Before the center of town shifted further south to its current location with the opening of the Town Hall in 1888, much of Barrington life centered around the Congregational Meetinghouse at 461 County Road. This area, now known as "Old Barrington Village" was a vibrant community inhabited by farmers, shoemakers, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, stage-coach drivers, mariners, shipwrights, ferrymen, and Statesmen. It was also the home of at least four, now long gone, taverns. This tour focuses on that small, but fascinating piece of Barrington history.
It is a peculiar piece of history immediately following the ratification of the 21st Amendment ending Prohibition in 1933 - the Rhode Island Legislature decried that, "It is lawful in every town and city in the state, except the town of Barrington, to issue (liquor) licenses…"
It is not clear why Barrington was singled out in this way. But for nearly a century before Prohibition, a group of "Teetotalers" (the Rhode Island State Total Abstinence Society) exerted strong influence throughout RI, including Barrington and the East Bay. Although their influence eventually faded into history, Barrington remained an alcohol-free, dry-town for another 60 to 70 years after Prohibition.
But, Barrington wasn't always a town of alcohol-shunning purists! Since the landing of the Mayflower, colonial settlers included beer, hard cider, and other spirits in their daily lives. This was true at home as well as at lively, local taverns where folks regularly gathered to share food, drink, and the news of the day. These taverns served not only as the neighborhood gathering places but as inns for travelers passing through town.
It is notable that Barrington--unlike other Rhode Island cities and towns subject to Roger Williams' strict separation of church and state--was settled first as part of Plymouth Colony, and later as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where no such separation existed. And as was the norm throughout both the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies, the Meetinghouse in Old Barrington Village (where the local minister, was actually paid through local taxes) was not only the focal point for both religious (church) and governmental (state) activities, it was also the de facto center of town.
Records show that the Old Barrington Village's ministers freely spent some of those tax-paid earnings on spirits at nearby taverns. And so, the histories of Old Barrington Village's Colonial Meetinghouse and the surrounding taverns are clearly intertwined.