It seemed appropriate this year to feature a theme that kept me close to home, so I give you my A to Z within the small acreage that is Rhode Island. I tried to be creative (you’ll see!) but I hope you learn something about Little Rhody, too. Whether you’ve lived here all your life, grew up within the boundaries, or have never set foot on one of our many beaches, come along for a virtual tour.
The village of Usquepaug (“OOS-kwah-pawg”), sometimes written as Usquepaugh, translates as ‘the end of the pond.’ But when you read on, you’ll see another possibility for this unique name. Usquepaug is in the town of Richmond, along the Usquepaug River.
In the little Usquepaug Road Historic District (blink and you’ll miss it) is the Kenyon Corn Meal Company, a grist mill that dates back to the late 1600s.
Are you familiar with a grist mill? In New England, they’re pretty well known, but maybe in other parts of the country (or outside the US), they’re a curiosity. A grist mill grinds grain (wheat, corn, rye, etc.) into flour. The ‘grist’ is the grain after it’s been separated from its chaff (the indigestible outside protective layer). At Kenyon’s, the grinding stones come from granite that was quarried in nearby Westerly.
The building pictured above was constructed in 1886, and the white corn meal produced by Kenyon’s is traditionally used in johnnycakes, a flatbread or thin pancake made from cornmeal. Each year (prior to COVID), the Johnny Cake Festival is held at the Usquepaug Historic District – hopefully it will return.
Out-of-towners might be rightfully confused if they stumble into Usquepaug. Usquepaug? Ask an old local and they might tell you that Escoheag is this way, and Quonochontaug is that way.
So, at the beginning of this article, I mentioned the word Usquepaug translated to ‘end of the river.’ That would seem to make sense. But there’s a local tale, unverified, that years ago, a local told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times that Usquepaug is a Native American word borrowed from the Scottish-Gaelic word for whiskey. What?
If you can find an old bottle of Tullamore Dew, the older green-and-white crock, you’ll find the words ‘Uisge Baugh’ on it. Uisge Baugh supposedly means ‘water of life,’ or whiskey. I went looking for one of those old bottles, but came up empty. The newer bottles don’t have those words on the label.