Jamestown Shores: Building a community of summer cottages
Jamestown Shores is the largest single subdivision in Jamestown. Its development began in late 1946 when a private development group, the Federal Building and Development Corporation, purchased the Tefft, Gladding and Maxfield farms. The farms extended for almost two miles north along the west shore from just south of the 6-year-old Jamestown Bridge. The adjacent Hammond farm was added in August 1947.
The first four Jamestown Shores plats were recorded in 1947 on March 22 and April 24. On April 28 – the Monday after the fourth plat was recorded – the Jamestown Town Council established the Planning Commission to oversee subdivision development.
From the beginning, the vision of the development corporation, led by James G. Head (a newcomer to the island and not one of the Jamestown Heads who had lived here since the 19th century), differed from that of the new Planning Commission.
Head envisioned a seaside community of small summer cottages. The majority of the lots in the original plats were 7,200 square feet, and deeds required a minimum house size of 576 square feet. Three weeks after the plats were recorded, on May 17, the commission issued the first “rules and regulations governing and restricting the platting or other subdivision of land.” The rules set the minimum size of a subdivision lot at 10,000 square feet.
The subdivision design included roads with boating names like Frigate and Garboard. Lot owners were granted an easement to use eight developer-owned shore lots “and waters adjacent thereto for the purpose of bathing and swimming.” The developers made no provision for water, sewer, telephone, electricity or other form of power, or police and fire protection.
The first lot was sold on May 27, 1947, and within three years 110 families had built homes in the area. Almost all of the early houses were summer homes, most often for people from central Massachusetts or northern Rhode Island, who in the years before the interstate preferred a two-hour ride to Jamestown to the six-hour grind to Cape Cod. As time passed and transportation to and from the island improved, the original cottages were enlarged and converted to year-round residences, although many were still occupied only part of the year.
Head promised the Planning Commission that Eldred Avenue would be the only business artery in the Shores, that business lots would be no smaller than 7,200 square feet, and that he would keep the area free of “cheap and unsightly structures.” The Jamestown Shores Motel and a small restaurant – known in the 1980s as Mr. Pipes – on the north side of the road at the foot of the bridge, were the only commercial buildings erected. They were torn down in the mid 1980s to make way for the new Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and the John Eldred Parkway.
Isolated from the village by the surrounding farms and the marsh, usually with no family links to the island, and essentially deserted by the developer who moved to Florida, Jamestown Shores residents created their own tightly knit community.
Electricity came to the area through the action of a Jamestown Shores resident, Armand Girard, who in 1949 contracted with the Newport Electric Co. to pay $1 per month per pole for each pole on North Main Road between Eldred Avenue and Frigate Street – a cost of $35 per month, or more than $300 a month in today’s dollars. As customers subscribed to the service, the cost was divided among them until enough homes were electrified to allow metering.
In 1950, 46 families formed the Jamestown Shores Association to promote the welfare of the area in “an atmosphere of neighborliness and friendship.” The association began to address – one by one – the problems they faced because of their isolation and the shortsightedness of the original development.
The roads in the development had been deeded to the town shortly after the project opened. Legally, however, the town had no obligation to repair or improve them. The association brought political pressure to include the roads in the town budget.
The beach belonged to the developers, who initially landscaped the area, installed picnic tables and grills, and designated parking areas, but who did not maintain the amenities. The association arranged a lease in 1955. The town later bought the beach, and it is now open to all Jamestowners with resident stickers.
Feeling that the Jamestown Police Department did not have a high enough presence in the dense residential area of the Shores, the association’s Ellen Conroy introduced the first crime watch program in Jamestown. The group later helped to introduce crime watch to other parts of the island.
The association and Jamestown Shores residents in general were especially active during the planning for the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and the John Eldred Parkway in the 1980s and early 1990s. The new limited access highway passed through the development, further limiting communication between the northern and southern section. Because the only fire station is in the village, the people in the Shores were particularly concerned that fire equipment be able to reach all parts of the area easily.
The association remains a political and social advocate for the area, sponsoring meet-the-candidate nights and speaking out on issues that particularly affect the local residents.
Water and wastewater disposal continue to be major concerns in Jamestown Shores. Each of the over 800 developed lots has its own septic system and well, and both town and state regulations aimed at avoiding cross-contamination have become increasingly stringent. The area is also subject to the high ground water table ordinance, which restricts construction that could limit the ability of rainfall and treated wastewater to replenish drinking water supplies or that could encourage saltwater intrusion.
This is the 23rd in a series of articles chronicling the history of Jamestown in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Jamestown Historical Society.