90 Years of the Block Island Ferry, Part 3
In our last blog, we saw how the post war years affected tourism to Block Island and how the growth of the island’s businesses as well as the Block Island Ferry’s fleet helped rejuvenate travel to the island in the 70s. In part 3 or this series, we’ll investigate how the coming of the 21st century brought major changes to the Block Island Ferry.
We would like to extend a very special thanks to Greg Abbott for his extensive knowledge of Interstate Navigation’s history. Without his assistance this blog series could not have been possible.
Passing of the Guard
Interstate Navigation’s 50th Anniversary in the early 80s brought major changes to the Block Island Ferry Fleet. Many of the older vessels could no longer keep up with the demand that the company required. This included the QUONSET and YANKEE, which were retired in 1983. That’s not to say all of these ships would disappear quietly, though.
On the July 4th weekend in 1986, the original MV BLOCK ISLAND would join the parade of hundreds of ships in New York Harbor to celebrate the centennial of the Statute of Liberty. In fact, the ship was be known as the “MTV Liberty or Death Party Barge” for the weekend and host a concert from the band ZZ Top. Later that year, however, the BLOCK ISLAND would be retired.
At this time, many of the older ships were replaced with a few boats that may sound familiar to those traveling to the island today. The NELSECO was introduced in 1982. A new large car capacity ship named the MV CAROL JEAN joined in 1984, as well as the MV ANNA C in 1986.
The vessels weren’t the only thing changing, though. In 1984, Block Island Ferry’s New London run moved its island landing point from New Harbor to Old Harbor. It would be from this point going forward that all of Interstate Navigation’s ships would consider Old Harbor their new home.
Sail Away on the Block Island Ferry
Sometime between 1989 and 1991, Interstate Navigation wanted to create a song that they could use to brand the Block Island experience. The Block Island Ferry team had an idea of what they were looking for: something that could capture the feeling of an island getaway, with the spirit of a trip to the Caribbean.
That search brought them to a popular New England band called RazMaTaz. The band had a local following and played many shows in the area. Band member, Rob Kelly, also happened to create and sell original jingles. He and his wife Cindy, also a member of RazMaTaz, got right to work. They both worked on the vocals and played all the instruments. Everyone at Block Island Ferry loved it immediately and knew that they had found their iconic jingle!
Approach of the New Millennia
In 1997, John Wronowski, Interstate Navigation’s president since 1961, passed away. His daughter Susan Linda became the president of the company and her son, Josh, became the General Manager, overseeing the daily operations.
This major event as well as the approach of the new millennia introduced new changes to Block Island and the ferry. In the past, most visitors to the island were only spending the day. However, with the introduction of new hotels, shopping and restaurants, people ended up staying much longer. These extended stays introduced the need to bring more cars over to the island as well as more extensive ferry service and runs to the island. This included the introduction of a new MV BLOCK ISLAND for year-round service.
Things were changing on the mainland as well. Since its incorporation in 1933, Interstate Navigation had offered year-round service from Providence to the island. In fact, a new port had even been established in the late 90s. However, due to a steady decline in passengers from the capitol city, it was decided that the Block Island Ferry would cease operations in Providence in 1999.
However, in 2001, a new Newport-specific route was added serviced by the MV MANISEE. Over the years, the route would be taken over by the NELSECO and finally the ISLANDER, which currently accommodates travelers with hi-speed service to Block Island.
The 80s and 90s saw many aspects of the “traditional” Block Island getaway being retired to usher in new and exciting changes to the Ferry and New Shoreham. In our final part of this series, we’ll explore Interstate Navigation in the 2000s leading up to the present.