Gaspee Days CommitteeHistory Files
The Aspray Boathouse & Boatyard

by Capt'n Bob Cleasby
Taken from the "1986 Spring" issue of The Bridge in a column called "Ripples and Tides"

Sitting down in the comer of what is now Pawtuxet Park, is a smallish one-story building that serves us know as the home of the Gaspee Days Committee, a civic meeting place, a small classroom, just a place people point to as part of "new" old Pawtuxet. However, not to long ago that little shop served as a focal point of one of Pawtuxet's most interesting and important industries. That waterside shop was the home of the Aspray Boatyard and for a time the home of Dick Aspray, its last owner.

The story of the Park and Boatyard go back to about 1907. According to Dick, that shed was called the McLeod Boatyard after its owner, one Mr. McLeod. After his death, his daughter took over the operation of the yard until Dick Aspray's  father and uncle (David and William Aspray) came along in 1919.

David and William Aspray leased the property which is now Pawtuxet Park in the year 1919 from the Jefferson Lumber Company of Elmwood Ave. Dave and Bill had been in the ferry business in Providence before that, providing transportation across the Providence River near the present Point Street Bridge to thousands of factory workers from East Providence. These turn of the century commuters traveled by trolley to the river, crossed on the ferry, and continued on boarding another trolley on the west side. With the installation of more bridges, Dave and Bill were looking for something else to do. Something to do with boats.

Now just as any community changes, "downtown" Pawtuxet has changed a lot. For one thing there was no Narragansett Parkway in 1919. The main street into Warwick from Cranston was Fair Street and all of the streets east of Fair ran directly down to the cove. East View, earlier called Elm Street for its beautiful trees. Spring Garden, all of them ran down to the cove. Therefore the boatyard property ran all the way from the cove up to what is now the Bank Cafe. It was this property that the Aspray brothers leased and later purchased.

In about the same location as the Gazebo stands today- there stood, until 1955 a "summer hotel". This building of just 12 rooms was built on piles and served as a summer place for Providence residents desirous of summer refreshment. It is a wonder that it lasted until it did as it gradually found itself right smack in the middle of Aspray's Boatyard! Just next to hotel ran a marine railway all the way from the water up to within 25 feet of what is now the Parkway. North and south of this railway were wooden skids onto which boats were dragged and kept for storage. These skids had to be greased constantly to keep movement on them easy. According to Dick, the railway was powered by "an old truck engine and transmission, started by a hand crank. You'd always have to remember to retard the spark before starting the engine or that !@#? handle would near tear your arm off." Dave and Bill brought some of the "glass cabin boats" to the yard and used them for other purposes. Dick tells of one such occasion when the boats were chartered out to Brown fraternities for their annual spring "parties on Narragansett Bay." On at least one occasion the dance band members had to position themselves on the cabin top for the entire evening as the boat was crammed with partiers! Makes our evenings aboard the Bay Queen seem sedate by comparison.

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