2007-07-19 / Front Page

Island history fare for trolley tours

By Dotti Farrington

You can now take a 90-minute ride through island history every Tuesday. The trolley cruises past the Beavertail Lighthouse. Photo by Jeff McDonough You can now take a 90-minute ride through island history every Tuesday. The trolley cruises past the Beavertail Lighthouse. Photo by Jeff McDonough Where on Conanicut Island did pirate Capt. Kidd stash his treasure?

Did Native Americans here really have the largest burial grounds in New England? Under what street were many Indian burial artifacts recently found? Where are the artifacts now?

Which hotel was shipped, fully built, to the island?

How did the island's staunchest patriot humiliate the British with his makeshift colonial cannon?

Where was Jamestown's first center of community life, complete with hotel, store and big social events?

What is the modern name for the original Ferry Street here?

If Jamestown's Gilded Era settlers were as rich as those who built mansions in Newport, why are the homes they built here so modest?

Did the owner of the town's long standing and popular North End Bargain Center, closed about a decade ago, really use the town dump to stock his shelves?

Are there still living residents who ferried to and from schools in their early years? And why did children say "it was uphill both ways" to go and come from school after the town built classrooms on the island?

Did they really try to put an oil refinery on the island?

Does that old windmill still work?

This is not a test or a game show preview. The questions were raised during the town's first sightseeing trolley tour.

Four local historians - two truly island born and two wash ashores - have signed on as volunteer tour guides for the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce's new "By Land & Sea," summer event every Tuesday at midday. The bearers of intriguing facts and fancies, with nary a fib, are Jane Bentley and Frances Lopes, the true natives; and Ginny Saunders and Vern Stromberg, who had some meanderings before settling here.

All four have extensive records of community involvement and volunteering here and elsewhere after long careers in such fields as teaching for Jane, nursing for Fran and Ginny, and the media for Vern. Each read in the Jamestown Press about the openings to be tour guides and instantly and independently knew the activity was for them.

At first, there was concern that they would not have enough to say on the nine, 90-minute trips planned this summer. One test run, and two tours later, it is clear that they have a treasure trove of true timbers, tied with a tiny tempering of teasing, to entertain both uninitiated visitors and some citizens well steeped in local lore.

Enough to tell?

"What we say is different each trip, depending on the guide, the questions from riders and the information itself," Jane commented. She seems to have the most experience, having often taken her local students for field trips about town.

She believes that the more anyone knows about their homeland, the more committed they are to its well-being. "I wanted my students to get a love like I have for my town and a healthy perspective that would help them," she remarked. She concedes that the youngsters' favorite chapter was about pirate treasure. She often heard about unsuccessful forays they made and holes they dug looking for buried stashes.

One rider, a native no less, commented that she did not know how much she did not know until she took the trolley.

Jane said she talks about "whatever the spirit moves. There is too much to tell on any single trip. It would be boring for me to say the same thing over and over and over." Jane is next due to give a town trolley tour Aug. 21.

Fran and Ginny seem to be operating on the same theory. They are doing the trolley ride as a tag team project. They are friends, and share common interests and other volunteer work. They finish each other's sentences sometimes, and occasionally supplement what one has said.

Vern, who produces a Providence based television show and who is event coordinator for an organization of a thousand members, had yet to conduct a tour as of this week.

For town's birthday

During the town's 350th anniversary festivities the week of Aug. 12, Jane will lead a walking tour of the village, detailing every house and shop history, along Narragansett Avenue between East Ferry and Four Corners. A special feature that week is also expected to be a trolley tour of the town's farms, being arranged by the anniversary committee.

The schedule

The trolley, one of the comfortable, air conditioned 30-passenger vehicles provided by Viking Tours of Newport, travels the approximately 18 mile, figure eight loop around Jamestown, starting Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the bus stop at East Ferry, heading north for the East Shore Road section the guides are calling "Jamestown's Ocean Drive," featuring the island's oldest house and many of its newest multi-million dollar homes. Tourists coming from Newport board at 10:30 a.m. at the Newport Visitors Center.

The trolley route travels through the North End's gingerbread village area and circles onto North Main Road for the section to Four Corners, along which the guides have no shortage of facts about features along the way (that some might have thought was simply a forested road).

The tour visits the village, and heads toward Fort Wetherill with a dose of military and marine tidbits before traveling around Highland Drive, through Mackerel Cove, past Fort Getty ("we've had some disappointments that the fort itself no longer exists," one guide commented) and then to Beavertail State Park for the only trolley stop at the Beavertail Lighthouse and Museum.

While winding its way back to East Ferry, the guides continue to spill over with dandy details of Jamestown joys then and now. They also remind riders that two local stops, historical and fire museums, are especially good options before resuming "By Land & Sea."

For locals and Jamestownbased tourists, the land-only phase of the adventure, for $15, may end at East Ferry. For an added $10, trolley riders who started in Newport get a ferry ride return to Newport; or Jamestowners may get a round-trip ferry ride.

The "By Land & Sea" attraction is being coordinated by Donna Olney Kohler, executive director of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce and operator with her husband, Greg, of the Victorian-style East Bay Bed and Breakfast on Union Street.

"If you think you know Jamestown, it's time for another look," Donna commented.

Jamestown is called the "Hidden Jewel of Narragansett Bay," she said and suggested that the trolley and ferry combination can be a fun way to appreciate why the island is seen as such a gem by its residents and visitors.

For more information on the trolley tours, she can be reached at 423-0330.

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