All across the world, the dawn of a new year is celebrated with great anticipation and excitement. The excitement is amplified significantly when it comes to the start of a new century and even more so, a new millennium. While it is quite possible that there were festivities of some sort in Westerly at the beginning of 1700 and 1800, little is known of these events, and therefore, the focus of this article will be on how the town celebrated the arrival of the start of the 20th-century in 1900 and the new millennium in 2000.
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1900: The Dawn of the 20th-Century
Despite the excitement surrounding the coming of a new century, the evening of December 31, 1899, was a relatively quiet one in Westerly. The indifference of people throughout the town was noted in the Westerly Sun on New Year’s Day when they claimed: “The Holiday [was] Practically Ignored in Westerly.” The same newspaper also published a list of ‘Happenings of the Year’ which noted that “the past year has been an uneventful one in the history of Westerly.” Despite the perception of a mild response, events of note did take place throughout the evening.
In the beginning of 1900, several stores in downtown Westerly held special New Year’s sales, as most were attempting to relieve themselves of leftover Christmas stock.  Aside from the retail establishments of Westerly, perhaps the busiest venues in town were the churches.
In several religions, watch night services are held on New Year’s Eve and extend into early New Year’s Day. A watchnight service is a mass which begins late in the evening and allows Christians to review the year, make a confession, and prepare themselves for another year of faith.  Several local churches held services for this purpose. At the Church of Our Father, Westerly’s Unitarian church, several musical selections including violin and vocal solos were performed, and a sermon was delivered. 
At the Church of the Immaculate Conception, there was a solemn high mass sung “promptly at midnight.”  It was later said that the church was filled nearly beyond capacity for this service.  The Advent Church on Pleasant Street also held services which were well-attended.  Despite being advertised on New Year’s Eve, there were not any watchnight services held at Grace Church.  Lastly, there was a Watchnight service held at the People’s Mission, a local charitable society, which was met with “much enthusiasm.” 
Outside of the church services and retail sales, Westerly residents did not engage in any significant celebration for the coming of the 20th-century. In fact, much of Westerly carried on in much the same manner on New Year’s Day as they had on any other day. The only exceptions were the library, which was closed for the day, the Westerly Cash Market which was closed between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and the Rhode Island Granite Works, which suspended work for the day.  The latter was said to have been closed owing to the many Scottish employees who celebrated New Year’s Day as a “cherished holiday.” 
2000: Y2K and the New Millennium
While Westerly seems to have honored the approach of 1900 in a fairly reserved manner, the coming of the new millennium at the end of 1999 was an entirely different matter. At the (somewhat) young age of 28, there have not been many historical events in Westerly that I have chronicled which I can personally remember, however, the end of the first millennium AD is one of my more vivid memories as a child, and therefore, is a time I hold near and dear to my heart.
As many will recall, the biggest news story leading up to the end of 1999 was the concern regarding the Y2K problem. ‘Y2K,’ as it was known, was a computer bug which had the potential to cause major data loss and the shutdown of important technological networks worldwide. Many will also recall that, despite the panic, few, if any, serious problems materialized.
Leading up to New Year’s Eve 1999, Y2K concerns were addressed publicly in Westerly. On December 28th, Town Manager Pamela Nolan informed the Westerly Sun that she was confident that the town was prepared for any issues which could arise.  In the unlikely event of any immediate problems, police chief Bruno Giulini stated that the police and fire departments were staffed at the same level as a peak summer weekend. 
Establishments across Westerly embraced the coming of a new millennium by hosting events and offering specials. Restaurants such as Three Fish (now the site of Bridge Restaurant) and the Weekapaug Golf Club offered special deals, while venues including the Andrea Hotel (which held a ‘Millennium Party’) and the Watch Hill Inn (which promised dancing and live entertainment) also maintained the holiday spirit. 
Although these events in particular were intended for adults, there were also many activities provided specifically for younger crowds. Beginning at 4 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, children were treated to face painting, magic shows, and a kids’ carnival. There was also a special fireworks show at 6 p.m. “for those who have trouble keeping their eyes open until midnight.”
The countdown to the new millennium in Westerly officially began at 3 p.m. on December 31 with a ceremony held on the steps of the Town Hall. The event opened with a “Prayer for the Universe” read by Councilor Anne Schwer which was then followed by the Town of Westerly Mission Statement read by the Town Council.  This was followed by the raising of several flags including the Town of Westerly Millennium flag and the presentation of awards to the oldest (Finita Abbruzzese, born August 7,1896) and youngest (born by midnight on December 31st) citizens.  The ceremonies concluded with attendees signing the ‘Millennium Book.’ 
As the day progressed, various events were held throughout downtown Westerly. The train station was transformed into a 1920’s speakeasy and was the setting for an interactive murder mystery.  In the Library Gallery, visitors were invited to “meet” Roger Williams and at 9 p.m., a ‘Count Down to Midnight Dance Party’ was hosted by the YMCA.  The night turned out to be a cold, but clear one, with the temperature hovering in the mid-20’s all evening and no sign of snow.  As 1999 turned to 2000, all reverted to normal for the start of the new year. The Westerly Sun reported: “Despite some extraordinary predictions, Saturday, January 1, 2000, found local citizens doing ordinary things.” 
Although they were celebrated in two very different ways, the events accompanying the arrival of each new century were very much the product of their times. The year 1900 was welcomed in a very subdued and reserved manner, with Westerly residents embracing a Victorian approach to quiet celebration. The year 2000, on the other hand, was anticipated with open arms in a more excited way. In the end, the events were similar in that they served as a time for all to reflect on the past year and to bring families and friends together. Happy New Year to you and yours from all of us at WesterlyLife!