Mary Newhouse founded Scenic Block Island in 1989. Mary’s daughter Andrea Newhouse Moynier shared some of her favorite memories from that time.
Scenic Block Island (SBI) grew from two other organizations, H.U.S.T.L.E (Help Us Save The Land and Environment) and SOS (Save our Sights). The year was 1989, and the catalyst was the Cutting Cottages project. I remember my mom and several others protesting (carrying signs) by the side of the road during the Cutting Cottages development. Raising public awareness, HUSTLE wanted to help influence the town’s zoning ordinances.
My mom was upset that the Cutting Cottages proposed development would be so big and that it would be so prominent, visually. She was against seeing a large housing development that stood out along the island’s coastline. She was also against the huge McMansions that were starting to be built in the early 90’s. Block Island is lucky to have what my mom would call “small-scale” cottages, and she appreciated the beautiful sense of scale on the island as an artist. She loved the small sized summer shacks, the low lying stone walls, rolling hills and vegetation, all the natural vistas that give the island its uniqueness and beauty. She worked hard to fight for this vision through Scenic Block Island. She wanted to keep the views from the roads as natural as possible, and thought new development should blend into the landscape, instead of overpowering it. She wanted to encourage new homeowners to think about this before they built their new homes. Much of Scenic Block Island’s work has been educational; inviting experts in various fields to give talks on how to maintain island’s special character of the island.
By 1993, HUSTLE and the newly formed group SOS had worked together with other Block Island organizations (Block Island Economic Development, Block Island Conservancy, Block Island Land Trust, Block Island Resident’s Association, and Block Island Historical Society) to consider alternatives to the purposed subdivision on the grounds of The Spring House. The result was a conservation and historic façade easement. That insured the preservation of the great east lawn and building.
She believed that the town should focus on and encourage high-density building development within the Old Harbor area; she wanted to keep historic buildings and preserve part of the water front land into parks (i.e. Water Street park that Esta and Jack Gray preserved known as Esta’s Park). She also fought to designate Block Island’s state-owned roads as scenic highways. Scenic Block Island became a voice in and of the community; a public and educational forum, interested in protecting Historic District guidelines and zoning ordinances. Scenic Block Island encouraged the town to sponsor an “Our Town Workshop”, which led to hiring the Town’s first Town Planner.
Scenic Block Island’s original mission was: to combat “irresponsible development” in the interest of the island’s rural and open spaces, its natural assets, and its community spirit. Polls showed that a heavy majority of island residents were concerned about preserving the character of the island, to protect for future generations.
Andrea Newhouse Moynier