2011-07-07 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

Ferries. From the earliest days – certainly by 1675 – paid ferrymen serviced routes between Conanicut Island and South County on the west, and Newport on the east. In 1873, the first steam ferry began scheduled service between Jamestown and Newport. In 1888, the Saunderstown-Jamestown steam ferry service began. The ferries stopped when the bridges came – in 1940 on the West Passage and in 1969 on the East Passage – although a small passenger ferry still runs between Jamestown and Newport in the summer.

The new Ferry Room in the rear of the Jamestown Museum celebrates the ferry era. Pictures of sail ferries remind the visitor that earlier travelers checked the weather and the tides before setting out. Since sail ferries made at most two trips a day, even a shopping trip to Newport might mean an overnight stay. In the steam ferry period, which many Jamestowners still remember, the roundtrip was easier, but going to a movie in Newport still meant checking schedules and run times to make sure the movie ended before the last ferry home.

Large and small models of ferryboats share the shelves with photographs of most of the steam ferry captains, starting with William H. Knowles, who piloted the last sail ferry before taking over the Jamestown I, the first steam ferry. Gauges from the Governor Carr, a pair of running lights from the Wildwood, and equipment from other ferryboats are on display.

The Ferry Room is still a work in progress. Until late this spring, the room was used for storage and as a workspace, and items are still being relocated. As more shelf space is made available, more objects from our ferry collection will be added. An important addition anticipated soon is the pennant flown by the Governor Carr on its maiden voyage. The flag is currently being conserved and mounted for display.

Like the “Jamestown on Stage and Screen” exhibit in the main part of the museum, the Ferry Room is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 1 to 4 p.m., until Labor Day weekend, and then for the same hours on weekends until Columbus Day.

Windmill endowment

In 1987, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Jamestown Windmill, two sisters – Ann Newlin Thompson and Margaret Whitall Evans – established the Old Jamestown Windmill Endowment Fund at The Philadelphia Foundation. For many generations, their family lived or summered in Jamestown and attended the Conanicut Friends Meeting at the Quaker Meetinghouse near the mill. The endowment symbolized their commitment to the community.

Over the years, the amount in the endowment fund has increased. Each year, the society receives a grant from this endowment to maintain the mill as a piece of living history. The grant covers the basic annual expense of maintaining the mill: an annual inspection by an experienced millwright, insurance, grass mowing, and minor repairs to the mill and the stone wall around it. What is left has in recent years been used to improve signage.

The JHS is grateful for this help. With it, we are able to keep the windmill open from 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays through Columbus Day.

If anyone is interested in providing similar support – either for the windmill or for another of our endeavors – we encourage you to contact the Rhode Island Foundation where we have established three funds. Two are specialized to support our archival efforts and the windmill; the third is a general fund the income from which supports general Society activities.

Legislative grant

Battery Day on May 14 was a great success, although few could hear everything that Major Blogett said through the antiquated portable public address system.

After discussion with the Jamestown Parks and Recreation Department, the JHS asked for a legislative grant to purchase a small portable PA system, capable of being used inside or outdoors, as well as to fund some improvements at the Battery. The funding was received in mid-June, and the new PA system is now in the hands of Bill Piva, recreation director at the Jamestown Recreation Center on Conanicus Avenue.

Because of the terms of the grant, the JHS retains ownership of the system, but any organization requiring a small, easily set-up PA system may ask Piva for permission to use it. Thanks to Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed for helping make this resource available to Jamestown and for her continuing support of the Conanicut Battery.

Upcoming Events

The 2011 JHS Annual Meeting will be held on Thursday, August 11, at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. Eugene Lee, resident designer at Trinity Rep and threetime Tony Award winner, will be our guest speaker.

Our annual House Tour Weekend will be Sept. 16 and 17. Mark your calendars. More details next month.


The JHS is always in need of volunteers. This summer we are particularly concerned about the Conanicut Battery. Because of the wet weather in the spring, we were unable to conduct the controlled burn of the vegetation in the battlements that we hoped would keep the woody growth under control. The burn is now scheduled for the autumn. In the meantime, clipping and pruning of the worst of the growth is necessary.

If you are interested in helping out, please contact Larry McDonald at macmail47@cox.net.

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