2009-03-05 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

With the Jamestown Historical Society museum closed for the winter, the Collections Committee has concentrated on displaying artifacts from the JHS collection at other places in town.

The Jamestown-Newport ferry operated from East Ferry for almost 300 years, so the Recreation Center seemed an appropriate place to exhibit relics of the ferryboat era. The signboards from the ferryboats Conanicut (1886-1927) and Hammonton (1930-1958), as well as the ferry schedule from 1969, are now on permanent display there. The large wooden sign painted with the hours of operation during the last year of ferry operation—the Claiborne Pell Bridge opened in 1969—is in the Conanicus Avenue entryway. The large signboards from the ferryboats hang on the walls of the inner lobby.

This week an exhibit about the demolition of the old Jamestown Bridge was put up in the exhibit space near the library at the Lawn Avenue School. This is the first time the JHS has used this space, and we plan to change the exhibit periodically.

The Conanicut Island Land Agreement display in the Town Hall may be seen whenever the town offices are open. Later this month we will be turning the page to display the first page of signatures, including those of all the major signers of the document. People walking down the hall to the Finance Office or standing at the Town Clerk's counter or visiting the changing artwork on display under the auspice of the CIAA often stop and learn a little bit about the founding of the town.

Displays at the library

The display case in the lobby of the library is the society's primary location for rotating exhibits during the winter months. The new exhibit this month features the 1899 Movable Chapel—a building that was built with wheels so that it could travel to its congregation rather than have the congregation travel to it. Ten pairs of oxen were needed to move it, and it moved only three times.

Many other buildings on Jamestown have been moved. Until 50 years ago, church buildings seem never to have been torn down; instead, they were moved and converted to new uses. The original St. Mark Church was built on Clinton Avenue and moved to the site of the present church in 1909. It was torn down in 1960. The original Central Baptist Church was moved from the Four Corners to Cole Street for use as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and is now a private residence. The first St. Matthew's Church was built as an interdenominational chapel and stood on town property northeast of the Four Corners. When the congregation built a church on Narragansett Avenue, they moved the structure to the same property as the church and used it as a hall before converting it to a private residence.

Jamestowners are still moving buildings today. Last November, the house behind Environmental Packaging International on Narragansett Avenue was moved further down Clinton Avenue to make room for expansion of the commercial building.

Details about these moves and many others will be available as part of the exhibit at the library. Sue Maden is still collecting information about our very moveable community. Please call her at 423- 2167 or email her at sdmaden@ aol.com.

The lobby display case isn't the only historical society exhibit in the library. Two clipper ship half-models that decorated one of Jamestown's resort hotels in the early 20th century hang above the circulation desk, a windmill model stands near the local history collection, and a copy of the Land Agreement is on display in the Sydney L. Wright Museum.

Talk at the library

While this isn't a JHS event, it's one that should be of interest to anybody interested in Jamestown history. On Thursday, March 19, the touring exhibit Hidden from History: Slavery in Rhode Island From Its Inception to Its End opens at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. Rick Ring, special collections librarian at the Providence Public Library, will give a talk on slavery in our state to mark the exhibit opening. The talk starts at 7 p.m. in the library meeting room and will be followed by a reception.

Even if you can't get to the opening lecture, do try to see the exhibit, which will be at the library through March 22. Slavery and the slave trade played an important part in Rhode Island history. There were slaves—both African and Native American—in Jamestown, as witnessed by some of the JHS archives from the 18th and 19th centuries. The original documents on display in this exhibit will give a picture of how widespread slavery was here.

The exhibit is presented by Ocean State Learning and sponsored by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

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