LITTLE COMPTON, RI
Little Compton is a coastal town in Newport County, Rhode Island, bounded on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by the Sakonnet River, on the north by the town of Tiverton, and on the east by the town of Westport, Massachusetts. The population was 3,616 at the 2020 census.
Little Compton was originally inhabited by the Sakonnet Indians and their settlement was called Sakonnet or Saughonet. The name has been interpreted in a variety of ways including "where the water pours forth".
The first European settlers were from Duxbury, Massachusetts in the Plymouth Colony, which granted them their charter. The ruler of the Native Americans was a female sachem named Awashonks who was friendly to the newcomers and remained so during and after King Phillip's War. With her acquiescence, the new settlers divided the land into standard-sized lots for farms. Among the 29 original proprietors was Colonel Benjamin Church, who would become well known for his role in the late 17th-century conflicts with surrounding Indian tribes, initially the Wampanoags and later, the Narragansetts. In 1675, Church built a house in Little Compton, just prior to King Philip's War. Today, a plaque marks the location on West Main Road.
In 1682, Sakonnet was incorporated by the Plymouth Colony and was renamed Little Compton, probably in reference to Cullompton, Devon, England. After the "Old Colony" was merged into the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north, a local colonial representative to the General Court in Boston boasted that all the stone walls in Little Compton would stretch to the State House and back, if laid end to end. A Royal commission changed the state border in 1747, and Little Compton along with Tiverton and Bristol became part of Rhode Island. All probate and land records prior to 1746 are kept in Taunton and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Beginning in the late Victorian era, the town became a destination for summer visitors drawn to its beaches and farms seemingly untouched by modernity, and for its relatively cool, maritime climate.
Sites of historic interest in Little Compton include the Wilbor House, built in 1692 by Samuel Wilbore and now the home of the Little Compton Historical Society, the Friends Meeting House and Cemetery, and the William Whalley Homestead. There are about 57 historic cemeteries in the town.
Little Compton is home to one of only three town commons surviving in Rhode Island; the others are in Bristol and Warren. Land for the common was designated in August 1677 and has been used ever since as both a religious and civic center, the location of churches, a school, the town hall, town library, and other government buildings and civic institutions. The Common contains a large cemetery. Benjamin Church and his family are buried in the cemetery, as is Elizabeth Pabodie, the eldest daughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of Mayflower fame. The stones in the cemetery reflect a style of carving similar to that found both in Newport and Boston during the same time period. The entire common is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district.
Another distinctive feature of the town is the c.1905 "Spite Tower" found in the hamlet of Adamsville. Built as a water tower, local lore claims that it was constructed to obscure the sightlines of a rival abutting neighbor.
Fort Church was built near Sakonnet Point during World War II and was named for Benjamin Church. The largest of the four batteries was Battery Gray with two 16-inch guns, an area that became the Sakonnet Golf Club.
In 2020, there were 3,616 people in 1,561 households. Of the 2,435 housing units in Little Compton in 2019, only 64% were reported as occupied, leaving 876 units (one-third) vacant for seasonal use only.
The population density of Little Compton was 170 people per square mile, which classifies as rural. In 2019, 94% of residents were White, 2% were Hispanic or Latino, 3% identified as multiracial (parents or ancestry from two or more races). More than half (53%) had earned a bachelor's degree or higher, which was 1.5 times greater than the rate of Rhode Island (34%). The median age in town was 57.8 years, considerably older than Rhode Island as a whole (39.9 years). The largest plurality of people (almost one-quarter of the town) was between the ages of 60–69. About 36% of the population was single. Only 2% of the town's population was under 10 years of age, far below the statewide average of 10%, and only 2% of women of childbearing age (ages 15–50) gave birth in 2019, a rate 60% lower than Rhode Island as a whole.
In 2021, the median value of owner occupied units was $747,500, more than double the value in Rhode Island as a whole ($319,000). A household needed an annual income of $165,309 to afford a median priced home in Little Compton, placing the town among the three most expensive zip codes in Rhode Island, ranking third most expensive behind only Block Island (New Shoreham) and East Providence.
As of 2019, the median household income in Little Compton was $89,353, which was 1.3 times higher than Rhode Island ($67,167). The per capita income in Little Compton was $60,000, or nearly 1.7 times higher than Rhode Island ($36,121). Of Little Compton's households, 440 (or 28%) were classified as cost-burdened for having to spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. About 4.8% of the population lived below the poverty line, which was less than half the rate of Rhode Island (12.4%).
Rhode Island State Law 45-5356 establishes a goal that 10 percent of every city or town’s housing stock qualify as Low- and Moderate-Income Housing. In 2020, only 0.56% of Little Compton's housing stock qualified as meeting that goal, the lowest of any municipality in Rhode Island, leaving Little Compton as the most unaffordable town in Rhode Island and 153 units shy of the state target of 10%.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of , of which, is land and (27.79%) is water. One of the largest bodies of fresh water in Little Compton is Quicksand Pond. Sakonnet Point is the town's southernmost point, offering views of the Sakonnet Lighthouse and several small rocky islands, including East Island and West Island. On a clear day, it is possible to view the inhabited islands of Cuttyhunk and Nashawena, in Buzzards Bay, as well as Newport, Rhode Island to the west.
Along with its scenic coastline, another defining feature of Little Compton's landscape is its abundant stonewalls. According to Bruce Irving, author of the book New England Icons, "There were once some 250,000 miles of stone walls in the Northeast, enough to stretch to the moon, their epicenter generally sited in a fifty-mile radius around the meeting point of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with the Rhode Island town of Little Compton especially rich in stone walls."
Agricultural Conservancy Trust
Little Compton is unique for its real estate transfer tax, which was enabled by state statute in 1985 to preserve farmland in town and protect limited drinking water resources from overdevelopment. Effective July 1, 2016, real estate property transfers are taxed at a 4% rate, with the first $300,000 is exempted, paid by the buyer in the transaction to the town's Agricultural Conservancy Trust. As of 2021, the Ag Trust has preserved more than 2,000 acres of land, more than 650 acres of that owned outright by the Ag Trust, with 133 acres of that leased to local farmers.
There is one school in Little Compton, the Wilbur and McMahon School on School House Lane near the Common, originally known as the Josephine Wilbur (or Central) School; residents simply refer to it as "Wilbur School." It had 12 classrooms and housed the town's K–12 facilities. It was renamed after additions were built in the mid 1900s. Approximately 350 students attend classes in Kindergarten through 8th grade. High school students usually attend Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, about a 25 minute drive away.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is a native breed of poultry first bred by William Tripp in Adamsville, a hamlet that is part of Little Compton. According to The Livestock Conservancy, "The Rhode Island Red is not only America's best known breed, but is perhaps the world's best known fowl. It is the most successful dual purpose bird [raised for both eggs and meat], and remains an excellent farm chicken [or non-industrial breed]." In 1925, the Rhode Island Red Club of America donated funds for a monument to the Rhode Island Red in Adamsville, at the intersection of Main Street and Westport River Road. Another plaque honoring the Rhode Island Red was erected by the state on the breed's 100th anniversary in 1954, south of Adamsville on the wall of what was William Tripp's farm. The two memorials reflect a dispute between poultry fanciers and farmers over who should have received credit for the breed's success.
Attractions and sites on National Register of Historic Places
This page uses material from the Wikipedia article Little Compton, RI, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 4.0.