2007-06-28 / News

The old Jamestown Bridge lives on in museum

By Michaela Kennedy

Readying for opening day Sue Maden, at left, and Rosemary Enright prepare the exhibit on the history of the old Jamestown Bridge, which opens this Saturday with an open house and reception. With them is a mannequin dressed in a uniform once worn by a toll collector. Photo by Jeff McDonough Readying for opening day Sue Maden, at left, and Rosemary Enright prepare the exhibit on the history of the old Jamestown Bridge, which opens this Saturday with an open house and reception. With them is a mannequin dressed in a uniform once worn by a toll collector. Photo by Jeff McDonough The Jamestown Historical Society Museum at 92 Narragansett Ave. re-opens for the summer on Saturday, June 30. This season is special, as the museum building boasts interior restorations that reflect its late 19th century origin and protect local antiquities in a climate-controlled atmosphere.

All are invited to an opening reception on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. Historical society members encourage guests to enjoy a new exhibit, "The Jamestown Bridge, 1940-2007: Concept to Demolition," and to celebrate the restored interior. Del's Lemonade will flow freely, along with other refreshments.

The air, at once cool and bright, envelops visitors with one step inside the museum. The structure, built in 1886, is no longer the stuffy old library of yesteryear. Whitewashed walls, restored windows and polished wood floor beams transport each guest into a bygone era.

Rosemary Enright, president of the historical society, points down at filled-in nail holes in the wooden beams. Desks and chairs were bolted to the floor in the original schoolhouse at the turn of the last century, according to Enright. The floor boards change directions towards the front of the room where separate boys and girls cloak rooms were located. "The floor on the side where the boys' cloak room was is in much worse shape," she laughs.

Above, delicate round lamps hang from the ceiling on rods. "The lights came from the old ferry building (on the east side) when it was torn down," Enright notes.

The exhibit in spotlight this year tells the story of the Jamestown Bridge through panels of pictures and artifacts saved from the legendary island connector. A uniformed mannequin stands ready, reminding locals of the many coins handed to the toll collector who smiled and tipped his hat to every driver. Chunks of steel grating seem to echo ghostly rumblings of car tires crossing the bridge. The rusty latticework evokes images of fascinated children peering out windows, and apprehensive adults repeating the prayer posted at the toll booth (see shaded box).

Phases of the bridge's demolition are shown with photographs and technical reports. Visitors relive the experience from the initial environmental planning through the final explosions that destroyed the underwater portions of the piers. "Almost everything was recycled," Enright says.

The showing is a joint project of the Jamestown Historical Society, and The Public Archeology Laboratory, Inc. (PAL) and is sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration.

The display premieres RIDOT and PAL's traveling exhibit that documents the demolition, and will go on the road at the end of the summer. Additional pictures and artifacts of the bridge's history, on show from the historical society's collection, will not be part of the exhibit when it travels to other locations across the state.

For more information, contact Rosemary Enright at renright@ jamestownri.com, or call 423- 2674.

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