Originally named Willettville after the region's first settler in 1680, Andrew Willett, the son of the first mayor of New York City, this area has a long history as a farming community, then later a fishing and shipbuilding center, and finally as a summer resort area. It received its present name in honor of the ship building family of John Aldrich Saunders, who settled there in 1856, at the invitation of the Carpenter family, the direct descendants of the original Willett settlers, and Lafayette businessman Robert Rodman, and constructed a marine railway and shipyard. The Saunders family constructed ships there as well as maintained a summer hotel and a ferry service to Jamestown, Newport, Wickford, and Providence. It was during this remarkable timeframe that Saunderstown became renowned as a literary summer community attracting the likes of the Whartons, LaFarges, Lockwoods, Wisters, and Roosevelts. Over the last 50 years or so, the areas homes have largely been slowly converted to year round residences.