2015-11-05 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

The exhibit committee, which is now under the direction of Suzi Andrews, began its winter activities by mounting a new exhibit in the society’s case in the foyer of the library. The exhibit takes us back to the days when (almost) everyone smoked cigarettes. Matchbooks were everywhere. Companies used the outside – and sometimes the inside – of the matchbooks to advertise their wares and services. On display are matchbooks advertising everything pertaining to Jamestown, from eateries like Tefft’s Restaurant, which was owned by Adelbert Tefft at East Ferry in the 1940s and 1950s, to the Jamestown Water Taxi that George West Jr. ran between Newport and Quonset. The military issued its own matchbooks for each fort during World War II.

Stop by and take a look. Some ashtrays are on display, too.

Other exhibits are being planned. The most exciting will open in mid-January at the Jamestown Arts Center. Several months ago, the arts center began planning an exhibit of portraits in pastels and oil by Nina Baugh Gopcevic (1908-81). She had created the portraits between the ages of 13 and 25, which is when she married. Like many young women of her day, she then focused on her home and family. The artwork had recently been uncovered by family members. While the society’s collection has not focused on the fine arts, it has several paintings, drawings and artifacts from (or depicting) the same period to complement the Gopcevic portraits. Together with the portraits and our pieces, some rare film from the Baugh family gives a rare glimpse into the life of a young and gifted artist. It also captures daily life on Conanicut Island in the 1920s and 1930s.

Expect to hear more about this from both the historical society and the arts center as the opening approaches.

Conanicut Battery

Conanicut Battery off Battery Lane is the least used park on the island. Now is the time to take a walk along one of the paths through the park. The society is responsible only for the historic aspects of the park, but works closely with the town to ensure that the park is public-friendly.

This past summer, members of the society oversaw an Eagle Scout project that improved drainage on the boulder path. Ongoing trimming and poison ivy reduction has improved the access to the battery. Much of the growth that obscured the view of the West Passage from the battery has been cut back to create a view corridor. It now gives anyone standing inside the embankments a better idea of what the artilleryman at a cannon would have seen. Smaller view corridors have been cut on some of the woodland paths.

If you wonder what the markedoff areas are, efforts are being made to plant native grass that will bring the battery back to the 18th century.

Online catalog

Twice a week, a group of devoted volunteers meet in the society’s vault in the Town Hall to catalog and maintain the collections. The catalog they create is available at our website. To explore the catalog, select “collections” in the menu at the top of the page. On the collections page, click on “SEARCH & VIEW our online catalog” at the top right. The search function within the catalog is similar to any other search function.

The database has nearly 30,000 records, which provides a window into the society’s holdings of photographs, objects, books and documents. Most of the photographs and artifacts, a number of the Colonial records, and some of the other archives have attached scans that can be viewed online. Copies can be ordered directly from the website.

We’ve had lots of users in 2015. As of early October, there had been 3,256 searches by 677 users, and some of them contacted the society directly. For example, a doctoral candidate at Salve Regina University searched for information on the Newport Pell Bridge. Also, a descendant of the Remington family that lived on Jamestown in the 17th and 18th century wanted to learn more about her ancestors. Finally, there was a researcher who needed material concerning Jamestown during the Revolutionary War.

While you’re at the website, you can join the society or sign up to get emails about our activities. Scroll to the bottom of any page to see how.

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