2013-09-05 / News

Jamestown Historical Society Feature

Summer cottages for rent
By Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden

With the development of reliable steam ferries across the East Passage in 1873 and across the West Passage 15 years later, Jamestown became a summer destination and resort.

Initially, simple accommodations were available in ferry houses and boardinghouses. Because many summer visitors were accustomed to a more sophisticated lifestyle, hotels were built to accommodate them. The Bay View Hotel was built in 1873, followed by the Gardner House, the Thorndike Hotel, the Bay View House (as the large Bay View tower was called), the Bay Voyage Inn, and several smaller hotels, all of which operated on the American Plan lodging package that included rooms or suites, three meals a day, and often laundering, tailoring, entertainment and, according to bills that have survived, even the occasional loan of cash to visitors without local banking facilities.

Many visitors spent the entire summer season in Jamestown.


Renters of Patrick Horgan’s Three Sisters cottages had hotel privileges at his Thorndike Hotel next door. From left, Betty, Nina and Myra. 
Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society Renters of Patrick Horgan’s Three Sisters cottages had hotel privileges at his Thorndike Hotel next door. From left, Betty, Nina and Myra. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society Then, as now, longer term visitors often preferred a more homelike environment and built cottages, which ranged from one-room beach houses to 12- and 15-bedroom mansions.

Developers also built cottages specifically as rentals.

Some of the developers were prominent Jamestowners. John J. Watson, town clerk and owner of Thorncroft on Narragansett Avenue, built Hedgerow at 16 Green Lane in 1888 and used it as the town clerk’s office in 1889. William H. Knowles, the owner of the Bay View Hotel, owned Shore Cottage across Conanicus Avenue from the hotel next to what is now veterans square.

Patrick H. Horgan, a developer from Newport who built the Thorndike Hotel on the site where BankNewport now stands, also built cottages to rent on his property near the hotel. The best known of Horgan’s cottages are the Three Sisters on Conanicus Avenue, named after his daughters Betty, Nina and Myra. Families who rented cottages owned by Horgan enjoyed hotel privileges at the Thorndike. A successful developer, Horgan was the largest owner of real estate in Newport when he died in 1932.

Although many summer rentals were built specifically for summer use, others were the winter homes of year-round residents. In these instances, a family would rent its home to members of the summer colony and find other accommodations for the season. In one example culled from the society’s records, Al Richardson spent the summer with friends. More often, Jamestowners had a second home on the island and “camped out” there. The Ferdinand Armbrust family, for example, rented out their house on Shady Lane and stayed at Rest-a-Bit, a smaller but still comfortable cottage on the shore at Potters Cove.

The amenities at the cottages varied greatly. Watson’s Hedgerow had 14 rooms with one bath. It rented for $500 for the summer of 1901. ($1 was equal to about $26 today.) The Three Sisters, built in 1897, each had 12 rooms, one Proposedbath and two toilets, and rented for

$500 11 years later. The 1912 advertisement Overlay for the Three Sisters includes the information that they had no garages – a new consideration reflecting the impact that the automobile was having on Jamestown.

That same year the Gibson cottage at 55 Grinnell St. rented for $125. The cottage had five rooms and no bath or toilet. The Gibson cottage had been built a few years earlier by Percival Gibson for his own use. Gibson had been orphaned at the age of 15 and “put” in the Navy. When he was discharged, he became a carpenter, working on many fine houses in Newport, including the Breakers. The house remained a rental for only a short period. Gibson died in 1916, and in 1924, Col. and Mrs. Thomas Kirkpatrick purchased the Gibson home as a summer residence. In 1938, the house became the summer home of Dr. Julius F. Neuberger, a retired Navy captain.

Other houses were rented only occasionally. Beachhaven at 141 Conanicus Ave. was designed by Charles L. Bevins for Dr. David Kindleberger in 1886. He and his wife summered in Jamestown until her death in 1898, but that year, he rented it out.

Jamestown is still a summer destination, although without the large residential hotels that characterized the resort 100 years ago. Most rental properties – about 80 percent – are owned by people from out of state, some of whom live in the house for part of the summer and rent it only when they are not using it. The balance of rental houses are owned by Jamestowners who either summer at a second home, generally off the island, or live on their boats for the summer or travel during the weeks their house is rented.

With about 100 houses available, the majority of visitors now rent by the week or month rather than for the whole summer season. The rentals offer, on the average, one bathroom for every two bedrooms, and rents range from $1,500 a week for a modest cottage to $20,000 for a large oceanfront house with a pool.

The most frequent question asked by prospective renters is, “Does the house have Wi-Fi?”

Author’s note: Special thanks to Carol Lake and Mary Beth Murphy for their contributions to this column.

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