2012-01-05 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News


BY ROSEMARY ENRIGHT BY ROSEMARY ENRIGHT The JHS news this week starts in 1904 at the historic windmill that stands, as it has since 1787, on the crest of Windmill Hill.

After grinding cornmeal for the island’s farmers for 109 years, the Jamestown Windmill was abandoned by the last millers – the Tefft brothers – in 1896. For seven years, it stood neglected. Equipment was removed or destroyed, and weather took its toll. In 1904, the mill’s pitiful condition led a group of residents and summer visitors to form the Jamestown Windmill Society.

The group raised $700 to buy and repair the mill. On Oct. 19, 1904, the Teffts sold “the mill and land enough to drive around it” – about 3,600 square feet – to Mary Rosengarten, the representative of the newly formed society. (The Windmill Society was an informal, unincorporated association and, as such, could not own property.) The Carrs, who owned most of the farmland around the mill, donated the half-acre approach south of the mill.

After buying the mill, the Windmill Society continued to raise money to maintain it and to build the stone wall that surrounds the property. One delightful artifact in the JHS collection is a poster from 1905 advertising: “Tea at Ye Olde Mill. Tuesday, Aug. 1 from 4 to 6 P.M. To open this Landmark and Grounds for inspection, the object being, to raise money to beautify the premises. Automobiles will run from Ferry Wharf during the Tea. Round Trip 50 Cents.”

Eight years later, according to the handwritten minutes of the historical society, “A meeting was held in the Town Hall at Jamestown on Aug. 19, 1912 for the purpose of forming a Historical Society.” The first order of business was addressed at once: “A motion was made and seconded to organize the So[ciety] and name it later.” The second major order of business was to appoint a committee “to consult Mrs. Rosengarten in relation to combining the Wind Mill Association with the Hist[orical] So[ciety].”

The results of the committee’s consultation with Mrs. Rosengarten don’t appear in the minutes, but their success can be inferred. The Jamestown Historical Society was incorporated under the laws of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations on Sept. 12, 1912. The incorporation allowed the society to own property. At the next meeting of the newly chartered society on Oct. 19, 1912, “The deed of the Windmill Association from Mrs. Frank Rosengarten who held the property in trust for the Windmill Ass’n was read and accepted.”

The JHS will celebrate its centennial in many ways this year. The summer exhibit at the museum will recall what Jamestown was like in 1912 and how the town and the JHS have changed in the last 100 years. Stories from Jamestown’s past, illustrated with objects and photographs from the JHS collection, will appear twice a month in the Jamestown Press. We are collecting personal histories about when and why families came to Jamestown. On Windmill Day, July 14, heavy cloth sails will once again be raised on the windmill vanes and, if the weather permits, the vanes will turn in the wind. A dance featuring music from 100 years ago and programs about Jamestown’s history are being planned.

We hope you’ll be celebrating our birthday with us.

Dr. Birney Memorial Stone

Two years ago, this column reported the rediscovery of memorial stones honoring Dr. David B. Birney and John Price Wetherill, two summer Jamestowners who died in 1906. The men had been active in the Jamestown Improvement Society, and the memorial stones put in front of the Thorndike Hotel (which stood where BankNewport is now) honored their contributions.

The Wetherill stone, donated to the JHS by his descendants, was placed in the garden next to the museum a year ago. This past month the Birney stone joined it there.

Many people contributed to the Birney memorial’s return. Mike Sharpe saved both stones when he found them during the renovation of the Isaac Carr house on Narragansett Avenue. Colleen Smyth recognized the significance of the stone and brought it to the attention of the JHS. Tina McIntyre helped the society contact Hali Beckman, the owner of the property where the stone was stored. Beckman donated the stone to the society. Finn Dwyer, as part of his Eagle Scout project, cleaned up the museum garden and placed the Birney stone near the Wetherill stone at the top of the access ramp on the east side of museum.

Thank you to Hali Beckman and to all the others who worked together to preserve a small piece of Jamestown’s history.

Battery “burn”

Last month we reported that the professionals at Northeast Forest and Fire Management hoped to conduct a burn at the Conanicut Battery in December. The burn was conducted on Dec. 12, but was not successful. The fire would not get down into the parapets where most of the unwanted growth exists.

The Battery Committee is back to doing most of the cutting by hand, since using mowers gouges the earthworks.

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