2012-01-19 / News

JHS unveils notable animals exhibit at Lawn Avenue School

The display is part of the group’s yearlong celebration for its 100th anniversary

In 2007, the Conanicut Island Land Trust created “Oreo” cow signs to encourage people to make donations so that farmland could be bought on Windmill Hill. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY In 2007, the Conanicut Island Land Trust created “Oreo” cow signs to encourage people to make donations so that farmland could be bought on Windmill Hill. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY The Jamestown Historical Society celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. There will be a number of events to mark the occasion, including exhibitions at several locations around town. One of those exhibitions, entitled “Notable Animals of Jamestown,” is on display now in the Lawn Avenue School library.

The display consists of three panels that detail the exploits of some of the more interesting creatures that the island has ever known. Among them are Lord Dempsey and Gibson, two basset hounds who lived here in the 1960s. Lord Dempsey lived at 11 High St., and in 1963 he began catching the 6:30 a.m. ferry to Jamestown each day. As he got older he slept in and caught the 8:30 a.m. ferry, but he always returned at 2:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Lord Dempsey’s younger friend Gibson wasn’t as choosey. The Shoreby Hill dog would catch whichever ferry interested him on any given day. Both canines rode the Jamestown and the Newport ferries, two identical sister ships that were the last ferries to ply the waters of the East Passage.

A few years later a four-legged friend by the name of Tramp rose to fame in Jamestown. Tramp lived on Grinnell Street in the 1970s and he was apparently interested in a career in the United States Postal Service. He would meet mail carrier Bill “Mac” McCarthy and accompany him on his rounds each day.

A dog named Staff Sergeant Murphy trained with the military at Fort Wetherill in the days before World War II. He wore his sergeant’s stripes proudly, and even accompanied his colleagues on liberty in Jamestown. Sadly, he was killed when he was hit by a truck. Murphy was given a hero’s funeral and buried next to the flagpole at the fort. His memorial stone was moved to the garden next to the Jamestown Museum in 2010.

In 1951, a dog jumped over a car seat, distracting the driver and causing him to get into an accident. Police Chief Julius Reis began an investigation of the accident. His investigation took him to a local garage. There he discovered something rare – a fivegallon container filled with “torpedo juice,” an alcohol-based fluid that was used to make hooch, also known as bootleg liquor.

The 19th century had its share of famous animals too. The Newport Journal reported that in the summer of 1892 a water spaniel named Toby, owned by Capt. I.B. Briggs, would leave his home at 6 a.m. and travel one mile to East Ferry. There he would board the ferry Conanicut for the trip to Newport. Apparently Toby wasn’t interested in associating with the canine rabble of the main deck so he would make his way to the pilothouse on the upper deck for the journey. Upon arrival he would pick up the morning paper, catch the return ferry, and have the newspaper in the hands of his owner by 10 a.m.

It wasn’t just dogs who made the news either. In that same summer of 1892 a mother sparrow built her nest on the Conanicut and raised her young ones there. A few years earlier, in 1885, the Newport Daily News reported that a seagull visited Capt. Charles Marsh at the Brenton Reef Lightship for 11 consecutive years. He would arrive in the fall, and leave for his summer home at the end of April.

In 1951, 70 cats were the culprits in a local divorce action. When the husband complained about the number of cats, the wife told the husband that she would rather have the cats than him, and if he didn’t like it he could get out. A Superior Court judge hearing the case granted the divorce petition.

Everyone who lives on the island has probably seen the famous “Oreo” cows that live at Windmist Farm on Windmill Hill. The Neales brought the cows, properly called Belted Galloways, to the farm in the early 1990s. In 2007 the Conanicut Island Land Trust used the cows symbolically, creating Oreo cow signs to encourage people to make donations so that the trust could purchase development rights for farmland on Windmill Hill.

The “Notable Animals” exhibit is one of several that the historical society puts on display each year. There is the annual summer exhibit at the museum. In addition, the display case at the library will be changed every two months this year as part of the anniversary celebration. The group’s permanent exhibitions include signs related to ferry boats at the rec center, resort era signs at Town Hall, and the land agreement exhibit also at Town Hall.

Other plans for the anniversary year include a Windmill Day on July 14, more exhibits, and a lecture series related to Jamestown’s history that will focus on other organizations that have been around as long as the historical society.

There is also a family history project in which the society will collect information on why and how people came to Jamestown, and what has happened to them since. Starting last week, Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden are writing a series of articles on the town’s history for the Jamestown Press. The articles will appear twice a month.

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