From what we know about pre-history, this island has been inhabited for some 3,000 years – perhaps much longer.
We know that in the centuries before European contact, the Native Americans cleared much undergrowth using fire, to achieve an environment of high forest where they could move and hunt easily.
In the Colonial period, Conanicut’s trees were all harvested, perhaps for burning as a beacon at Beavertail, and the island was cleared and used for sheep farming. This was a major change – and probably detrimental, since much topsoil was no doubt lost to erosion. The 50-foot tall gristmill was built in 1787, probably the island’s most visible structure at that time.
During the early 20th century, fortifications were built at Ft. Getty, Beavertail, Dutch Island and Ft. Wetherill. These were major re-alignments of the soil and topography at those locations.
Then, in the 1940s, the first Jamestown Bridge was built – a large structure that dominated views of the West passage, but also contributed in an important way to the mobility and access of island residents to the mainland.
Now, we have two huge bridges that tower over our island, and are visible from nearly all points. The bridges are lighted, which makes them hard to miss during day or night.
Are the bridges beautiful?
Some people may think so, and some may disagree. Just look at the back page of the Jamestown Press – advertisements abound, such as “estate on East Shore Road – beautiful view of Newport Bridge – buy this property for $2 million.”
We also have two large water towers that are visible from anywhere downtown. We also have – and the view is so common that we accept it as natural – thousands of utility poles with wires strung along the roads in nearly every neighborhood.
Are these poles and wires beautiful?
Hardly beautiful, but we accept them because electricity, phone and cable are all an important part of the infrastructure by which we live in today’s culture. We accept the bridges because they give us easy access via our automobiles to off-island locations.
The water towers are an important utility to everyone who receives town water, so their presence is tolerated.
In the same way that we accept all of these structures – sometimes quite visible and always intruding on the “natural” Jamestown landscape – I believe that we could accept two tall wind turbines, one at Ft. Getty and one at Taylor point. These turbines are large machines, although not as massive as the two bridges. They will contribute to our modern style of living by generating electricity, which we use daily, in just the same way that the opened forests or the sheep pastures contributed to the way of life of people who used this island before us.
The two turbines will have a limited lifetime – perhaps 25 to 30 years, or a little more. During that time, and until our culture evolves other modes of infrastructure, they will be visible and will contribute to our quality of life.
After their useful lifetime, they will be removed, the steel recycled and the foundations returned to below grade level, to join the other alterations which humans have made to this small piece of land.