The town of Wickford was first settled around 1637. During King Phillip's War many of the original dwellings were burned and most of the historic buildings seen now were the result of the building boom and increased economic activity after that war ended. Wickford expanded as a port and shipbuilding center right through the American Revolution and beyond. Newport was the original shipbuilding center in Rhode Island but by the late 1700's most of the suitable timber in that area had been exhausted. The sailing ship building industry then moved across the bay to Wickford where it was most active during the period from 1790 to 1850.
By the late 1800's Wickford was known mainly as the connection from regional railroads to Wickford Shipyard, then known as the Newport and Wickford Railroad and Steamship Company. A spur went from Wickford Junction (where there is still a train station today on Rte 102) to the current site of the shipyard. Before the Jamestown and Newport (Pell) bridges were built this was the last link in ground transportation for travelers from New York City and Connecticut to reach the gilded age society of Newport.
Image courtesy of Tim Cranston, Swamptown Enterprises
In 1938 Perkins & Vaughan, Inc. was formed and took over the site of the the N&W Railroad & Steamship Company with the express purpose of servicing yachtsmen of southern New England and Narragansett Bay. The Second World War would intervene, and once again Wickford became a shipbuilding center, building a number of Submarine Chasers and Motor Launches known as "The Splinter Fleet" due to their primarily wood construction. These were the big brothers to the famous PT boats of WWII, and ranged in length from 110 to 115 feet and were the last large vessels built in Wickford Harbor. One of them, Hull # SC1068, is reportedly still in service in Alaska in private hands.
After the war Perkins & Vaughan, Inc. went back to successfully servicing the yacht trade. After passing through a number of owners it is now a family owned business of almost 60 years. We still service the boat owner looking for a protected harbor, excellent floating dockage, in a peaceful old New England village.
Thanks to Tim Cranston and his "Swamptown Book 2" for background history.