2013-01-03 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

BY ROSEMARY ENRIGHT

The Jamestown Historical Society had a very good 2012 – thanks to all our volunteers – and we’re looking forward to an equally busy 2013.

100th Anniversary

This year was the society’s 100th anniversary. The R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and Preserve Rhode Island awarded us the Antoinette F. Downing Volunteer Award in recognition of the anniversary. The award honors a “volunteer preservationist who has made a contribution through a lifetime of effort or through a single signifi- cant project.” In our case, the honorees were multiple generations of volunteers and many lifetimes of effort.

We still have one big anniversary event yet to come. We are planning a gala – with turn-of-thecentury music, decorations and (optional) dress – for June 1.

Conservation

The society’s major effort in 2012 was in the preservation and conservation of the artifacts left in our care. Four grants were received to help us in this effort.

The Champlin Foundations gave us funds to improve the shelving in the JHS vault on the lower level of Town Hall. We expect to do this in March.

The Rhode Island Foundation’s Joseph O’Neill Ott Fund and a R.I. Council for the Humanities minigrant funded treatment of Colonial and early federal-era documents in the collection. The treatment included light surface cleaning, deacidification, mending, and encapsulation in archival polyester envelopes. The documents were scanned, and copies of some of the first documents conserved were displayed in the society’s exhibit case in the library in November and December.

Part of a grant from the Jamestown Community Fund was used to stabilize the extremely fragile sign for Lyon’s Market, which operated on Narragansett Avenue in the mid-20th century.

Conservation includes ensuring that artifacts are accessible. More than 20 volunteers worked directly with the collection during the year – copying, scanning, inventorying, identifying and describing artifacts, and entering the data in the society’s PastPerfect database. The items processed included many that had been in the collection but had never been adequately described. More than 150 items were received from 94 donors this year. Some of the smaller new items and a list of all items acquired are currently on display in the library.

Preservation of our historic sites has been particularly worrisome this year. A controlled burn to clear growth from the earthworks at the Conanicut Battery was unsuccessful, and we returned to manual cutting – a slow and workintensive process. Water collecting under the 1786 Friends Meetinghouse is promoting rot of the floor supports. We hope to address this in 2013. A similar, though not as severe, problem is being evaluated at the 1886 museum building.

Historic interpretation

In 2012, new signs were installed at the Conanicut Battery and the windmill. The battery signs, paid for with a R.I. Senate grant sponsored by Teresa Paiva Weed, replaced the sun-struck signs that had been erected in 2002 when the park was reclaimed and were mounted on the original National Park Service pedestals. Two similar pedestals for signs explaining the history of the windmill and its operation were installed outside the windmill with a mini-grant from the Council of the Humanities.

Improvements at the mill also included the construction of a historically correct wooden vat to enclose the millstones and a new hopper and shoe to feed grain into the stones. The vat is built of slats, and two of these directly above the funnel leading to the meal bag have been temporarily removed to allow the stone to be seen.

“A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Narragansett Avenue in Historic Jamestown” was published at the end of July, sponsored by a grant from the Jamestown Community Fund. The free brochure is available at the Chamber of Commerce, Town Hall and many businesses around town.

At the windmill, planning is underway for new interior signage and lighting. A second walkingtour brochure will highlight historic sites in other parts of the village.

Exhibits

The annual exhibit at the Jamestown Museum told the history of the society and displayed many objects from the era of its founding. The flag flown on the ferryboat Governor Carr (1927-58) on its maiden voyage was added to the ferry exhibit.

A new permanent exhibit celebrating Jamestown’s resort era opened in the south stairwell of the Town Hall in February. Nine temporary exhibits were mounted in the Jamestown Philomenian Library – eight in the society’s exhibit case in the library foyer, and an exhibit of some of the large signs in our collection in the meeting room. Each semester the society puts together a new display for the Lawn Avenue School.

Efforts on new exhibits continue. The school exhibit for the spring follows the history of transportation to and from the island – from sail ferry to steam ferry to bridges. This summer’s museum exhibit will look at the architectural history of the town, showing how different styles reflect the owners’ and the town’s view of their place in the world.

Programs

The society sponsored several talks this year. Subjects included vanished Jamestown buildings, Narragansett Bay lighthouses, the native biota of Conanicut Island, Jamestown ferryboats, and – with an excursion to the Newport Art Museum – William Trost Richard, a well-known late-19th century artist who summered in Jamestown.

The biannual Windmill Day in July was free to all, with expenses paid for with a legislative grant from Deb Ruggiero.

Our annual House Tour weekend started with a members-only party at the recently restored 1901 Quononoquot Club, now a private residence. The houses on the Saturday tour, the 1911 Wildwood at West Ferry renovated in the mid- 1960s and the 1873 Stonewall Cottage in Conanicut Park renovated recently, showed both distinctive architectures and different attitudes toward renovation and preservation.

On May 18, we will sponsor Battery Day. Re-enactors from British and French groups, the Newport Artillery and Tew’s Company, will demonstrate how battles were fought during the American Revolution.

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