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Southern Rhode Island - the East Coast’s best kept secret?

First let me be clear, Rhode Island is a not a wallflower so maybe “secret” is too strong a word. Loads of people take up residence in summer homes and vacation rentals to soak in all that the Ocean State has to offer in the summertime. Visitors come from across the globe to tour Newport’s mansions or stay in Watch Hill’s elegant, seaside cottages, or better yet, the acclaimed Ocean House Resort. Heck, Watch Hill even enticed the likes of Taylor Swift to buy a home in what some would claim is the East Coast’s most posh summer enclave. But, though Rhode Island’s coastal communities have the same appeal as the Hamptons or Cape Cod, we’re a little quieter about trumpeting the Ocean State’s advantages. Some might say, a little too quiet.

South County, RI – fact or fantasy?

Ask most homeowners in Westerly, Charlestown or South Kingstown where they live, and they’ll tell you South County. But the fact is, South County doesn’t really exist, at least not formally. So why do we call it South County? Most people will just answer, “No idea. It’s just what we call it.”

We even made the point of addressing the question to one of our more learned citizens who happens to be a direct descendent of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. You’d think she would have the inside scoop, but no, all we got was, “Gee, I don’t know.” She redeemed herself a bit by pointing out that though most Rhode Islanders think of South County as another name for Washington County, that’s not really true.

The most formal definition of South County comes from South County Tourism Council whose own description of the area includes the towns of Charlestown, Coventry, East Greenwich, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, North Kingstown, Richmond, South Kingstown, West Greenwich and Westerly. The site blasts images of sunny beaches, fantastic food and smiling families. Who wouldn’t want to buy the home of their dreams and put down roots in this fantasy place called South County?

 (Just a side note: East Greenwich and West Greenwich are part of Kent County, not Washington County, and Washington County also includes Block Island. So much for South County and Washington County being interchangeable. Our learned descendent was right.)

OK Google, where is South County?

We even asked "OK  Google" where South County is and when  the omniscient web giant responded to our query it referred us to a travel site that acknowledged the fact that South County does not officially exist, so don’t try to find it on a map, just go there, it's really nice. Buy, rent, stay. You’ll like it.

South County, Rhode Island, a homeowner’s fantasy?

Could there be a simple reason why we refer to South instead of Washington County when describing Rhode Island’s largest county? South is one syllable and Washington is three – maybe it’s just faster to say? Afterall, we’ve been slowly and lazily streamlining our language for years, maybe we’re just on trend by subconsciously dumping syllables.

Or maybe it could be that if you buy a home in the Ocean State, you want to keep the secret to yourself. Why share our beautiful beaches and quaint seaside towns with more people than you have to?

But probably the most likely reason of all? “No idea. It’s just what we call it.”


Published March 21, 2018 in Local Information, Exploring South County