2010-11-04 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright
Did you grow up in Jamestown? Were you born before 1945? If the answers are “yes,” the Jamestown Historical Society wants to hear your story. Volunteers, under the leadership of Sue Maden, the JHS Collections Committee chair, are interviewing members of the pre- Baby Boomer generation to record Jamestown’s history as seen through the eyes and personal experiences of Jamestowners who saw it happen.

We hope to expand the interview program to include Baby Boomers soon.

This is not the first oral history project conducted by the society. In the late 1980s, three projects recorded memories of specific aspects of our recent past: the ferries, island life (part of a statewide oral history of several islands in the state), and the old Jamestown Bridge. We listened to some of these interviews as we worked on the recently published “Jamestown: A History of Narragansett Bay’s Island Town,” gaining valuable insight into events of the 1930s and 1940s.

Newspapers – especially the off-island papers that covered Jamestown during most of the 20th century – usually don’t report the background or personal relationships that are important to understanding how events develop. Public documents present only the facts and sometimes only the politically acceptable ones. Memories and reminiscences – while colored by the emotions and viewpoint of the speaker – provide a perspective that can be achieved no other way.

Please call Sue Maden at 423- 2167 or e-mail her at sdmaden@aol. com if you would like to volunteer to be interviewed as part of the JHS effort to chronicle the story of Jamestown.

Plans for 2011

With a collective sigh of contentment for a job well done, the society closed both the windmill and the museum on October 11 after an exceptionally successful season. On the three-day Columbus holiday weekend, over 80 people visited the windmill and 24 came to the museum as well. This is only the second year that we have kept our sites open after Labor Day, and we were very pleased with the attendance.

As we dismantle the museum exhibit on the history of farming in Jamestown, we are beginning to plan for next year’s exhibit and some activities that revolve around it. The exhibit will present the history of film and stage activities on Jamestown over the years. We don’t have an official name yet – perhaps “Jamestown on Screen and Stage” or “Filming Jamestown.”

At least four motion pictures have major scenes filmed on Jamestown. Others, including “Lolita,” have scenes on the Jamestown ferry.

Several producers, directors and other backstage workers live on the island.

Amateur videos about Jamestown are abound; YouTube has at least 20 videos of the demolition of the old Jamestown Bridge, as well as some non-documentary shorts that demonstrate the creativity and imagination of (mostly young) Jamestowners.

The first movie theater in Jamestown, the Palace Theater, which was later named the Bomes Theatre, opened in 1922. The Jamestown Players renovated the old theater and put on plays there in the late 1970s and early 1980s (the building is now the Bomes Theater Mall). The Jamestown Community Theatre is the most recent island group to bring live theater to the island. These activities will be celebrated in the exhibit, too.

The society has gotten in touch with several local organizations, including the Teen Center, the Jamestown Art Center, the Jamestown Philomenian Library, and the Jamestown schools, with the idea of developing a multi-month cross-organization set of programs. We want to show some of the movies, perhaps followed by discussions. Island residents with film backgrounds have been contacted about helping to bring speakers to the island. We’re still batting ideas around and welcome your input.

Battery Cleanup Last year, the Friends of the Conanicut Battery, under the JHS umbrella, instituted a new method for preserving the 1776 earthworks in the town’s Conanicut Battery Historic Park. With funding from a R.I. Senate grant, a local grass was planted on the earthworks and a plan was put in place to burn the grass down after two years. Burning was deemed better than cutting since it allows the grass to root more deeply and holds the soil in place better.

In the meantime, though, briars and poison ivy threatened to take over the trenches around the battlements. On Oct. 20, nine students from Providence College, under the direction of JHS board member Larry McDonald, hand cut the vegetation along the sloping sides of the embankments and piled the debris for removal by the town. It was hard work on a beautiful day. The society thanks the students and the Providence College organizers for once again revealing the shape of the earthworks.

Volunteers

The more-than 100 people who supported the society as volunteers this past year were celebrated last month after the end of another successful summer. With so many people helping us, the society needs a volunteer to coordinate the volunteers. The coordinator contacts past and potential volunteers to ask them if they want to help with jobs like sitting at the windmill or the museum, keep track of who is helping out when and where, and reminds the docents when their turn comes.

If you would be willing to be the coordinator, please call Linnea Petersen at 423-1820 or e-mail her at linneac@cox.net.

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