The Pawcatuck River flows on the western border of Westerly and was once renowned for its own species of Westerly salmon, three of which are on the town’s official seal. The river flows from 15 mi (24 km) inland, emptying into Little Narragansett Bay. It also serves as the boundary between Westerly and Pawcatuck, Connecticut. Three large salt ponds lie along the coast of Westerly which serve as shallow, reef-like pools whose outer walls form the long, white beaches for which the town is renowned. From west to east, these ponds are Maschaug Pond, Winnapaug Pond, and Quonochontaug Pond.
Westerly is a town on the southwestern shoreline of Washington County, Rhode Island, first settled by English colonists in 1661 and incorporated as a municipality in 1669. It is a beachfront community on the south shore of the state with a population of 23,359 as of the 2020 census.
Westerly’s primary industries today are textiles and tourism, but the town was historically famous for its granite, quarried in Bradford and Potter Hill.
Westerly was probably named for the settlement’s location respective to Rhode Island’s geography, being the westernmost town in the state. But there is also a possibility that the town got its name from the English village of Westerleigh, in the county of Gloucestershire. The English village was the home of one of Westerly’s founding fathers Elder John Crandall (c. 1612–1676). Crandall settled in Westerly in 1661, and the early history of Westerly contains many references to him and his sons.
The four trolley lines of the Groton and Stonington Street Railway, Norwich and Westerly Railway, Pawtucket Valley Street Railway, and the Ashaway and Westerly Railway converged in Westerly and shared track between the railroad station and Dixon House Square downtown. The lines were built in the 1890s and 1900s and ran until the 1920s.
Physician, American Revolution general, and Rhode Island Supreme Court justice Dr. Joshua Babcock was born in Westerly, as was Chief Justice and Governor of Rhode Island Samuel Ward.