in 1776 militia from the Head of Westport broke ranks with the remainder of their contingent to eat bread and cheese and to drink from the brook. The brook could also have been named after simple meals eaten on its banks by…

Paul Cuffe Memorial

When Cuffe–a man of color, born to a Wampanoag woman and a freed slave–and his crew–all Black or Native men–disembarked, they were met with “astonishment and alarm” by the townsfolk. Locals ran to the docks and urged the Customs officials…

The Bell School

The Bell School was built in 1841 as a school for District No. 14, on the west side of the river. There was evidently some jealousy aroused in the other school districts when the residents of the Head of Westport decided to build so magnificent a…

Cadman-White-Handy House

The Handy House is not the home of a famous person—Washington did not sleep here! Yet the story of the people who lived here provides an extraordinary window into a world of ordinary lives that is otherwise lost to history. As you walk through this…

Original Adamsville Border

The Plymouth Court established Adamsville as part of "Sakonnet" in the seventeenth century. The settlement adopted the name "Little Compton" in 1683 (check). Although Adamsville village had no official name at that time, many…

Adamsville Mill Pond

This pond and its link to the West Branch of the Westport River are the primary reasons for Adamsville's existence. These natural resources created an ideal spot for both a gristmill and a sawmill. Early settlers were quick to realize the…

Adamsville Landing

The water near the landing is part of an estuary, which means that salt water moving in from Buzzard’s Bay meets fresh water washing down the river. It’s a unique and beautiful natural space. At the time of King Philip’s War, in the late 1670s,…

The Border Today

The border between Adamsville and Westport was changed in 1747 from the west bank of the Westport River (which is just to the East of Brayton's Garage) to this location in the middle of the mill pond. The new border cut though established lots…

Cockeast Pond

An ongoing four-year project of the Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) is an initiative to reverse the nitrification of Cockeast Pond by planting half a million oysters in a fraction of the pond’s area. Residents of Westport have long been…

Lifesaving Station

Around Elizabeth’s home at Westport Harbor, just down the shore from the lifesaving station, the winds were high and people were preparing for a storm, but most were not too worried. However, by late afternoon the storm surge was reaching dangerous…