Jamestown Historical Society News
The big Jamestown Historical Society event in August is our annual meeting on Thursday, Aug 9. The business meeting in the meeting room of the Jamestown Philomenian Library will start promptly at 7 p.m. President Linnea Petersen will report on the society’s activities in the last 12 months, and members will elect officers and directors.
At 7:30, Archie Clarke will be introduced to talk about Jamestown steam ferries between the years of 1873 and 1969. Archie was born in Jamestown and rode the ferry throughout his childhood. The Jamestown IV and Newport III were his “school buses” to and from Rogers High School in Newport. He has been collecting information, photographs and memorabilia about the Jamestown ferry system ever since. The wheelhouse from the Hammonton stands in the yard of his business, Arthur S. Clarke III Excavating, on Southwest Avenue.
Ferries have an important place in Jamestown history. Although ferries were in operation earlier, the first recorded license for a Newport to Jamestown ferry run was issued in May 1700. For about 200 years, sail ferries moved goods and people to and from Newport, and, with less regularity, to different points on the mainland. In 1872, Jamestown decided it was time to move into the steam age. The town formed the Jamestown & Newport Ferry Company and, to guarantee service, retained 60 percent of the stock.
Steam ferry service began on the East Passage in April 1873 and ended with the opening of the Newport Claiborne Pell Bridge in June 1969. Steam ferry service on the West Passage began in 1888 and ended with the opening of the first Jamestown Bridge in August 1940.
These are the years that Archie will talk about on Aug. 9. Join us to hear about and see early photographs of a century of steam ferries.
Community fund grant
The JHS recently received a $1,070 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation Jamestown Community Fund for several related historic tourism tasks. The first fruit of the grant is a self-guided walking tour of historic Narragansett Avenue. The one-page, 9-by- 14-inch foldout is already at the printers and should be available, free of charge, at the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, the museum, and other outlets around town within the week.
Early this spring, the society attempted to use a controlled burn to clear the woody underbrush from the battery. It didn’t work. With a Senate grant sponsored by Teresa Paiva Weed, the battery committee set about getting the work done by hand. Working the curving surface of the earthworks requires patience and hand tools. The earthworks are finally clear, and the grasses we planted two years ago have been cut to a reasonable height.
A new flag is flying. Three of the faded explanatory signs have been replaced with the help of the original designer Mick Cochran. The committee is still working on other signage issues and thinking ahead to Battery Day in May.
Windmill Day on July 14 was a great success, as the pictures in July 19 Press showed. The breeze wouldn’t have been strong enough that day to move the 3000-pound “runner” – the upper of the two stones between which the corn is ground. But the mill wasn’t set up to grind corn, and we let the sails move freely, turning only the wind shaft and the brake wheel. Our millwright Andy Shrake, who ran the mill that day, promised to return soon to install equipment in the mill that would make grinding corn there possible.
On July 26, Andy and assistant millwright Jesse Lambert returned. Jesse has spent the last months working on new “furniture” for the mill. The most important new addition is a wooden vat that now encloses the millstones. When ground meal flows out from between the millstones, the vat captures the meal in a small trough between the vat and the stone. Metal sweeps attached to the moving millstone move the meal in the trough to a funnel leading to the waiting meal bag.
Until the vat was installed, the runner was surrounded by a Plexiglas cover. Visitors had a clear view of the stone, but a less clear vision of how the mill actually looked and worked. With the vat in place, the stones are hidden, except for a small area on the top of the millstone and the “eye” into which the dried corn kernels are fed. The vat is built of slats, and two of these directly above the funnel leading to the meal bag will be temporarily removed to allow the stone to be seen.
A new hopper and shoe have also been installed. Both are smaller than those that were there before. According to our millwright, it is more in keeping with the size and known use of the mill. Both the shoe and the hopper would have been replaced on a regular basis when the mill was in use, since they would have worn thin with the constant abrasion of the corn kernels.
House tour weekend
This is a very busy time of year, so mark your calendars now. The preview party for the house tour for members only is Sept. 14 at the recently renovated 1901 cottage at 9 Conanicus Ave. If you’re not a member, you can make a reservation anyway and pay your dues at the door. The house tour is Sept. 15. We’ll be visiting a lovely 1870s Conanicut Park cottage at the north end and at least one house in the West Ferry area. Details next month.