One of my early recollections of life on Prudence Island, a few years after the turn of the century, is of a family drive one hot Sunday afternoon in our new blue “Democrat” wagon. It might be interesting to note that the motorized wagon received its name from our former president, Grover Cleveland, who owned the first such vehicle, and, of course, the name was derived from his political party. A ride in this new carriage was a great treat, for the yellow fringe on the canopy waved in the breeze as we bounced along the uneven dirt roads.
When we reached Potter’s Cove at the north end of the island, there were the usual sailboats and yachts moored in this natural harbor—a hundred or more because the automobile had only recently been invented. Some of the vacationers were fishing, swimming or quahoging; others were exploring the grounds and buildings of the palatial Garland estate, now deserted, because the owner had died just before the furniture was about to be installed. (But that’s another story.)
On the north shore of the Cove was the abandoned hulk of a one-time gay excursion boat that had run aground in a fog. Along with other curiosity seekers, we climbed the steep ladder to explore this wreck. There was a circular staircase leading to the main saloon where the orchestra used to play on the way to Block Island or New York. Enough of the ornate chandelier and gold and white Victorian trimmings were left to impress us; and we could picture the passengers dancing the old-fashioned waltz in this formal setting. It was also fun to explore the dilapidated staterooms and pilot house as well.
Reluctantly, we returned to the wagon and continued our drive to the extreme north end of the island. By this time the sky had become very dark and jagged lightning flashes were followed by reverberating thunder. When a funnel-shaped cloud appeared in the sky, we sought shelter in an old abandoned schoolhouse. My father held the reins of his horse through an open window; however, he found it difficult to control the frightened horse. The animal was not the only one to be scared, as the storm descended upon us in all its fury. Hailstones that were as large as silver quarters broke any windows that were left in the old building. It was surely a cyclone that reached proportions of a tornado, as the gale shook the little schoolhouse partly from its foundations. However, it was all over in a matter of minutes.
When we drove back to the Cove, where the real fury of the storm had passed, all was chaos. Half of the boats in the harbor had capsized, and I seem to remember that several people had drowned. Two hundred year old elms had been uprooted and were lying across the road. Crops were ravaged and a few homes demolished.
The gay holiday atmosphere at Potter’s Cove had quickly changed to a disaster area by a real twister on this memorable Sunday afternoon, August fifth, 1906.[Banner image: Postcard showing the Prudence Island-Bristol ferry taking on passengers at Sand Point (Sanford Neuschatz Collection)