Summertime Fun: Swimming in Jamestown
Year-round residents and visitors alike enjoy swimming in the Narragansett Bay. Our newest Library exhibit shows photos and objects from our collection - from a man's one piece wool bathing suit worn in the early 1900's to a T-shirt from the 33rd Annual Jamestown Penguin Plunge in 2009.
In the early days, Victorian era modesty dictated bathing costumes that covered women from neck to toe. The men had it somewhat easier, but were still expected to cover their torsos and thighs. Ladies’ hair styles demanded long hair, which in turn necessitated turban-like bathing caps. These changing styles of bathing outfits are shown in the exhibit.
Custom, convenience, and to some extent the law required that bathing costumes not be worn on the street, consequently, bathhouses lined the shores and piers to allow beach goers to change from street clothes. Private bathhouses were built in front of the Bay Voyage and the Bay View hotels, at Green’s Pier in the Dumplings, and at Camp Seaside at Conanicut Park. Ones planned by the Beaver Tail Country Club about 1940 never materialized.
The town built a large pavilion at Mackerel Cove that opened in 1928 with more than 150 bathhouses. The pavilion also contained a dance hall where dances were held three nights a week. The facility was washed away by the Hurricane of 1938.
In 1953, nine swimmers competed in a swim from Jamestown to Newport. Since 1977, Save the Bay has sponsored a similar swim to call attention to the need to keep the bay clean and a safe place for swimmers.
A sillier event takes place on New Year’s Day. From 1977 to 2010, the icy Penguin Plunge at Mackerel Cove benefited Special Olympics Rhode Island. In 2012, the event – renamed Jamestown First Day Plunge –moved to East Ferry and now benefits local non-profits.
The exhibit was prepared and installed by Rosemary Enright, Carol Lake, and Sue Maden. The exhibit can be found in the Jamestown Philomenian Library.