2012-10-04 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News


Each year the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and Preserve Rhode Island present the Rhody Awards for Historic Preservation. The awards honor individuals, organizations and projects for their contributions to the preservation of Rhode Island’s historic resources.

One of the awards, the Antoinette F. Downing Volunteer Award, goes to a volunteer preservationist who has made a contribution through a lifetime of effort or through a single significant project. This year the award is being given to the Jamestown Historical Society and to all its generations of volunteers for 100 years of dedication to preserving the history of Jamestown. JHS President Linnea Petersen and myself will accept the award for the society’s volunteers on Thursday, Oct. 18, at a party at Rosecliff in Newport. The party and award ceremony is from 5:30 to 8 pm. Everyone is invited. Tickets are $25 in advance – purchase them online at PreserveRI. org – or $30 at the door (if any are still available).

As in most recent years, more than 100 people volunteered their time this year to help the JHS preserve Jamestown’s history. Some volunteers dedicated days or weeks to preservation projects at the museum, the vault, the windmill, the meetinghouse, or the 1776 battery on Battery Lane. Many more “windmill-sat” or guided people through the exhibits in the museum. Whatever the contribution, the number who actively participated is impressive and each volunteer past and present is honored with this award.

Special recognition goes to the officers and boards that led the society – from the founding president Lena Clarke to the current president and longtime treasurer Linnea Petersen. Five former presidents still live on the island and help with the work: Brookie Harding (1978-82, 1985-88, 1990-92), Pat Sheehan (1988-90), Jane Miner (1992-97), Bill Burgin (2002- 05) and myself (2005-10).

Preservation grant

In early September, the JHS received a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to continue the work of preserving some of the 18th and early 19th century documents in the society’s possession. These papers, originally stored in the attic of the old Town Hall, were given to the society more than 30 years ago, and preservation has been undertaken in steps.

With a Rhode Island Foundation Ott grant received earlier this year, 67 documents were cleaned, scanned for research purposes, and encapsulated in clear plastic. With the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities grant, 210 more 18th and 19th century documents will be preserved. These documents offer a unique look at how the working people of the town – builders, farmers, mariners – interacted with town government in those bygone days. They fall into eight categories.

Four items name tavern owners between 1760 and 1768 and give licensing terms. Eighteen items from 1750 to 1858 capture the rules for the use of Dutch Island when it was treated as common property, as specified in the original purchase agreement.

Dutch Harbor had its share of marine losses and five items from 1874 to 1887 identify the captain, the name and type of ship, the load, the problems encountered, and losses incurred.

Court procedures have changed little in 250 years as can be seen in 21 items – including summons to testify, arrest warrants, attorney fees, citations, and dispositions – relating to the police and court cases from the last half of the 18th century. Health issues over the 100 years beginning in 1764 are documented in 27 items that discuss diseases (cholera, smallpox, cattle disease), broken bones, treatment (blistering, bath of India rum), and the smallpox hospital. Jamestown built its first public school in 1750, and 50 items documenting the building and repair of island schools between 1804 to 1898 show the town’s continuing commitment to public education.

The names of all the freemen in the town between 1763 and 1854 are recorded in 78 lists that are the equivalents of today’s voter registration lists.

Five miscellaneous items from 1822 to1840 discuss the crow bounty, ferry leases, and powers of attorney.

In addition to the town documents, two items from 1755 and 1756 documenting the rebuilding of the Beavertail Lighthouse will be preserved.

New exhibits

The society mounted two new exhibits in September. At the Lawn Avenue School, the exhibit tells the history of the postal service in Jamestown. It includes a recently acquired photograph of Edith Caswell Richardson, one of the first woman rural mail carriers in the country. She carried mail by horse and buggy and, in winter, by horse and sleigh along Jamestown’s rural free delivery route, starting in about 1906. A post box cover and other memorabilia from the post office when it was at 38 Narragansett Ave. (1916-61) are displayed.

The back-to-school exhibit in the display case at the library features school books, a teacher’s grade book, an ink well, and pictures of early Jamestown school buildings and graduating classes.

Museum and windmill hours

This weekend – Oct. 6-8 – is the last weekend this year to visit the Jamestown museum and the windmill. Both sites will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. all three days. We’re happy to open the windmill to visitors by appointment, but the exhibit in the museum – “1912 and the JHS Centennial” – will be dismantled soon after closing.

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