The Watch Hill Improvement Society was founded in March 1889 by eight men. By late summer 1901, the women of Watch Hill felt the time had come for a truly concentrated effort to better the general condition and appearance of the village. On learning this, the gentlemen quickly turned over their charter, by laws and assets totaling $388.75 to the women, and then resigned.
At a special organizational meeting attended by seventy five members, special committees were named; specifically, Street Cleaning, Roads and Walks, Police Protection and Special Insurance. “Only a few reforms were attempted this first summer of the ladies’ reign – cleaning of the streets, the placing of rubbish barrels at convenient locations to encourage the cooperation of residents and guests in keeping the village tidy, and the Society procured the services of two patrolmen, principally to maintain good order on the East Beach”. From the beginning, the Society has pursued many beautification projects such as clearing trash from East Beach and Bay Street. The Society often bought and decorated trash cans for these purposes, prizes have been offered to the shopkeepers who kept the cleanest and most attractive stores, and several gardens have been planted and maintained in the parks and in the village.
A continuous fight against encroaching poison ivy on the sidewalks and, for as long as the state allowed it, pursuit of the rock marsh mosquito through sprayings and oiling of ditches, have been special Improvement Society projects. Then, as now, headquarters for the Society is Memorial House at 2 Everett Avenue.
In early years, theatrical extravaganzas were popular and the ladies of the Society presented such affairs as Fete Champetre and the Water Carnival. The Water Carnival in the mid 1930’s was a smash hit and baby parades, fashion shows, pet shows and bicycle parades have helped a variety of the Society’s causes. During World Wars I and II, the Society maintained a servicemen’s lounge in one of the Bay Street stores where servicemen on R&R could ask advice, sip coffee and talk with a receptive volunteer.
1989, our Centennial Year, was celebrated with a series of events including a huge family clambake with fireworks in July, the issuing of a new cookbook, a photography show and the raffle of a painting by Maxwell May depicting the village 100 years ago.
Today the WHMLIS continues its mission with events for children: the annual 4th of July Parade, arts and crafts classes and story time. The society has sponsored programs for adults as well as alternating Art and Photo Exhibits to showcase the talents of residents. The small landscaped islands around the village are maintained by volunteers and a park restoration project is underway. Phase 1, the Chief Ninigret statue (pictured), was restored in 2016 and Phase II will see continued work at the south end of the park around The Dreamer statue. The organization also holds fundraisers and supports the Merry-Go-Round and the Watch Hill Lighthouse.
In 1996, we officially became the Watch Hill Memorial Library and Improvement Society. This small but vital annex of the Westerly Library is housed in Memorial House and is open from early July through the Friday before Labor Day. In addition to our own collection of books and best sellers, books can be requested from the Westerly Library and picked up and returned at our Watch Hill location. We also have newspapers and a comfortable reading and working area.
The history of the Watch Hill Memorial Library & Improvement Society is taken from the organization's official book of History and By-Laws last published in 2004.