2012-11-08 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News


The windmill and Quaker meetinghouse are closed for the winter, although the society will be happy to give tours at any time by appointment. To arrange a tour, call 423-2674. Just be aware that there is no heat in either building.

The museum is also closed, and the summer exhibit has been dismantled. Many of the objects on display this year were textiles from the society’s collection and from Period Pieces, the private collection of Dorrie Linn and Cynthia Griffis. Textiles are particularly fragile and need to be protected from dust and light, and, because wrinkles “set,” from extended periods in the same position if they are not lying flat. The old documents that were on display can also fade. Even though the museum has special shades that screen out ultraviolet light, returning the documents to their light-free containers needed to be accomplished as quickly as possible.

The vault, however, is still open and humming. From three to eight volunteers work in the vault every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 until noon. They read, catalog, photograph, scan, photocopy and preserve material that has been given to the society. Visitors are always welcome.

The vault researchers also field questions and requests from people who visit, call or email.

Errors and misconceptions

One recent question concerned a myth about Jamestown that has circulated for a long time. An editor with Rhode Island Monthly emailed, “I was wondering if you might know if there is a home that is visible from the state park and that people can get to by boat where Edgar Allan Poe used to spend his summers writing?”

Our researchers sincerely doubt that the poet was ever in Jamestown. Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849. His wife died a couple of years earlier. In the 1840s, Jamestown was a sleepy agricultural backwater of 358 farmers and their families. The only way to and from the island was by private boat or by unreliable and unscheduled sail ferry on the West Passage. There were no hotels, and any “boarding houses” were farmhouses with an extra room to let.

The Newport Daily News of Aug. 16, 1893, reported, “Edgar Allan Poe ... was a guest at the Gardner House in Jamestown.” The Gardner House was built in 1883 almost 35 years after Poe’s death. Mrs. Edgar Allen Poe (note the different spelling of “Allen”) appears on a list of people who donated toward the purchase in 1904 of the then derelict Jamestown windmill. This would seem to indicate that this Poe family summered in Jamestown for at least a few years around the turn of the century. We have no reason to believe they were related to the author.

Another misconception, which I continued to propagate in last week’s article on the admirals of Jamestown, concerns the gatherings that became known as the Admirals’ Tea. A reunion of officers who had played a part in the Battle of Mobile Bay was held at the home of Rear Admiral Theodore F. Jewell in August of 1923. The first true Admiral’s Tea, shown in the photograph with the column, was held at the home of Mary Remey Wadleigh in August 1924 to celebrate her father’s birthday.

Plantings at the windmill

In all the discussion of improvements at the mill this summer, the Jamestown Garden Club flowers in the pillars at the entry to mill grounds were never properly acknowledged. Judy Knight and Evelyn Rhodes directed the effort – selecting period-appropriate plants and, with their team of volunteers, bringing water to keep them alive. Watering the plants – which dried out quickly in the shallow soil and direct sun of the planters – was a Herculean task. Even reaching to the top of the pillars with a watering can required determination – and sometimes a ladder.

The club and the society are investigating ways around the water problem with the goal of planting a small early American garden on the mill grounds.

End of the Thorndike

Jamestown’s Thorndike Hotel, designed by Charles Bevins, burned to the ground on Oct. 5, 1912, in one of the most spectacular fires ever seen on Narragansett Bay. John Doty and Sue Maden were interviewed by R.J. Heim on NBC 10 about the event. You can watch their 2 1/2-minute telecast at TurnTo10.com. Just search “Thorndike.”

It was thanks largely to the determination of John Doty that the date was remembered in a big way. In addition to the television interviews, articles, accompanied by pictures from the historical society collection, appeared in the Newport Daily News and the Jamestown Press.


Copies of some of the 18th and 19th century documents cleaned and conserved under a Rhode Island Foundation Ott grant received earlier this year will be on display at the library for a short time this month while we prepare for our annual end-of-the-year exhibit of new acquisitions to the collection. The papers document a variety of Rhode Island issues from the raising of the militia in 1776 to the indenture of “a certain Negro boy naimed [sic] Amboy Eldred” in 1791. Learn in their own words what men did in early Jamestown. Rhody Award gala The Rhody Awards ceremony at Rosecliff on Oct. 18 was lots of fun – especially for those who got to wear the red ribbons. JHS president Linnea Petersen and past presidents Brookie Harding and I all got ribbons. The presentation of the Antoinette F. Downing Volunteer Award to the Jamestown Historical Society was accompanied by a slideshow that included pictures of past president Maggie Potter climbing the vanes of the windmill, and past president Bill Burgin riding in a launch to Clingstone for the 2002 house tour. The show made working for the society look like as much fun as it really is.

Congratulations to the thousands of volunteers who over 100 years have dedicated time and energy to preserving the history of Jamestown.

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