Jamestown Historical Society News
The “Jamestown in the Resort Era” exhibit in the back stairwell of Town Hall will open officially with a public reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Refreshments will be served. Everyone is invited.
The exhibit, which displays signs from some of the large hotels that dotted Jamestown’s waterfront in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was completed over a month ago. The society has delayed the official opening and the erection of a plaque honoring Trum and Sallie Richard, who funded the exhibit, because of the holidays.
During the reception, the JHS vault in the basement of Town Hall will be open to visitors. The vault, which was built with some of the proceeds from the capital campaign in 2008, is the repository for most of the papers and archives collected by the society over the past 100 years.
Among the interesting early archives are papers from the colonial and early national eras, documenting the removal of individuals and families from the island because of the high probability that they would have to be supported by the town. Jamestown did not have a workhouse, and some of those who did become charges of the town were indentured to learn a trade, as recorded in a group of apprenticeship and indenture papers.
Most archives are from more current times, and there is an ongoing effort to collect vital records to ensure that a copy of every obituary published in local newspapers about Jamestowners finds its way into the collection. Textiles, photographs and works of art are also stored in the vault. The textiles include a wide variety of pieces, including material woven on an 18th century barn loom that is itself also part of the collection, early 19th century samplers, and 20th century T-shirts celebrating the Fools’ Rules Regatta. Photographs consist of tintypes, color photos, black-and-white photos, postcards, digital images, glass negatives and magic lantern slides. Most of the photograph collection has been digitized and can be seen at the JHS website, JamestownHistoricalSociety.org.
Each Tuesday and Thursday morning between five and 10 volunteers work in the vault cataloguing, inventorying and maintaining the collection.
Signs from the JHS collection have recently been hung on the north wall of the Jamestown Philomenian Library meeting room. Pictures of the buildings sit below signs advertising the Godena Garage on North Road and Lyons Market on Narragansett Avenue. A 1938 map of Dutch Island shows where the adjacent Battery Mitchell sign stood at Fort Greble. Signs directing drivers to the old Jamestown Bridge and to the Newport Bridge (before “Claiborne Pell” became part of the name) decorate an adjacent wall, along with photographs of the two bridges.
There is also a new exhibit – “Fingers and Toes” – in the display cabinet in the library foyer. It displays shoes, socks and gloves from the JHS collection along with photographs of and stories about the people who wore them.
The Lawn Avenue School exhibit for the spring semester features notable animals of Jamestown. Two basset hounds, Lord Dempsey and his younger friend Gibson, rode the ferries to and from Newport by themselves in the 1960s to visit friends and wander the docks. Seventy years earlier, in 1892, Tobey, a water spaniel, regularly took the Newport ferry with more purpose – he picked up the Newport Journal for his master and returned on the next ferry to deliver it. Staff Sergeant Murphy, a much-loved mutt, trained with the soldiers at Fort Wetherill in the days leading up to World War II. When he died, he was buried with military honors, and his gravestone now rests in the garden behind the Jamestown Museum.
Signage describing the military significance of Jamestown’s Conanicut Battery Historic Park was erected in 2002 when the Friends of the Conanicut Battery, led by Ed Connelly, cleared the undergrowth and rescued the almost forgotten earthworks. In the intervening years, strong sunlight has faded the colors of many of the signs. One of them has been shot at – BB pockmarks mar the surface.
This coming spring, helped by a Rhode Island Senate grant sponsored by Teresa Paiva Weed, the Battery Committee of the JHS will begin the process of replacing the signs, starting with the ones that are most sunstruck. We are very grateful to Sen. Paiva Weed for her continued support of our efforts to make the Conanicut Battery Historic Park monument of far-reaching interest and importance to all Rhode Islanders.