Jamestown Historical Society News
Nick DiGiando will talk about native plants at the first program of the Jamestown Historical Society’s 2012 lecture series. The event will be held on Friday, April 27, at 7 p.m. in the meeting room of the Jamestown Philomenian Library. Nick, a native Jamestowner, is the owner and operator of Atlantic Lawn & Garden, which he started in 1997.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a native plant as “a plant that lives or grows naturally in a particular region without direct or indirect human intervention.” Nick first learned about the benefits of using native plants while studying for his degree in landscape architecture from the University of Rhode Island. Through years of planning and planting all types of gardens, he’s seen firsthand how they thrive compared to introduced species. He will talk about the personal and environmental benefits to landscaping with native plants and suggest native plants to use in your garden.
The JHS display case in the library foyer has a new exhibit showing pictures and souvenirs of Fort Dumpling, an old military landmark on Jamestown.
In 1799, the federal government purchased 6 1/2 acres of land just south of the Fort Wetherill boat basin to build a fort “for the defense of the Port and Harbour of Newport.” Over the next year, the U.S. Army constructed an elliptical stone fortress, 108 feet long and 81 feet wide, with walls varying in height between 12 and 24 feet, depending on the contours of the rock formations beneath it. As far as is known, the fort was never manned and it was soon abandoned and neglected.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century the deteriorating stone tower – sometimes called Fort Dumpling, Fort Brown, Fort Lewis or Fort Conanicut – was a popular tourist attraction. Rising probably about 75 feet above the bay, it was highly visible from Newport and was often featured in guidebooks to that city – usually with misinformation both about its site and its antiquity. Artists painted pictures of it, and souvenirs were sold depicting it.
The unparalleled views from the fort of Newport and the lower bay attracted picnickers and campers. For a while, between about 1857 and 1877, soldiers at Fort Adams, which had been erected directly across the East Passage from Fort Dumpling, used the tower for target practice, hastening its deterioration. After a rifleman wounded a female picnicker on July 4, 1877, the target practice was stopped, but, since nothing was done to maintain it, the structure continued to decay.
In 1890, Congress authorized a larger fortification on land that included the Fort Dumpling site. The old tower had to go. On Nov. 26, 1898, the remains of the stone tower were blown up along with about 25 feet of rock below it. The government claimed another 55 acres along the highland shore west of the old fort by right of eminent domain, and Fort Wetherill was built beginning in 1901.
Last fall JHS members Laura Gorham and John Horton, assisted by Providence College students Nicole Orzetti and Denise Gagnon, planted 100 Mrs. John T. Scheepers tulip bulbs in a bed just west of the Jamestown Museum. The tulip was developed by a summer Jamestown resident and named for his wife, Rose. John Scheepers, a Dutch immigrant, was widely known as the “Tulip King,” both because of his achievement in popularizing the tulip as the symbol of spring and because of his success in developing new varieties of the flower. The Scheepers family lived at The Crickets on Fox Hill Farm.
The bulbs were donated by Harry T. Burn to whom Mrs. Scheepers was “Aunt Rose.”
The tulips are tall – over 2 feet – and their yellow blossoms should bob merrily over the stone wall in late April or early May. The plants are already 6 inches high, so maybe because of our spring-like winter they will bloom early. Watch for them.
Every other year the society celebrates the history of Conanicut Battery with a Battery Day at Conanicut Battery Historic Park. Last year at Battery Day a number of reenactor groups joined us and demonstrated the way a battle was fought almost 250 years ago. This year we’re not having an offi cial Battery Day, but on Sunday, April 15, Captain Tew’s Company will be back to practice maneuvers in the park from about 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. Anyone who wishes to watch the drill is invited to join the reenactors in the town park at the end of Battery Lane west of Beavertail Road.
Visitors to the mill
The Little Rhody Model A Club is holding its spring Dustoff Tour in Jamestown on April 29. One of their stops will be at the Jamestown Windmill for a special tour.
The Model A was built by the Ford Motor Company from 1927 to 1931, less than 20 years after the Jamestown Historical Society was founded. It will be fun to see the cars used by the men and women who saw the mill’s historical importance and worked to save it once again around the mill.