Conanicut, Dutch, and Gould islands in Narragansett Bay were purchased in 1657 and incorporated as the town of Jamestown in 1678. Jamestown remained a small and isolated agricultural community until the late 19th century. With the introduction of the steam ferry in 1873, the town grew into a summer resort. In the mid-20th century, bridges fostered Conanicut Island's development as a bedroom community. Until the late 20th century, the military - sensitive to its strategic location in Narragansett Bay - maintained forts and other installations on the island.
Colonial Records. Colonial records include the original signed contract among the men who purchased the island, a bill for the building of the second Beavertail Lighthouse in 1755, and several Quaker marriage documents.
Agricultural Era. Agricultural artifacts, including household objects from the 1760 Carr-Hazard Farmhouse, contribute to a vivid picture of life in Jamestown during this period.
Transportation. The original handwritten minutes for the Jamestown and Newport Ferry Company from its inception in 1872 to 1909 give the background for other ferry artifacts in the collection. The construction of the first bridge to the mainland in 1940 is recorded in oral histories, documents, and over 150 photographs, and another 800 plus photographs with accompanying reports document bridge maintenance. The collection also includes records and photographs of the construction of the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge (1969) and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge (1992).
Summer Resort. Signs, menus, hotel account books, over 1000 photographs of the summer "cottages" and hotels, and several paintings - including oils by James Brade Sword and Francis X. West - celebrate the era.
People. Information about Jamestowners is found in records of local organizations, in published profiles, and in unpublished memoirs and reminiscences, as well as in thousands of obituaries.
Military. Flags, signs, and records of the use of local forts for detention of prisoners of war, as well as photographs of the military at the various installations, record the federal government's influence.
Disasters. Personal accounts, photographs, and newspaper articles about hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other local calamities, especially the devastating Hurricane of 1938, describe Jamestown activities in the wake of disaster.
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