2010-03-25 / Letters to the Editor

Do something with Dutch Island – or let history rot

Your recent editorial suggesting a swap of townowned land at Ft. Wetherill, including the old highway garage, for state-owned Dutch Island, strikes a chord that is still ringing in my ears from the time the URI Coastal Resources Center published a study over 30 years ago, advocating the creation of a Bay Islands Park embracing and opening up a number of Narragansett Bay islands for public recreational use.

Oh, what a great idea! Ferries running about the bay, taking people from one place to another for a few hours of well-deserved relaxation, or even for an overnight camp-out.

Whatever happened over the years? I understand the idea had been well received among various circles of supporters and advocates, but apparently, no one ever ‘took the bull by the horn’ to get it done.

What a pity.

Take Dutch Island as an example. You have a treasure at your doorsteps. Regrettably, the place has been off limits ever since an old cistern built in the 1800s caved in a few years ago. Few of our land-bound citizens have ever seen what’s over there, and it’s all just a hop, skip and a jump from Jamestown.

Speaking of museum treasures, Dutch Island is a one-of-a-kind outdoor museum featuring remains of old military construction as far back as the Civil War with earthworks clearly distinguishable and granite gun emplacements built in the 1880s, right there before your eyes. And, in the underbrush, there are additional historical remains to be explored.

Then there are the concrete military coastal defense fortifications that were constructed during the early 1900s to explore. Several other unique monolithic structures, including the observation towers and an old searchlight structure, are among the many interesting features waiting to be ap preciated by those wishing to learn about some of the lesser-known historical sites of Rhode Island. Not to forget: The two underground cisterns that held over one million gallons of water each during the years just before World War II.

Well, there you are. It’s still all there. Do something with it – or let history rot!

The idea of a swap, as suggested earlier, could open up many opportunities and challenges for Jamestown, along with the assumption of a whole set of new responsibilities.

Affordability? There are always grants to be sought.

Public safety? Should be of primary concern.

Oversight? What would it take to prevent vandalism?

Public health? How to handle trash removal?

As a member of the Coast Defense Study Group and the Council on America’s Military Past, I am an advocate of preserving Rhode Island’s military history and would like to see something done with Dutch Island for the benefit of the people of Rhode Island, be it via the suggested swap with its related burdens and possibilities toward a local park, or by a group of active advocates with the needed energy to get the ball rolling – once more.
Walter K. Schroder
North Kingstown

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