Old school nods
One morning after parking his car at the ferry landing, Chris Walken stopped over at the shack to talk with Capt. Matty Rooney and me. After some standard greetings and salutations, Matty suggested we get a picture of us with Chris. Note well in the background of the shot there is something that Matty and I have some long-ago old-school history from back in our younger and wilder days. After we took the snaps Chris asked, “What’s that?” while nodding toward the M/V Manitou. Walken is not the only person to ask this question — I get it all of the time from folks with no memories — of this rather interesting boat. Matty explained that it is now primarily a freight boat.
“No cars?” asked Chris.
“A few in the summertime,” said Matty.
Then I gave Chris a snootful about how Matty hired me in ‘74 as a deckhand after I got out of college. “You should take Chris for a ride on her someday so he can see how she rolls,” I said.
“No, he doesn’t want to ride on that boat,” said Matty. Walken’s a curious guy; maybe he would. Just sayin’.
Here is more local old-school maritime knowledge for other curious minds. In the early 1900s things were happening around Point Judith that would eventually help create the port called Galilee. For example, several hundred yards west of the Point Judith Lighthouse, the Army Corps of Engineers began working on a breakwater that would become known as the East Wall. It was completed August 31, 1906. And, to the southwest of the breakwater three more miles of rock — 1.9 million tons — was placed creating a major portion of the Harbor of Refuge called the Apex, or center wall. Subsequently, another breakwater was built extending out from Jerusalem — the West Wall. The total job was finished in 1950. Prior to this, jetties were built by the inlet of the barrier beach. This created a fishing port, and later a major embarkation point for the Block Island Ferry.
Co-existing with this coastal development in Point Judith, there was growth happening on Block Island. In the 1870s, there was a burgeoning summer population on the island involving hotels, tourists, and summer workers. Additionally, there was a growing Catholic presence with this growth of tourism — a place of worship was in order. In 1900 a man named Michael J. Houlihan — a possible relation of mine — was tasked with building a church by the Bishop. Houlihan built this in his back yard in Providence, and then shipped the lumber and other materials to the island, which would become St. Andrew Catholic Church, on Chapel Street. The components were designed, measured, cut, and hauled to the city’s docks. Then it was stacked and lashed down aboard a coastal schooner and sailed to Block Island to be off-loaded and assembled. (It was probably cheaper than shipping it on a steamer sailing from Providence.) Before St. Andrew was built, Mass was heard at a hall that once served as a roller skating rink. It’s interesting to note that there was a need for a church, and the mindset of the folks involved was a simple matter of making it happen. As Block Island’s Ed Northup apprised me of this interesting period of Saint Andrew’s history, we both marveled at the forthrightness of people involved with this endeavor.
Over the past five decades, Capt. Rooney and I both have witnessed a transformative time at the Block Island ferry company. For some perspective, prior to the design and build of the M/V Manitou, a vessel called the Sprigg Carroll carried three automobiles; owner John Wrownoski had refurbished her to carry the vehicles. Then, the M/V Quonset was added to the fleet out of Point Judith. It’s clear that John had some vision of what would happen on Block Island in the coming years, and that was how the Manitou came to be. Most importantly, this clever design allowed her to carry trucks, cars, people and mixed cargo.
Needless to say, these days it’s a whole new ballgame but some of us old school guys are still observing and nodding to what is happening in the Port Of Galilee.