Historical society honored for its commitment to volunteerism
For 100 years the Jamestown Historical Society has been run by volunteers. Those volunteers, both past and present, are now being recognized. The group was recently named the winner of this year’s Antoinette Downing Award.
The award is given by the Rhode Island Preservation & Heritage Commission, a state agency responsible for identifying historic properties throughout the state. The board also administers a number of programs aimed at protecting historic properties and assisting owners in their preservation.
What are now known as the Rhody Awards have been presented by the commission annually for about 20 years. Four years ago the commission combined its efforts with those of Preserve Rhode Island in presenting the awards. The mission of Preserve Rhode Island is to protect Rhode Island’s historic structures and unique places for present and future generations.
Included in the Rhody Awards is an annual award named in honor of Antoinette Downing. According to Tom Sanderson, director of RIHPHC, Downing was the first chairwoman of the commission, serving from 1968 into the 1980s. She was a national leader in the field of historic preservation.
“She was a volunteer,” Sanderson said. “She put in a full career of service, but as a volunteer. So we named the award in her honor to recognize that great achievements in historic preservation are often accomplished by dedicated volunteers. Each year we look for an individual or an organization that seems to our commission to exemplify that spirit of volunteer accomplishment. This year we’re recognizing the Jamestown Historical Society.”
Sanderson pointed out the fact that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Jamestown Historical Society, and local groups like the JHS are the backbone of community-based preservation efforts.
“That’s certainly true in Jamestown, going all the way back to saving the windmill in 1912,” he said.
Sanderson acknowledged the great work that current volunteers are doing for the JHS, but pointed out that the award is intended to honor everyone who has ever volunteered for the JHS.
The Downing Award has been presented annually for as long as the Rhody Awards have been given. Past winners include Cecilia St. Jean of West Warwick, who was recognized in 2011 for her volunteer work as president of the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation & Historical Society. Also honored in the recent past was Frederick R. Love of Pawtucket, who won the award in 2009. Love is the chair of the local historic district commission in Pawtucket.
“Volunteers are so crucial to historic preservation in cities and towns that we want to recognize the volunteer service,” Sanderson said.
JHS President Linnea Petersen was delighted that her organization had won the Downing Award.
“Obviously we are very honored to have been selected to be this year’s recipient. It’s really a very prestigious award, and it’s very special to us particularly on the occasion of our 100th anniversary because of the recognition that it gives to all of the Jamestown Historical Society volunteers during the past century.”
Petersen pointed out that the JHS has been incorporated since 1912 and that the award signifies the work that the organization has done is important to historic preservation.
“It is for all of the volunteers,” Petersen said. “It’s not just for this board. It’s a whole century of caring and preserving, protecting, and sharing Jamestown’s history with others. We’re very honored.”
According to Petersen, the Jamestown Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization, and as such could not survive without volunteers. She said that volunteers are the core of the organization’s success, and that currently there are more than 100 people who volunteer in various ways.
“We have plenty of room for anyone who is interested,” Petersen said. “Our work is diverse. We take care of the Battery, the Friends Meetinghouse, the windmill and the museum on Narragansett Avenue.”
Peterson said anyone interested in volunteering can call her at 423- 1820. “The more the merrier,” she said.
In addition to the Jamestown Historical Society, this year’s other award winners include Eric Hertfelder, the recently retired executive director of the Fort Adams Trust; Blithewold, a nationally significant summer estate with a 45-room mansion on Narragansett Bay; Ocean Drive in Newport; and Sakonnet Light.
This year’s Rhody Awards will be held at Rosecliff in Newport on Thursday, Oct. 18, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The event is open to the public and will include beverages, appetizers, a silent auction and a raffle. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. They can be purchased by calling 272-5101 or online at PreserveRI.org.