Businesses resurrected at exhibit
The Jamestown Historical Society has a new exhibit of signs from prominent local businesses and buildings at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. The exhibit includes signs that once graced buildings like Godena’s Garage, Lyons Market, Benjamin T. Gladding Market, Island Realty and Meredith & Clarke. There are also historic signs from Battery Mitchell on Dutch Island, the old Jamestown
Bridge, Newport Bridge and the old town hall.
“The Jamestown Historical Society’s museum, where we have an annual exhibit, is only open for several months during the year,” said Sue Maden of the historical society. “We feel that it’s important for people to know what’s in the collection. If we can find special places for them to be on display the public can see them yearround.”
Maden said that one of the collections the society had was of signs. She added that the signs are large, so the library was an ideal place to display them. “It really tells a part of Jamestown’s history, regardless of the business,” she said. “Here we have represented merchants, real estate agents, bridges and the military, which were all very important parts of Jamestown’s history.”
Also on display in the historical society’s display case at the library are artifacts from Godena’s Garage, a Mobil station that operated from 1952 to 1972 on North Road where Cumberland Farms now stands. Most of the collection was donated by John Godena Jr. and his sister, Geri Godena Rogers. The items include the garage’s cash box, the account book from 1972, a business card and a photo of John Godena Sr. and his 1938 Dodge truck.
John Godena Jr. reflected on donating the items from the garage to the society. “I was asked if I would do it,” he said. “I figured, what am I going to do with it? Before I do anything I always call my sister. She agreed that it would be nice to do for my father’s sake. He was a good man.”
Godena had been keeping most of the items in the basement of his house, including the sign that once graced the garage. When the garage closed, his father found another use for it. “My father had it hanging in a little shed he built,” Godena said. “He turned it upside down and used it as a shelf. When I tore the building down I took the sign down to the cellar and hung it up.”
When he went through the items before donating them, it brought back a lot of good memories for Godena. “I just kind of looked at them and laughed,” he said. “The cashbox opened up once and that was enough for my father. It must have opened up in the wind and the money was blowing around. He didn’t like that so he put an extra latch on it. He was from the old school.”
One of the more interesting pieces of history in the display case is the bill from Lewis W. Hull for the construction of the garage. The total cost was $910.18. That may seem like a small price for a building, but the bill also reflects that one man was paid only $5 for four hours of work.
“There were two men that dug the pit,” Godena said. “They got 50 cents an hour.” He added that there was one part of the bill that said, “Two men, eight hours, $20.”
Godena has fond memories of his father, who died in 1991, and his contribution to the town. He said that his dad was a good mechanic who could repair anything. “If he couldn’t fix it, he’d find a way to fix it,” he said. “He was one of the old fashioned guys. If you stopped in on your way through town he’d get you going. During snowstorms he’d rebuild starters and things like that when there was nobody around. He was pretty talented.”
The library isn’t the only place where the historical society has displayed its signs. There is presently an exhibit of hotel signs from Jamestown’s resort era in the back stairwell at the Town Hall. Also at the Town Hall is a permanent exhibit on the Conanicut Island land agreement of 1657. The society has four ferry-related signs on display at the recreation center.
“The history of Jamestown is stored here and at the historical society, so I think the library plays a big part in maintaining the history of the island and the people who lived here,” said Donna Fogarty, the library director. “It’s a central place where people can come and observe those things. They are on display for all of the hours that we are open.”
Fogarty said that she had a lot of library visitors asking about the history of Jamestown. “We’ve got some new people coming in. They may work in Newport or they’re moving to Jamestown to retire or to raise families. They want to know more about the history. It intrigues them to see the history that was here and realize what has come before them to this beautiful place and how it has been maintained.”
Maden is happy that people are getting a chance to see some of the society’s treasures at times when the museum is not open or doesn’t have room to display them. “We’re very excited about having them out and being seen rather than being stored and not seen,” she said.