2009-08-06 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright
The JHS annual meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. in the meeting hall at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. After a half-hour business meeting at which we’ll review the events of the past year and elect officers and board members for 2009-2010, we’ll hear a presentation by Dr. Kathy Abbass, director and founder of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), on Shipwrecks in Narragansett Bay. Everyone — members and nonmembers — is invited to hear her talk on this important subject.

Dr. Abbass founded RIMAP in 1991 with the specific mission of surveying shipwrecks in Rhode Island waters. She and the group of volunteers she directs have accomplished a lot over the last 18 years. Rhode Island has the largest number of documented Revolutionary War shipwrecks in the United States. Other sunken ships tell the story of Rhode Island’s commercial and slave-trading maritime interests and its naval history.

Dr. Abbass’ talk will focus particularly on discoveries made within the last 10 years and on the diffi culties of preserving these relics of Rhode Island’s past. The talk is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Save the dates

Mark your calendars for the Jamestown Historic House Tour on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The members-only house tour preview cocktail party is Friday, Sept. 18, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Steps in historic preservation

Last month, the Jamestown Town Council agreed to allow Town Planner Lisa Bryer to apply for a grant that would support the creation of the paperwork package necessary to propose that Shoreby Hill be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s important to understand the difference between being listed on the National Register and creating a local historic district — a step that is also under consideration.

Listing on the National Register, which is maintained by the National Park Service, is a confirmation that the district, site, building, structure or object is significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and/or culture. Sites listed on the National Register are not normally subject to any legal restrictions — property owners can do whatever they want with their property, although some actions, like demolition of a significant structure, might result in the site being removed from the list. The designation, moreover, gives property owners access to various grants and tax credits for historic preservation.

Currently, 14 sites in Jamestown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These range in age from an archeological site believed to have been active more than 4,000 years ago to the Conanicut Light at the North End, built in 1885. Generally, properties eligible for listing on the National Register must be at least 50 years old.

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) — the state agency responsible for approving nominations for the National Register — suggested Shoreby Hill, along with several other areas of Jamestown, as a candidate for listing on the National Register in 1995. Last year, RIHPHC voted preliminary approval for the nomination, based on the initial survey of the area’s houses and landscape by a group of Shoreby Hill residents.

Local historic districts are a different matter. A local historic district is a form of zoning. What does the town want considered when a structure or landscape is being built or changed? How is consideration of the criteria expressed and enforced? Neither the state nor the federal government has a direct say in the creation of such a district.

In the fall, the same group of Shoreby Hill residents asked the town to establish a local historic district ordinance. Last month, the Planning Commission recommended to the Town Council that the historic character of Shoreby Hill be protected. The commissioners did not define a method for protecting it.

Carr and Clarke

School Reunion

On Saturday, July 25, about 300 men and women who had been students at the Carr School and the Thomas H. Clarke School (THCS) gathered at the Fort Getty pavilion for a reunion. Four teachers also attended. From 1923 to 1955, the Carr School housed the kindergarten through fourth grade, while the upper grades went to THCS. Both schools closed in 1955 when the Lawn Avenue School opened.

The JHS was delighted to get an invitation. The event gave us the opportunity to capture a piece of history in the making, as well as learn more about education in Jamestown, the focus of our museum exhibits this year and last.

Vaughan Nelson-Lee videotaped the proceedings and our interviews with some of the attendees. We talked with Helen Peckham Anderson, a 1925 graduate of THCS and — at 98 — the oldest alumna present. Other alums, ranging from old-timers who had graduated in the 1930s to relative youngsters who were at the Carr School only for kindergarten, volunteered to tell their stories for the camera. While some of their stories were of deviltry and the punishment that followed, the feeling was unanimous — Jamestown was a great place to go to school.

Vaughan is putting together a video of the day that we hope we will be able to share with you soon.

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