Chuck Royce, an immensely successful fund manager, has a vision for a place he calls home, a stretch of the Rhode Island coast with vast beaches, a rocky shoreline and dignified New England homes. In 2010, he brought back to life the Ocean House resort in the stylish enclave of Watch Hill. That same year, he saw the opportunity to save another Rhode Island icon, the Weekapaug Inn, just six miles to the east.
In 1899, businessman Frederick Buffum and his wife, Phebe, opened a small inn in the beach community of Weekapaug. Although close by, Weekapaug was, and still is, a less formal place than Watch Hill, and the Buffums hoped that their inn would appeal to families looking for a relaxed seaside getaway. Situated right on the ocean and ideal for boating and swimming, the inn enjoyed considerable success.
Unfortunately, a prime oceanfront location guaranteed the inn’s destruction during the ferocious hurricane of 1938, which devastated much of coastal New England. Undeterred, the Buffums rebuilt nearby, this time well back from the dunes. Over time, however, a single-season resort proved infeasible, and the inn closed in 2007.
Appreciating the rivalries that exist between Weekapaug and Watch Hill, Royce brought on board a Weekapaug resident, Lang Wheeler, as a partner. As one person said to me, “He knew Watch Hill imposing itself on Weekapaug would be problematic.” He also had to contend with the inn’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, which mandates adherence to strict guidelines. The building’s original footprint was maintained, and much of the existing structure and many of the furnishings were preserved. After a $20 million restoration, the inn reopened in October 2012.
Like Ocean House, the Weekapaug Inn reflects its community.
Like Ocean House, the Weekapaug Inn reflects its community. With a slate roof, dark-green shingles and barn-red shutters, it sits on a small peninsula and is reached by its own bridge, with a snug cove on one side and a large saltwater pond, the Quonochontaug, on the other. Although bigger than most of the shingle houses in the area, it shares their character and is surrounded with plantings specifically chosen to incorporate native species.
Inside, it feels like a lovely beach house, with pastel hues, fine woodwork, views out to the water, and a mixed collection of art — landscapes of the area, a quartet of big Audubon prints, and photographs of the inn and its past guests. A mural of the pond, alive with native birds, sweeps up the main staircase to the second-floor reception area. It is difficult to go very far in the Weekapaug Inn without coming upon an inviting, window-filled lounge, my favorite being the spacious great room near the lobby, with its well-chosen furniture, fireplace and screened porch. Monopoly and Scrabble are laid out on tables, as are the daily papers and glossy magazines; we even found ourselves contributing to an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle that had defeated previous guests.
Outdoor entertainments include a host of water activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, rowboating and sailing, plus classic lawn games such as shuffleboard and bocce. Amenities include a small exercise room and a handsome seasonal lap pool. With fresh air coming off the nearby sea and a complete lack of intrusive noise, we also spent happy hours stretched out in one of the pond-facing Adirondack chairs, listening to the wind and watching the egrets, herons and ospreys.
The stunning beach is a short walk away. Having left superfluous items in our private locker at the Bathhouse, we followed a boardwalk over the dunes. At its end, we discovered two miles of pristine sand, with gentle surf, crystalline water and a view of Block Island on the horizon. The following morning, we accompanied the in-house naturalist on an idyllic bird walk along the shore.
After a day in the fresh air, it was always a delight to return to our One-Bedroom Suite, which was as well thought out and comfortable as the rest of the inn. The 31 accommodations all come with individual designer fabrics. Ours had cream walls, white trim, braided rugs, a mixture of contemporary and traditional furnishings, and a bed made up with Frette linens. The bath was lovely, but I would have appreciated a tub despite the spaciousness of the walk-in shower.
I found myself thinking how much fun it would be to come back with my grandchildren, to take them sailing, bird-watching or fishing for striped bass.
The inn’s four two-bedroom Signature Suites are almost like private cottages. Each has master and guest bedrooms, plus a pull-out queen sleeper, a den with a gas fireplace, a washer/dryer, a full kitchen and dining space for eight. Three Fenway Suites are located in a separate building, each designed as a private retreat with its own deck and soaking tub.
The restaurant at the inn proved outstanding, with a farm-to-table menu that offers a modern interpretation of New England cuisine. We relished the Matunuck oysters, as well as the native lobster cake served with pickled vegetables and a citrus-saffron aioli. Main courses included perfect soft-shell crabs crusted with cornmeal, and Georges Bank scallops accompanied by forbidden black rice, English peas and a carrot-cardamom butter.
It was a real wrench to leave the Weekapaug Inn. Gazing over the water, the lawn and the stone fireplace where guests gathered nightly to stargaze, I was reminded of the resorts of my childhood. And constantly, I found myself thinking how much fun it would be to come back with my grandchildren, to take them sailing, bird-watching or fishing for striped bass.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The relaxed and casual atmosphere, which makes the experience feel like a stay with friends; the fine New England cuisine; the abundant birdlife; the stunning beach.
DISLIKE: During our stay, an event in the conference center precluded our using the pool.
GOOD TO KNOW: While there is no spa, guests are welcome to use the well-regarded OH! Spa at Ocean House, and there are shuttles between the sister properties.
Weekapaug Inn 95 Superior Room, $200; Suite, $225. 25 Spray Rock Road, Westerly, Rhode Island. Tel. (401) 637-7600.