Jamestown Historical Society News
Thanks to the generosity of Brookie Harding and the dedication of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, the slate plaque that was commissioned by the Jamestown Historical Society in 1951 to mark the site of the original 1749 Beavertail Light is back on the lighthouse foundation where it belongs.
Soon after the foundation of the original lighthouse was unearthed by the Hurricane of 1938, Peyton Hazard, the JHS president, established a committee to investigate the desirability and possibility of erecting a marker on the site. In August 1941, the Coast Guard authorized the erection of the plaque, but shortly after Pearl Harbor, the committee reported that “the federal government has not only prohibited access to the Beavertail Lighthouse but is reported as desiring to purchase the precinct.” The marker idea was dropped for the duration of World War II.
After the war, the society repaired the stone lighthouse base and, in June 1949, to mark the 200th anniversary of the light, we erected a wooden sign explaining the importance of the site. The sign did not last long. The following summer, Elizabeth Davis reported that both weather and vandalism had taken their toll. J. Howard Benson, of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, offered to repair the sign.
Benson did more than repair the wooden sign. He carved the slate plaque that is now back on the lighthouse foundation at Beavertail. It reads, “Foundation of the original Beavertail Lighthouse Erected 1749 Third Lighthouse to be established on the Atlantic Coast.” The society paid $170 in installments for the new sign.
Herbert Wetherill and Commodore Cary W. Magruder, both summer Jamestowners and members of the society, mounted the slate plaque on a stone marker built on top of the old foundation.
For 40 years, the stone marker withstood the storms that swept Beavertail, although Hurricane Carol in 1954 took its toll. Hurricane Bob in 1991, however, destroyed the marker, and the slate ended up on the ground. JHS President Brookie Harding and her husband Howard rescued it and had it repaired, again by the John Stevens Shop. In 1996, the society moved the slate plaque to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum, which had opened in 1989. Last year, the BLMA board of directors committed $15,000 to stabilize the original foundation. During the restoration of the octagonal base, the JHS slate marker was embedded in the foundation’s northwest face with funds contributed by Brookie Harding.
It’s good to have in back in place.
Over the past few years, the Friends, who meet regularly in the Quaker meetinghouse on Weeden Lane, and the society have been trying different ways to reduce the damp that is rotting the wood in the 225-year-old building. This October, Ocean State Air Solu- tions installed a vapor barrier in the crawl space. According to Harry Wright, the meetinghouse chair, the solution looks promising. The smell of damp soil is gone in the crawl space, although continued watchfulness is needed to see if water pools on the surface of the plastic barrier.
The project was funded largely by a grant from the Newport Restoration Foundation Doris Duke Historic Preservation Fund.
The winter months are slow times for most JHS volunteers. The museum, meetinghouse and windmill are closed except for special tours. We have one of those coming up on Nov. 15 when sculpture- and foundation-drawing students from Swansea will visit the windmill and meetinghouse. If there’s time, they’ll also stop in at the architectural exhibit at the museum.
The vault in the Town Hall basement is open every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9 to noon and is a busy place. We recently installed the network version of Past Perfect, our database software. All data entered is now available to all the other workers immediately. That, and the increased ease of accessing the physical objects on the compact shelving, is making organization and retrieval of information much smoother. Come down and visit.
Planning for next year’s exhibits and events goes on. The next library exhibit will feature artifacts donated to the society in 2013. Hundreds of articles have been received from 71 different donors, so only a small selection can be put on display. A list of all new acquisitions will be available on top of the display case. The January library exhibit will combine a history of the Weeden family with a display of archives and artifacts in our collection relating to the family. Curt Weeden, a member of the local family and author of the novel “Dutch Island,” will give a talk in January in conjunction with the exhibit.
We are still seeking information and photographs related the Weedens, so please get in touch with Sue Maden at 423-2167 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you can contribute.