Public Health & Recreation

Camp Cronin: My Jetty Walk Toward My Rhode Island Roots

ecoRI News reporter discovers summer camp named after relative


The jetty at Camp Cronin in Narragansett, R.I. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)
Special Places Camp Cronin

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — I made the mistake of leaving my shoes on as I hopped from rock to rock on Camp Cronin’s gigantic jetty.

I wanted to look professional when I tried to approach the people also climbing over the boulders — instead, my uneasy grip on the rocks made me drop my pen into the water, my phone into a crevice, and my dignity into the abyss.

On a warm May afternoon, a few beachgoers walked the jetty off Ocean Road, and I wanted to ask them what, if anything, the camp meant to them, while I also tried to figure out what it meant to me.


Camp Cronin is named after my great-grandfather’s brother. I didn’t know this, even though I have lived in Rhode Island on and off for the past seven years, until last month.

I’d heard about the fishing area and camp but sort of figured it was probably just a common Irish surname and coincidence, but I decided to look into and write about the area for ecoRI’s Special Places series.

A few quick Google searches lead me to Providence Journal articles about the camp and Jack Cronin, a legendary La Salle High School Hall of Fame football, baseball, and hockey coach, longtime Providence Recreation Department director, and my relative.

I called up my grandfather, Jack’s nephew, immediately, “Papa, did you know we have a camp named after us in Rhode Island?” I thought I had big news.

“Of course,” he said, “I used to go there when I was a little kid.”

I was astounded and a little upset no one had told me. As anyone who has lived in Rhode Island but isn’t quite from here knows, it’s not always easy to be an outsider, and playing up your Ocean State connections can help soften even the hardest quahogs.

With this news in hand, I started digging.

view of Point Judith lighthouse
The Point Judith lighthouse as seen from the jetty. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

The city of Providence initially bought the property, west of the Point Judith lighthouse, from the federal government in 1957. Back then it was called “Fort Nathaniel Greene.” The city renamed the property after my great-great-uncle John “Jack” Patrick Cronin, Providence’s first recreation director.

Providence used the space as a summer camp for city kids, which Jack Cronin ran with his wife every summer.

I had known about Jack because he won a world championship playing for the NFL team the Providence Steam Rollers with his brother Bill, my great-grandfather, something I found out when I was a student reporter at my college paper. But I didn’t know much more about my great-great-uncle or the rest of his life in Rhode Island.


Starting at the age of 9, Frank Santos Jr. spent summers at Camp Cronin, where kids got three meals a day, time in the ocean, and exposure to other children from all walks of life.

“They’d enjoy dinner and the South County experience,” Santos said.

In the evenings, they sat by campfires on the beach, where they could make out Block Island, and in the morning, the outgoing ferry woke them up.

Through his summers at Camp Cronin, Santos worked his way up from camper to “kitchen patrol” to full-fledged counselor, getting to know Jack along the way.

“Jack was there every single day,” Santos recalled. Jack attended cabin inspection and took the kids on field trips to the University of Rhode Island’s campus, where, oddly enough, the Pittsburgh Steelers used to practice in the summer.

Santos would attend Mount Pleasant High School, a rival to Jack’s La Salle Academy, but despite playing against him, still respected the coach, who he said had an amazing eye for football.

“We all looked up to him and admired him,” said Santos, 73. He called Jack, who passed away in 1993, long before I was born, “a wonderful person.”

Years after Jack died, Santos left a job at URI to lead the Providence Recreation Department, under Mayor David Cicilline ’s administration. Decades since attending Camp Cronin, Santos found himself running it.

“I wanted to continue Jack’s legacy,” he said, describing the busloads of kids he would send to the camp for chowder meals and days spent playing in the sand.


After some failed interview attempts on the jetty (everyone I talked to was “just visiting”), I decided to ditch my shoes and my reporter’s hat for a moment to enjoy what I was realizing was something magnificent in front of me.

waves crash on rocks
Waves strike the Camp Cronin jetty. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Skipping from rock to rock, choosing the path of least resistance, I made it farther and farther out into the water.

On one side of the jetty, the waves crashed and sprayed, and on the other, they lapped gently.

Possibly over time or by design, a lower wall of rocks diverges from the main jetty, on its calm, land-facing side, so I decided to sit on a sun-baked piece of granite, where I could dangle my feet in the lagoons formed between the large jetty and its smaller companion.

I sat for so long, letting the heat of the day and cold water on my toes complement each other, and so still, tiny sea creatures swam up to my feet and a blackbird perched on the rock next to me.

“Yo, I want to jump in,” said a teenage girl who had come up to my spot, unnoticed, while I was lost in the waves.

Notebook still in hand, jotting down my thoughts, I started writing down hers, too.

“Me, too. I wish I brought a bathing suit,” one of her friends replied.

“Wow, so blue.”

“It doesn’t even look real.”

They took the words right out of my notebook.


Although the fishing area, overseen by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management since 1985, is open, for the past few years the camp part of Camp Cronin has been quiet.

In need of repairs, the camp was almost sold a few administrations ago. But since the pandemic, the city was able to get funding to fix up the old camp. Camp Cronin is in the design and permitting process of revitalization, according to Josh Estrella, Providence’s press secretary, “with the goal of opening in the summer of 2025.”

“I hope they continue,” Santos said about the camp. “I have great memories of Jack Cronin. I’ll never forget him.”

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  1. Love your storytelling. I have so many fond memories of surfing and spear fishing in the waters around that jetty as a kid and when I went to URI. I’m nearly 72 now and live in West Hartford. I just visited the fishing area with my sister today (May 28). Gorgeous view. I Googled Camp Cronin when I got home and found your article. You made my day. I could spend eternity in those waters.

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