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Jamestown Historical Society (Jamestown, R.I.) (1912-) | State Archives Catalog

Name: Jamestown Historical Society (Jamestown, R.I.) (1912-)

Historical Note:

The Jamestown Historical Society was founded in 1912 primarily to ensure the preservation of the Jamestown Windmill on North Road. The windmill, built in 1787, had ceased operation in 1896. For several years it stood derelict, subject to weather and vandalism. In 1904, a group of Jamestowners formed the Jamestown Windmill Society and raised the money to buy and repair the mill.

Members of the Windmill Society and others joined together in 1912 to incorporate as the Jamestown Historical Society. In the years that followed, the Windmill was fully restored and today it is maintained by the society and open to the public on summer weekends and on request. The society grew slowly, collecting historical artifacts and presenting occasional exhibits, but having no permanent home. In 1971 the society obtained a $1 /year lease from the town to house its collections in a town-owned building at 92 Narragansett Avenue. The building had been built as a primary school on a lot about two blocks south-southwest of its current location in 1886. In 1898, it was moved to the southeast corner of the town’s artillery ground and became the home of the Jamestown Philomenian Library. A small rear workroom was added in 1921. The JHS set aside part of the schoolroom for a permanent exhibit of memorabilia related to the ferryboats that had serviced the island since the late 17th century and used the remainder of the room for a rotating annual exhibit. With its mission to collect, preserve, and share the history of Jamestown, Rhode Island, on firm footing, the society began to expand its horizons.

In 1997, the JHS accepted responsibility for the 1786 Quaker Meetinghouse near the windmill on North Road, agreeing to allow the Conanicut Friends’ Meeting to gather there each week.

When the Friends of the Conanicut Battery was formed to restore and maintain the 1776 Battery off of Beavertail Road overlooking West Passage in 2000, the JHS provided organizational and planning support. In 2004, the society initiated a project to digitize its 4,500+ item collection of photographs and artifacts for on-line accessibility and more security. The project led to transfer of all collection records to the PastPerfect museum software.

In 2005, it purchased at auction the town's founding land agreement executed, a prepurchase contract among the potential purchasers of Conanicut Island executed in 1657. The document is now on display in a specially designed case in the Jamestown Town Hall. In 2006, the JHS developed a long range plan for the future of the society. Central to the plan were: expanding and modernizing the display and storage facilities to better care for the collection, increasing outreach to the community at all levels but especially in the schools, and solidifying and formalizing the society’s financial base.

A Capital Campaign in 2007 and 2008 raised $500,000. Approximately 35 percent of the money was used to restore the interior and exterior of the museum, to install environmental controls, and to make the building handicap accessible. With another 15 percent, an environmentally controlled vault for storing the archival collections was built in the basement of the new town hall across the street from the museum. Continued occupancy of both town-owned sites was insured by the execution of new 99-year leases for their use. A group of volunteers gather twice a week to inventory and ensure proper packaging of the collection, catalog both new and old material in the PastPerfect database, and expand and as necessary correct the society’s records. Most of the remaining funds from the Capital Campaign were used to create an endowment that is expected to generate approximately $10,000 a year. The income from the endowment, along with income from other endowed sources, support about 30 percent of the annual budget, giving the society a stable budgetary minimum. The rest of the budget is funded by a combination of dues, donations, an annual fund raising event, and grants.

In 2011, the PastPerfect catalog of the collection was added to the JHS website. In 2012, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the historical society, the Jamestown Press is featuring bi-weekly articles narrating the history of Jamestown.

The society also publishes monographs on an occasional basis, which include a study of the work of Charles L. Bevins, an architect who designed many of the large summer homes on the island, and a history of the keepers of the Dutch Island lighthouse. The History Press recently published Jamestown: A History of Narragansett Bay’s Island Town, written by Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden, two members of the JHS Collections Committee using many of the resources of the society.

Exhibits have been mounted in most public buildings in the village.

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