Jamestown Historical Society News
The society’s focus for January is on the Weeden family of Jamestown. An exhibit of documents and artifacts relating to the Weeden family opens in the Jamestown Philomenian Library foyer at the end of this week. On Monday at 7 p.m., Curt Weeden’s thriller, “Dutch Island,” will be the subject of the library’s reading group. And on the following Thursday, Curt will talk about his book and his brother, a native Rhode Islander who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He will autograph copies of his book, which will also be available for purchase. The talk is co-sponsored by the library and begins at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room. Everyone is invited.
Holly Collins and Arlene Petit curated the library exhibit. Among the documents they selected for display is a copy of the will of Daniel Weeden, Esq. (1696-1785), who left a house and farm to his son Benjamin, but with a catch – the property could only be passed on to “a male heir lawfully begotten of [Benjamin’s] body within wedlock.” The reason behind the proviso is also on display: Benjamin’s agreement to pay the mother of his first illegitimate son and her father 1,000 pounds to ensure the child’s care.
A watercolor of the Weeden farmhouse by James Brade Sword (1839-1915) is the focal point of the section of the exhibit devoted to the Weeden properties on Jamestown. The house, demolished in 1929, was built about 1680 and was lived in by members of the Weeden family until 1924 – almost 250 years. It stood on Weeden Lane approximately where the Windmist farm buildings are now. A hand-drawn map nearby shows the farms of Jamestown in the mid-19th century and their owners. Nine of the farms north of Great Creek were owned by six different Weedens.
The 1741 deed to the Weeden land on Dutch Island, on loan from Curt Weeden, anchors a second display case, which showcases objects related to the Weedens from the society’s collections.
To help keep track of who’s who in the 12 generations between James Weeden, who arrived in Boston in 1638, and the Weedens of the present, is a large family tree.
The exhibit is part of the society’s on-going program to encourage interest in the conservation of 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century documents. Since 2012, the society has used designated grants and private donations to conserve about 500 of the over 5,000 documents in its collection, most of them handwritten archives from the 1700s and 1800s. In 2013, a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities was used to conserve over 200 documents.
Conservation costs about $11 for each document, which includes creation of a digital image of the cleaned and mended archive. The digital images are attached to the document’s catalog record and made available to anyone who is interested through the society’s online catalog.
Later this month another exhibit will be mounted – this one in the exhibit area at the entrance to the library in the Lawn School. “School Days: Then and Now,” will concentrate on showing through pictures and artifacts how the Jamestown schools have changed over the years – from the first one-room schoolhouse built in 1731 to the current Lawn Avenue- Melrose Avenue complex.
The Jamestown Museum is getting an upgrade this month, too. Concerns had been expressed by volunteers – especially those who opened the building after it had been closed for an extended period – about a musty smell. Humidity monitors placed in both the attic and the museum for over a year recorded humidity levels higher than those recommended for the collection or for the historic building itself. Last year, a mold and dampness analysis was commissioned. No serious problems were found, but a barrier to cover the dirt in the crawl space under the building and a dehumidifier were recommended. This month, with the permission of the new town administrator as required by the society’s lease with the town, Ocean State Air Solutions, who last October installed a vapor barrier in the crawl space at the meetinghouse, will do the same at the museum. In order to ensure that the new vapor barrier system works properly, the society plans to install a new $1,400 dehumidifier before warm weather brings higher heat and humidity.