2013-05-30 / News

Jamestown Historical Society Feature

Daniel Watson: Early development of real estate in Jamestown

In 1873, the Jamestown & New­port Ferry Company launched the first scheduled steam ferry service across the East Passage between Jamestown and Newport.

Almost immediately, land that for almost 200 years had been farmed by a small number of lo­cal families – the Carrs, Watsons, Howlands, Greens and Cottrells among them – became valuable as housing lots. In 1875 there were only 103 homes on the island, housing 488 permanent residents. By 1895, the population had al­most doubled to 813. More dra­matically, the number of houses had more than tripled, and almost 50 percent of the 325 single-fam­ily dwellings were unoccupied in the winter months.

Along with land development came the new-to-Jamestown pro­fession of real-estate agent. One of the most prominent real-estate agents in this early stage was Dan­iel Watson, colloquially known as “Real Estate Dan.”

Daniel was the seventh of the 10 children of Dr. Daniel and Sarah G.C. (Arnold) Watson of Newport. The Watson family had a long his­tory in Jamestown. Daniel’s great- grandfather Job Watson (1744- 1812) came to Conanicut Island from South County soon after the American Revolution. He and his five sons acquired large tracts of land – including all the farms on the west side of North Road from Eldred Avenue to Narragansett Av­enue – and took an active part in the political life of the town.

Thomas Congdon Watson was the first developer to give Daniel Watson, his cousin, exclusive rights as a sales agent for the Bay View development on the West Passage. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Thomas Congdon Watson was the first developer to give Daniel Watson, his cousin, exclusive rights as a sales agent for the Bay View development on the West Passage. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Daniel Watson grew up in New­port, and on the eve of the War Between the States (1861-65) he was living there with his parents on Spring Street. Like virtually all young men in their 20s, he regis­tered for the draft and he served as a hospital steward on several ves­sels in the Union fleet blockading southern ports during the war. In the early 1870s, he began divid­ing his time between Newport and Jamestown, developing a success­ful career selling the newly James­town subdivided farms.

The first development in James­town village was Ferry Meadows, platted in 1873 near the new wharf at East Ferry on the farm that had belonged to John Howland. Wat­son sold some of the lots there, but shared responsibility for develop­ing the plat with other sales agents. The next year Watson’s cousin Thomas Congdon Watson divided his land near West Ferry, creating the Bay View development. Dan­iel Watson was made sole agent to sell the Bay View lots. The follow­ing year, Watson published a large map of Jamestown showing the subdivisions and advertising his responsibility for them. A copy of the map hangs in the town clerk’s office.

Over the next 25 years, Watson was named sole sales agent for ev­ery major development in James­town south of the Great Creek.

The Ocean Highlands Company was organized in 1875 to devel­op the Dumplings area. The plat contained about 200 acres, many of them on rocky coastline with splendid views. Transportation into the area was difficult, and de­velopment of the Dumplings pro­ceeded slowly. The first house was not built there until 1881. Then, in 1883, Watson teamed up with the shingle-style architect Charles L. Bevins, bringing Bevins commis­sions for houses that were unique­ly suited to the rough terrain – and in the process speeding the devel­opment of the area. Bevins and Watson worked together, sharing offices in both Jamestown and Newport, until Watson’s death. Bevins designed no buildings in Jamestown after Watson died.

The Bryer farm encompassed land on both sides of Conanicus Avenue north of Jamestown Har­bor and had been owned by Cas­well, as well as the Bryer and Cory families. When it was platted in 1884, Daniel Watson became involved in development of com­mercial as well as residential sites. In 1889, the Champlin House, later Dr. Bates Sanitarium, was built in the Bryer farm plat. The same year the Bay Voyage Inn was floated across the bay from Middletown to its site between the Champlin House and the water.

Shoreby Hill development be­gan two years after the Bryer farm was platted. A group of men from St. Louis divided the Greene farm into 140 lots, averaging more than a quarter acre each. They reserved prime sites for themselves and gave Daniel Watson the responsi­bility for selling the rest.

Watson’s interests were not confined strictly to real estate, al­though his single invention would certainly be of use to real-estate agents. In 1887, he patented a door fastener to be used when there was no lock or when the lock was bro­ken or the key lost.

The final development for which Watson took the lead was Ocean View, which subdivided the old South Beavertail Farm and includ­ed all of what is now Beavertail State Park. The plat was recorded in 1899, and he did not live to see the development to fruition. Wat­son died on June 13, 1899, at age 62, while showing a client land in the Dumplings.

He left behind his wife, the former Susan E. Commerford of Newport, whom he had married only eleven years earlier. They had two little girls and, at his death, his wife was pregnant with their third daughter.

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