2013-02-07 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News


How the Jamestown windmill works will soon be easier to understand. The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities has awarded the society $11,650 to improve the signage inside the 1787 structure.

Currently, explanatory information consists of small labels identifying the major mechanisms, a diagram of the mill structure, and historic photographs, often displayed without explanations. Some earlier signs that had faded too much to be readable have had to be removed. The upper levels are lit only by sunlight entering through two small windows.

Under the grant, new and more attractive labels will replace the existing ones, and diagrams explaining how the mill works will be added to relate the labeled mechanism to the actual milling operation. The second level, which was originally used for storage and is now empty, will be turned into a small museum of windmill history. Lighting will be added at all levels and used to call attention to distinctive features of the building and to the operations performed there.

The schedule calls for the project to be completed by Windmill Day 2014, which is planned for mid-July. Funding for the lighting was not included in the grant and is still being sought.

This is the third phase in the society’s efforts to enhance the visitor’s understanding and experience at the mill in response to a 2010 assessment evaluation report that pointed out the inadequacy of the existing explanatory material.

The first step was to improve the exterior signage so that visitors who could not or did not wish to enter and explore the mill could understand its history and operation. Two large signs, partially funded by a smaller RICH grant, were put up in the field near the mill last year.

In parallel, parts of the furniture of the mill – the vat that surrounds the heavy grinding stones and associated equipment – were rebuilt, and additional safety rails were installed. Funding for this part of the project came from windmill donations and from a fund devoted to mill upkeep established in 1987 by two Jamestown Historical Society members, the sisters Nan Thompson and Margaret Evans.

Maintaining a 225-year-old building is expensive, and the society is grateful for the many organizations and people who help us do it.

Compact storage for the vault

Plans for installation of the new compact storage system in the JHS vault in the lower level of Town Hall – also recommended in the assessment report – are now firm. The last day the vault will be open for normal business is Thursday, Feb. 14. Over the following week, the archival material and some of the shelving that cannot be reused will be removed from the vault. Electricians will install new lighting before the compact shelving is installed the week of March 4. This part was funded with a grant from the Champlin Foundations. The next week will be devoted to returning material to the proper shelves.

The vault is scheduled to reopen March 19.

After we reopen, drop by to see our improved facilities. Volunteers will normally be in the vault between 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or call during those hours to make an appointment to come at a different time. The telephone number is 423- 7202. Or email info@jamestown historicalsociety.org with your question or request.

New exhibits around town

Last fall, the JHS exhibit at the Lawn Avenue School told the history of postal service in Jamestown. The first postmaster on the island was appointed in 1847, the same year the first stamps were issued. Back then, a 5-cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 ounce to travel up to 300 miles. Rural free delivery route 1 was established about 1906, and Edith Caswell Richardson, one of the country’s first woman rural mail carriers, carried mail by horse and buggy and, in winter, by horse and sleigh along the route.

When we took the exhibit down in January, we offered the exhibit panels to Postmaster Jared Bron- go. They are now on display in the outer room of the Jamestown post office.

At the Lawn Avenue School, the Society has mounted an exhibit for the spring semester about transportation to and from the island. The exhibit emphasizes the effect that each change in the method of crossing the bay had on the growth of Jamestown’s population – from sail ferry to steam ferry to the West Passage bridge to the East Passage bridge. Included in the exhibit are artifacts from the ferries and the bridges, including a change holder used by a purser on the Newport Ferry, a piece of the grill from the top of the Jamestown Bridge, and tokens from the Newport Pell Bridge.

The new exhibit in the society’s display case in the Jamestown Philomenian Library spotlights the buttons and badges in the collections. Badges selected include jacket patches for the Jamestown Ambulance Corps, a forerunner of the Jamestown Emergency Medical Service, and a metal Master at Arms shield from the Naval training facility at Beavertail. Buttons are even more varied, ranging from a tiny Red Cross lapel pin from World War II through military insignia and a pin for Jamestown’s 350th anniversary in 2007.

Working at the battery

Jan. 19 was declared a National Day of Service to commemorate both the second inauguration of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the spirit of the day, the JHS battery committee organized a workday to clear greenbrier and brush from around the Liberty Tree in Conanicut Battery Historic Park. The Liberty Tree, a weeping beech, was planted in 1976 in honor of the country’s bicentennial.

It was a clear, cool, rather windy day. Ten people showed up to work for two or three hours, and a lot was accomplished. Another workday is planned for March, the date depending on the weather. If you would like to be kept up to date on workday plans, please email the society with your name and telephone number.

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