Taking A Vacation Break from Tourist Towns in Harrisville, Rhode
Waterfall in Harrisville with the Water View Restaurant in the distance
(yellow building on the left).
by Eric Hurwitz. Article updated on 11/28/16
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Harrisville, R.I., isn't your run-of-the-mill mill village.
Arguably the most charming of seven historic mill villages in
Burrillville, Harrisville seemed so normal that it almost came across
as abnormal in regards to the fast-paced, technologically-driven ways
of the 21st century. Families congregated around the beautiful
waterfall surrounded by attractive park grounds, enjoying their early
evening walks, gazing at the peaceful body of water, appreciating the
stillness and solitude of the waterfront village, and all along the way
engaging in extended conversations. Not one of the 25 or so people I
saw was talking on a cell phone or texting. This return to life as the
way we used to know it -- people enjoying the outdoors and each other
-- was as refreshing to see as the well-maintained mill village itself.
So, while Harrisville is within proximity to densely populated cities
like Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket, the vibe is completely
different -- seeming like it's a million miles away.
I grabbed a bite at the Waterfall Cafe , a super-friendly casual eatery
overlooking the waterfall, where it seemed like the whole village came
out to eat on this Saturday night. The staff-customer banter was like
something you'd hear in a diner -- not in a bona fide restaurant with a
martini bar. So many nice, solid people here -- no doubt a reflection
of their community. Oh yes, the char-grilled rib eye grinder prepared
Philly cheese steak style was fabulous, although I look forward to
trying one of the Waterfall Cafe's pasta dishes, pizzas, or steak,
chicken or seafood offerings next time. Update: we returned to the
Waterfall Cafe not too long after this first visit and were quite
impressed with the tender veal specials, flavorful fresh caesar salad,
as well as pasta and chicken fingers dishes for the kids (well above
Harrisville is by no means perfect, but what place really is? You'll
see some shuttered commercial buildings and run down homes on the north
side and some of the mill buildings, while well-maintained, have an
imposing presence. The village, however, has more than its share of
beautiful old homes in the American Colonial, Federal styles, a
spacious layout that is rare in such mill
villages, and a terrific overall small-town spirit to overcome any of
the minuses. The textile industry might have moved south many years
ago, but New Englanders have always carried with pride a strong resolve
and that is well reflected in Harrisville's good looks! FYI,
Slatersville -- the first industrialized mill village in the United
States -- is about a 10 minute drive from Harrisville so definitely
check out that village, too!
You certainly don't visit Harrisville as a vacation destination, but
that can be a good thing. With rare free time on my hands on this
particular evening, I initially thought about visiting Newport, R.I.,
or Newburyport, Mass. No doubt, going to Newport and Newburyport will
always result in a fabulous travel experience given their remarkable
coastal locations, splendid scenery, and dining and shopping options.
This night, however, seemed to be made for Harrisville. Sometimes, it's
good just to get out and walk, have a meal in a high quality
out-of-the-way restaurant, enjoy the lack of traffic and revel in the
feeling of being in a community in which you feel like you've made your
own special discovery. I came to Harrisville with little expectation
and left the village feeling like New England had just gifted me with
yet another special place to return in the very near future.
Harrisville has a nice, laid-back neighborly vibe.
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