Ballard's Beach Resort

Ballard's Beach Resort

"A Block Island tradition."

Ballard's frontage, 2016
(May 23, 2016).

42 Water Street, Block Island
(401) 466-2231

Admittedly, Ballard's Beach Resort is a far cry from your typical clam shack, but behind its current Spring-Break-all-summer character lies an impressive history.

Ballard's sits on a spot at Old Harbor that was once occupied by M.S. Barber's Shore Dinner House, built in 1875. A contemporary advertising piece lists a menu of "Clam Chowder, Broiled Fish, Lobster, Roast Beef and Vegetables, Home-Made White and Brown Bread, Tea and Pie or Watermelon, Only 50 Cents!"

M.S. Barber's, 1890s.
M.S. Barber's in the 1890s. The grand Ocean View Hotel on the bluff above burned to the ground in 1966. (Photo courtesy of the Providence Public Library).

M.S. Barber's, 1890s.
(Providence Public Library).

A 1909 Island directory lists only four stand-alone restaurants on the island, of which Barber's was one. Most visitors who stayed overnight in that period ate in the dining rooms of their hotels. Barber's and the American Restaurant at Old Harbor, and the Clam Bake Pavilion (at the current site of Dead Eye Dick's) and Mott's Restaurant at New Harbor catered to day trippers and hotel guests looking for a change of pace, or a meal outside regular dining hours.

Sometime between 1909 and 1920 Barber's was known as Old Harbor Lunch.

In 1920 the building was purchased by Henry and Alice Ballard, who set about upgrading the property. They installed their own electric light plant in 1923, added a third floor in 1924, and, in 1925, a dance hall. The Hurricane of 1938 inflicted major damage—the dance hall was swept into the harbor, and on the ocean side of the building the second floor collapsed. Some were sure it could not be saved, but a carpenter named Henry Rose was able to bring it back from the brink of death.

Ballard's postcard view, circa 1928
A circa 1928 view of Ballard's (the handwritten "1954" refers to the postmarked date). (Postcard from the collection of David Stone).

Ballard's postcard view, circa 1942
The dance hall is on the left in this circa 1942 postcard view.

In the late 1940s, an itinerant artist named Holden Durfee Wetherbee, in exchange for room and board, decorated the walls of the Highview Inn's bar (now known as Club Soda), with murals depicting contemporary island life. The 360-degree panorama captures nearly every prominent building of the day, including the below view of Ballard's Inn.

Ballard's, painted mural, late 1940s.
Late 1940s depiction of Ballard's by Holden Durfee Wetherbee. (May 23, 2016).

The dance hall was swept into the harbor again by Hurricane Carol in 1954, but was towed in, and hoisted back into place. Patrons old enough to remember this time period have good memories, too—of the "bluefish special," of Dick Ballard counting the glasses, and of Ma Ballard at the register. Although they rebounded once again from the devastation of the hurricane, the Ballards were evidently worn out by the experience. They sold the business to Paul C. Filippi in 1957.

Things were fairly quiet for the Filippi family, disaster-wise, for almost three decades. But then on June 19, 1986, Ballard's Inn burned to the ground. The Filippis rebuilt almost immediately, although on a slightly smaller scale, and the Inn was able to re-open the following July.

Ruins of Ballard's, aflame, 1986.
The rubble of Ballard's is still aflame in this 1986 snapshot. (Photo courtesy of Steve Filippi).

2012 brought extensive renovations and improvements to the property, which were almost immediately wiped out by Hurricane Sandy. Waves rolled through the building, ripped out kitchen fittings, and deposited heaps of sand in the dining room.

Ballard's today reveals not a hint of its turbulent past. From its beginnings as a humble shore dinner hall, Ballard's has grown into a formidible beach resort-style boutique hotel, restaurant, and bar. There's live music, VIP cabanas, Tiki bars, volleyball, private bonfires, and full dining service right on the beach. These days they sell more lobster rolls than clamcakes, but the biggest seller is their Mudslide.

Seleced seafood, 2016.
Chowder, stuffies, lobster, and a lobster roll. (May 23, 2016).

 Ballard's dining room, 2016.
Ballard's dining room features the skeleton of a baby blue whale suspended from the ceiling. (May 23, 2016).

Ballard's lacks only one of our minimum clam shack requirements: while the menu includes the trinity of clam cakes, stuffies, and chowder, there's no dedicated take-out window. But when you're enjoying your favorite seafoods under an umbrella on the beach, you won't care.

Ballard's is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Last Edited