2013-10-03 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

Columbus Day Weekend – Oct. 12 through Oct. 14 – is the last weekend this year to visit the Jamestown Windmill or the historical society museum. Both will be open on the Monday holiday, as well as Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m.

If you haven’t been to the museum to see “Architectural Styles of Jamestown, 1700-1950,” please stop by. Jim Buttrick curated the exhibit, which uses both historic and current photographs to point out what makes the different architectural styles seen in Jamestown unique. Buttrick also negotiated with owners and architects of recent renovations and did some “dumpster diving” to collect architectural elements, such as decorative posts, brackets and windows. He displayed them to help give a more physical understanding of a style.

We have been receiving rave reviews all summer.

The back room of the museum building remains the Ferry Room with memorabilia of the days when water transportation was the only way to the island.

Jamestown Historical Society member Sue Maden in the JHS vault at Town Hall with an old document recently cleaned and conserved using grant money. 
Photo by Margo Sullivan Jamestown Historical Society member Sue Maden in the JHS vault at Town Hall with an old document recently cleaned and conserved using grant money. Photo by Margo Sullivan The reviews of the new “furniture” in the windmill have been more mixed. The wooden vat that replicates the vat that would originally have been in the mill – and replaces the see-through plastic that used to surround the stone – covers most of the millstone, although we removed a couple of slats so a visitor can see a bit of the stone. The vat, with the slats back in place, should enable us to grind cornmeal. We are planning to do that at Windmill Day next summer.

The explanatory signs that were put up in the field near the mill have been popular. Improving the signage inside the mill is a top priority for the coming months.

House tour

Last month’s house and studio tour of the West Ferry area was a great success. The area was new to some of the visitors, who seldom go beyond the Four Corners. They were surprised and delighted by the friendly, self-contained neighborhood.

For others, it was old home week. Several were touring houses where they or their parents had grown up. As a child, Jamestown Historical Society president Linnea Petersen lived on Avenue B. She reminisced about her mother taking her to 6 Ocean Ave., one of the houses on the tour, during a hurricane because she was afraid the storm would reach their property.

(Avenue B is a cul-de-sac that runs from Narragansett Avenue north for about a block along the water. And, no, there is no Avenue A, although some old maps show Antham Street – a one-block long connector between Southwest Avenue and Clarke Street north of High Street – as Avenue A. The name “Antham” comes from the surnames of Louis W. Anthony and A. H. Peckham who owned abutting properties in the area and originally created the street as a private way to their respective lands.)

Winter exhibits

This semester’s exhibit in the Lawn School is an outgrowth of the society’s effort to conserve as many 18th- and 19th-century documents in our possession, and to interest others in helping us with that task. The school exhibit shows digital images of three of the documents – a notice from the 1776 Rhode Island General Assembly to raise men for the Revolutionary army, a handwritten list of eligible voters in Jamestown in 1878, and a list of dog licenses in 1879. It pairs the documents with their 20th-century equivalents – draft registration cards, voter registration information and modern dog license requirements – and with objects in the collection that relate to those subjects, such as a old voting machine and World War II Purple Heart.

The documents themselves were originally in the town’s possession, but were not classified for retention. In 1979, they were transferred to the historical society. We unfolded them and put them in archival containers, but didn’t have the money to conserve them. It costs about $11 for each original document to be cleaned, placed in a special plastic sleeve to protect it, and scanned.

Each year, we apply for grants and request donations to help us conserve these documents – and we are making progress. Last year we received a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to conserve 210 documents. This year we have been able to conserve 70 more documents using money donated specifically for that purpose. We still have more than 3,000 documents in need of conservation.

The original documents are stored in the Jamestown Historical Society vault, and digital images are made available to scholars at the society’s website.

We’re working on an exhibit for the library of documents about the Weeden family. The Weeden exhibit is planned for January. Right now, pictures and reports of the 1938 hurricane are on display. We’ll be taking them down soon to put up an exhibit of invitations.

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