2010-07-01 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright
Jamestown, a History of Narragansett Bay’s Island Town” is (almost) here. July 19 is the History Press’ official date of publication, but we hope to have some copies in hand by July 15.

This 192-page paperback by Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden, with the Jamestown Historical Society, contains more than 80 photographs and paintings, most of them from the JHS collection, and is the first new complete history of Jamestown since Walter L. Watson’s “History of Jamestown on Conanicut Island in the State of Rhode Island” in 1949.

A great deal has happened in the last 60 years, and about a quarter of the book is devoted to that period. With the discovery of the copy of the Conanicut Island land agreement that the JHS purchased in 2005, more information has also been uncovered about the purchase of the island – and so, the section on colonial Jamestown updates Watson’s story. In addition, of course, attitudes have changed, leading to new interpretations of known material.

Sue and I, with the help of many other members of the JHS, uncovered too much information to include in one book. We needed guidelines to control our choices of what to use. Whenever we were in a quandary, we asked ourselves three questions: Are we adding something new to the story of Jamestown (even if the facts are already fairly well known)? Will the facts help demonstrate the influences that changed the town, making it what it is today? Does this information help us see the island’s history through the eyes of people for whom the island was (and is) home?

If the answer to all three questions was “yes,” we tried to weave the information into the book.

As soon as we receive copies from the publisher, the book will be on sale at the Jamestown Museum and at stores in the village and around the area. The cover price on the book is $21.99. If you’re a Jamestown Historical Society member and buy your copy through the JHS, you’ll pay only $20 (plus $3 shipping and handling if you want us to mail a copy to you.)

Windmill Day

Windmill Day is Saturday, Aug. 7. The mill will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dick Donnelly – South County’s Mr. Jonnycake – will be there with his portable grill, preparing Rhode Island jonnycakes for everybody who visits. Other refreshments will also be available.

If the wind is favorable, the cloth sails will be raised on the newly refurbished vanes and the bonnet will be turned so that the sails catch the breeze. We have knowledgeable guides to show you through all three levels of the windmill and explain how the inside mechanism works and what the miller had to do to grind white flint corn into cornmeal.

The Conanicut Grange, which contributed to this year’s JHS museum exhibit, “Farm Life on Jamestown,” is also helping to make this Windmill Day extra special. Several of the farms will be open during the afternoon of Aug. 7 for anyone who wishes to visit them.

Visitors will be able to walk around some of the farms, and agricultural products will be sold. A flyer at the windmill will include a map showing how to reach the farms and describing activities at each.

This is our first Windmill Day in several years – since 2004, in fact. We’ve already begun planning for our next Windmill Day in 2012. Then, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the historical society, which incorporated as a formal organization in 1912, primarily to save the derelict mill that had ceased operation in 1896.


“Farm Life in Jamestown: A Look at Our Farms, Past and Present” opened on June 20. The 19th century barn loom from the old Carr-Hazard farmhouse that was destroyed by fire in 2007 is up and working. We are hoping to arrange some weaving demonstrations on the loom during July and August. If you’re a weaver and would like to participate, call Rosemary Enright at 423-2674.

More than half the students at the Lawn Avenue and Melrose Avenue schools had a sneak preview of the exhibit the week before it opened. They enjoyed themselves tremendously, asking lots of questions about the many artifacts on display.

One of the students noted that the alphabet in the sampler on display did not have a “J” and wondered if the nine-year-old who had sewn it had meant to leave it out. The long flax ready to be woven into thread reminded many of fake hair, and even some of the adults who accompanied the children admitted that they hadn’t known that flax was used to make linen.

The museum will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 1 to 4 p.m., until Labor Day weekend and then for the same hours on weekends until mid- October. A booklet explaining the exhibit is available to anyone making a donation to the JHS.

Annual meeting

The Jamestown Historical Society’s annual meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 12 at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. Following a short business meeting and election of officers for the upcoming year, Don Minto from Watson Farm will talk about “Conanicut Island’s Agrarian Heritage.”

In keeping with our farm life theme for this year, he plans to discuss the history of land use on the island.

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