2011-02-10 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

“Jamestown and the Silver Screen,” the year-long series of activities sponsored by non-profit organizations on the island and spearheaded by the Jamestown Historical Society, got off to a stellar start last Friday with the showing of two films produced by Jamestown filmmaker Elizabeth Delude- Dix. Both films focused on slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island.

About 75 people crowded into the meeting room at the library to hear Elizabeth talk about how she became interested in black slavery in Jamestown. She wrote, directored and produced the short film, “No Simple Truth: A Minister and his Slaves.” The film uses the words of Rev. James MacSparran, a minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in North Kingstown in the early 1700s, to bring to life the actions and attitudes of a slave holder in Rhode Island. Much of the film was shot on Watson Farm.

The feature film, “Traces of the Trade,” follows the descendants of the DeWolf family, one of America’s most notoroius 19th century slave-trading families, as they research and come to terms with their own history. Elizabeth, co-producer and executive producer of the film, led the audience in a discussion of the issues raised by the films.

The films, sponsored by the Friends of the Jamestown Library and the Jamestown Historical Society, were chosen as the first films of the year-long, multi-organization program, both because of their Jamestown connection and because of their relevance to Black History Month.

The next program in the series will be a talk on Thursday, March 31, by Steven Feinberg, the executive director of the Rhode Island Film and Television Office, about attracting producers and directors to make films and television programs in Rhode Island. All planned programs are listed on the JHS website: jamestownhistoricalsociety.org.

The Palace

“Jamestown and the Silver Screen” is interested in the viewing, as well as the making, of movies in Jamestown. For about 60 years in the mid-20th century, Jamestown had its own movie theater that hosted movies, plays, school graduations and public performances of all types.

The theater was built in 1921, the brainchild of Ferdinand Armbrust, who had learned to run a movie projector to entertain the troops stationed at Ft. Wetherill during World War I. He and his partners, LeRoy Merideth and Aaron Richardson, called their theater the Palace.

After World War II, Samuel Bomes bought the Palace and renamed it the Bomes Theatre.

By the 1970s, the building was in disrepair and summer moviegoers – movies were only shown in the summer – sometimes shared the building with skunks, raccoons and possums; or at least that’s what the odors seemed to say. A renovation in 1979 couldn’t save the theater, and in 1986 the remodeled building became the Bomes Theater Mall.

The current owners have recently restored a stepped-brick facade for the old theater, bringing back a look that was once common on Narragansett Avenue. At least six buildings once had similar false fronts. Only the former Jamestown Press office building at the corner of Coronado Street remains untouched.

The Historical Society is collecting memories of the theater. Did you usher or sell tickets there? Did you receive your grammar school diploma on that stage? Were you one of the brave few who tried to save the theater 30 years ago? We’d like to hear from you. Just call Sue Maden at 423-2167 or e-mail sdmaden@aol.com.

Accessibility at the Windmill

Last September, under a grant from the national Heritage Preservation, Martha Werenfels of Durkee, Brown, Viveiros and Werenfels Architects evaluated the JHS stewardship of the historic buildings we maintain. A high priority recommendation from the assessment was that the society improve access to our sites by those with physical disabilities.

Acknowledging that the “windmill cannot be made accessible without significantly impacting its historic character,” the report recommended that “display panels on the site could describe and depict the visitor’s experience to the interior of the building and the story of the milling operations so that handicap visitors can gain as full an understanding of the building as possible without going inside.”

Since our 100th anniversary celebration in 2012 will center on the windmill – the conservation of which was the impetus for our founding – we have moved this recommendation to the top of our to-do list. We are planning on two external signs: One about how the mill works and one about the history of the mill and the millers.

Caroline Frank, the Windmill Committee chair, is taking the lead. Jim Rugh, who designed the signs for the Town Forest and recently worked on the signs for the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, has volunteered to design the windmill signs and guide us through the production process.

We look forward to seeing the signs in place sometime next summer.

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