2013-09-05 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

Next Saturday, Sept. 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is the house tour. This year’s tour, which may easily be accomplished on foot, includes five houses and three art studios in the West Ferry area.

The oldest house – the King- Sherman house at 228 Narragansett Ave. – dates from about 1873 and is probably the first house built in a development platted by Thomas Congdon Watson on his portion of the Watson family farm at Dutch Harbor north of Narragansett Avenue. Jillian Barber has added a wing for her studio, which is one of the art studios on the tour. The other Watson plat houses on the tour – 6 Ocean Ave. and 15 Ocean Ave. (built about 1890 and 1895, respectively), and Spruce Row at 194 Narragansett Ave. (built in the mid-1880s) – are within two blocks of the King-Sherman house. Each house has a gable end facing the street. Otherwise, they are very different – both in their original design and in the changes that have been introduced over the years by successive owners.

Spruce Row at 194 Narragansett Ave. was built by John J. Watson in 1883. Watson was a horticulturist who also owned Thorncroft and planted a marvelous selection of trees and scrubs there. 
Photo courtesy of JHS Spruce Row at 194 Narragansett Ave. was built by John J. Watson in 1883. Watson was a horticulturist who also owned Thorncroft and planted a marvelous selection of trees and scrubs there. Photo courtesy of JHS The fifth house on the tour, Southwinds, at 14 Westwood Road, is a catalog house – a precut, locally constructed building from Aladdin Homes. Southwinds and the house next to it at 20 Westwood Road were built by Rear Adm. Spencer S. Wood on the West Passage shore in 1916-17. The gardens, but not the house, at 20 Westwood, will also be open.

The three studios are those of Jane McNally Wright at 206 Narragansett Ave., Peter Marcus at 52 Ocean Ave., and Barber, mentioned above.

Everyone is invited to the house tour. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased at any of the historic houses on the day of the tour. If you are a member of the Jamestown Historical Society – or want to become one – you can also join us at Thorncroft, 175 Narragansett Ave., next Friday, Sept. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. for a membersonly preview party. Thorncroft is not on the tour the next day, so only JHS members will have an opportunity to visit it.

Thorncroft and the land it stands on have a fascinating history. The house was built about 1860 by one of the members of the Watson family, descendants of Job Watson, who came to Jamestown soon after the American Revolution. He was soon the largest landowner on the island. In 1803, Job Watson owned all the land west of North Road from Eldred Avenue to Narragansett Avenue, as well as land at the North End and at least 10 acres south of Narragansett.

When Watson died in 1812, the land was divided among his children. His son Robert inherited the land where Thorncroft stands. About 1843, Robert’s daughter Meribah built a house on the property, but it wasn’t until her nephews John J. and Thomas Carr Watson purchased the property in 1860 that the current house was built. It is unclear whether Meribah, her brother Joseph, or the two nephews were responsible for building it.

In the 1860s, the building –yet unnamed – appears on the tax rolls as a hotel, and Meribah’s brother Robert lived there. After Robert’s death in 1875, John J., who was a noted horticulturist, moved into the building, named it The Retreat, and devoted himself to cultivating rare trees and shrubs. In 1898, he changed the name to Thorncroft after the locust trees he had planted. Thorncroft remained in the Watson family until 1976. Since then it has passed through several owners who have modernized the interior but retained, to a great extent, the 19th century exterior and John J.’s trees and shrubs, which – as was noted in the Newport Daily News 100 years ago – “excite the admiration of all who pass.”

Reservations for the preview party are required. The $40 admission per person – which includes a ticket to Saturday’s house tour – will be collected at the door. If you are not currently a JHS member, you may make a reservation anyway and join the society when you come to the party. Call 401- 423-0784 (please leave a message) or email info@jamestownhistori calsociety.org to let us know your name and the number of people in your party.

In other news, at Jamestown Historical Society’s 101st annual meeting on Aug. 8, Dr. Ronald J. Onorato, chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Rhode Island, talked about the special appeal of Jamestown architecture. The message of his talk – demonstrated with multiple pictures of Jamestown buildings and scenery – was that while architecture often gives a sense of place, in Jamestown the place informs and gives a sense of the architecture. A video of the complete talk can be accessed from the society’s website, thanks to the Jamestown Record.

A new board was elected at the meeting. Linnea Petersen, Dianne Rugh and Tricia Evangelista were re-elected president, vice president and treasurer, respectively. Heidi Keller Moon took on the duties of secretary. Directors elected were Jane Bentley, Polly Hutcheson, Delia Klingbeil, Terry Lanza, Larry McDonald, Arlene Petit and Dan Wright.

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