2012-03-08 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News


The “Jamestown in the Resort Era” exhibit in the back stairwell of the Town Hall opened officially with a reception on Feb. 21. Over 100 visitors admired the signs and photographs from the period between 1875 and 1930 that now decorate the stairs. Most of the visitors also made their way down to the basement to the JHS vault at the bottom of the stairwell.

On display at the entrance to the vault was an oil painting by Francis X. West of the Jamestown waterfront in 1898, titled “Old Jamestown.” The painting, acquired by the society in 2011, was shown at the Art Association of Newport in the 1950s. It captures in color the same scene that is depicted in a black and white photograph – also included in the exhibit – from W.L. Watson’s “History of Jamestown, Rhode Island,” published in 1949.

West was an active artist on Jamestown from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s. “Old Jamestown” is unusual in its choice of subject because the majority of the oils and watercolors West painted at his Red Elephant Studios on Cole Street were seascapes and ship scenes. Photographs of several of his marine scenes belonging to Bud and Norma Walsh were recently displayed in the JHS display case in the library.

An unusual aspect of the Old Jamestown photograph and painting is the inclusion of a small windmill on the ferry dock at East Ferry, which other early photographs in the JHS collection don’t show. Donald Richardson, who attended the opening, confi rmed that the windmill was used to pump fresh water to power the steam-driven ferryboats. The water, he explained, came from a stream that flowed from Tucker’s field south of the village.

In the vault, visitors saw examples of the objects and archives in the JHS collection and learned how to access the JHS records online at JamestownHistoricalSo ciety.org. They helped JHS volunteers put names to unidentified people in photographs and portraits donated to the society.

Volunteers work in the JHS vault every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon inventorying, cataloging, packaging and caring for the artifacts in the collection. Visitors, researchers and new volunteers are welcome.

Historical presentations

The JHS and the Jamestown Philomenian Library are leading a coalition of nonprofit organizations on the island to sponsor a series of presentations about Jamestown and its history. Three talks have been scheduled for the spring, and planning is underway for the summer and fall. The spring lineup is:

• April 27 at 7 p.m., “Native Plants of Jamestown.” Nick Di- Giando, owner, Atlantic Lawn and Garden. Co-sponsored by the Quononoquott Garden Club.

• May 18, 7 p.m., “Lighthouses of Lower Narragansett Bay.” Jeremy D’Entremont, author of “The Lighthouses of Rhode Island.” Cosponsored by the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association.

The Jamestown Philomenian Library will host the presentations in the library meeting room. Join us to learn more about your island.

Exhibits in library

From 1952 to 1972, John Godena operated the Godena Garage at 27 North Road, where Cumberland Farms is now. The current exhibit in the JHS display case in the library entry tells the history of the garage through artifacts and photographs from the JHS collection and on loan from John Godena Jr. The loaned items include five silver dollars won by John Godena for his expertise in diagnosing automotive problems and recommending repairs.

The large sign from the front of the Godena Garage has been on display in the library meeting room for over a month, along with signs from Lyons Market, Battery Mitchell on Dutch Island, and the Jamestown and Newport bridges. Four more large signs were added this month. The signs once identifi ed Meredith & Clarke realtors and insurance, Island Realty, Benjamin T. Gladding groceries, and the Jamestown Town Hall (on loan from the Town of Jamestown).

The Jamestown Historical Society was founded in 1912. This year, in honor of our 100th anniversary, we are making a special effort to share the artifacts and information we have collected over the past century.


In 2010, the JHS received a Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) grant, funded by the federal Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to identify the outstanding needs and priorities for preserving our collections, including the buildings under our care. As a result of the CAP reports, the JHS board developed an action plan that prioritizes suggested improvements and is tracking their implementation.

This January, the CAP office selected the JHS as a “Spotlight” program that can serve as a model for similar organizations. The activities of the society will be featured next month in a Conservation Assessment Program Spotlight Article both in their print newsletter and online at Heritage Preservation.org/cap. The JHS is the first organization in Rhode Island to be so honored by CAP.

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