WESTERLY — A yearlong celebration of the town’s 350th anniversary kicks off today with a townwide bell ringing.
The Unity Bell Ringing, as it’s being called by the volunteer committee that has worked for nearly a year to develop and organize a slate of events, is intended to do just that — show off and amplify the town’s unity. Residents can ring their bells at home or join with elected officials, veterans, third-generation Westerly families, notable residents and others at Town Hall for hot chocolate, a snow-globe, and the bell-ringing.
There will also be ice sculptures, horse-drawn hayrides and performances by the Westerly Morris Men. The bell-ringing will happen at noon sharp for one minute. Folks can also gather for the bell-ringing at the Avondale Chapel, Central Baptist Church, Christ Church, the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department, Immaculate Conception Church, the Joy Fellowship, Pleasant Street Baptist Church, St. Clare Church, St. Vincent dePaul Church, Watch Hill Chapel, Weekapaug Chapel, the Westerly Ambulance Corps, the Westerly Fire Department and the Westerly Police Department.
After a kick-off planning meeting attended by more than 40 community members in February, a committee was formed and subcommittees created to take on specific tasks and events. The full committee meets once a month to report on the progress that their subcommittees have made.
“It’s a very energetic committee. People are really excited to be on it, and we’re working well together,” said Christopher Duhamel, who along with Diane Serra is co-chair of the committee.
The calendar of events reflects a mixture of celebratory and educational events. On the educational side, several talks on different aspects of the town’s history are scheduled at both the Westerly Library and the Babcock-Smith House Museum. The Hoxie Gallery at Westerly Library will be devoted to a “Westerly 350” display Feb. 6 to March 28. Items from the Babcock-Smith House Museum and the Westerly Historical Society collections will tell the town’s story.
“The exhibit at the library, coordinated by the Westerly Historical Society and Babcock-Smith House, will be a walk through time that will delight everyone. I liken it to a trip down memory lane. Parents will have the unique opportunity to show their children how things used to be in town,” said Lisa Konicki, Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce president and a member of the committee.
The chamber foundation is overseeing the committee’s work and serving as fiduciary agent. The committee meets at the chamber’s office.
On Feb. 19 Meg Barclay, a direct descendant of Tobias Saunders, who was an incorporator of the town, will reprise her program on the early history of the town at the Westerly Library at 6:30 p.m.
A gala dance and dinner is planned for May 17 at the Westerly Armory. A buffet dinner will be provided by Watch Hill Catering, free beer from Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island, the micro-brewery on Canal Street, and table wine from Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth will be served. A full jazz band will perform for the black-tie affair. The gala is the only event, to date, with an entrance fee. Tickets will be $75 apiece and are available from the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce starting Feb. 1.
Duhamel’s favorite event, a time-capsule reveal, is scheduled for June 29 at 10 a.m. in Wilcox Park. The time capsule buried in the park during the town’s 300th celebration will be unearthed and opened. Plans also call for burying a new time capsule.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in the time capsule for the 300th anniversary. We’re thinking about what should be in the 350th one,” Duhamel said, adding that the committee is talking about asking the public for help in determining what to put in the new time capsule.
Konicki is also looking forward to the time-capsule event.
“The time capsule event should be particularly interesting, as nobody knows what is inside. There is an excitement building for that event and a lot of thought going into the decision about what should be placed into the capsule we bury,” she said.
The largest event, an Olde Tyme Faire, is scheduled for Aug. 24 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Roomful of Blues, the internationally acclaimed hometown blues band, will serve as the main act. A Beatles tribute band will also perform during the fair, which will feature a gigantic Westerly-themed cake, a trackless train, paddle boats in the park’s pond, magic shows and other children’s activities.
“Without question, the Olde Tyme Faire is the largest event. We anticipate it will draw over 10,000 people ... kids will get to ride paddle boats in the pond and for years will reminisce and say ‘remember that year we rode paddle boats in the park?’” Konicki said.
The committee also plans to have a few 350th anniversary-themed floats in the annual Columbus Day Parade on Oct. 6.
The committee started with a list of 30 potential events for the yearlong celebration. Each one was discussed and then a vote was taken to determine which ones to move forward with. Limited-edition ornaments created and sold as part of the celebration sold out. A second run that depicts different town icons and landmarks has been commissioned and are expected to be available in a few weeks. Commemorative coins are expected in two weeks. Sixty coins have already been pre-sold.
For a complete list of all 16 350th anniversary events, go to https://www.westerly350.com/.