Jamestown Historical Society

2023 Museum Exhibit Opening Reception

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On May 26, the 2023 JHS Museum opened a new exhibit, “Celebrating Jamestown Ferries: 150th Anniversary of Jamestown’s First Steam Ferry”. JHS members enjoyed a reception highlighting the anniversary of the first steam ferry going into service in Jamestown in 1873.

The exhibition at the museum, 92 Narragansett Ave., which is managed by the Jamestown Historical Society, is titled “Celebrating Jamestown Ferries: 150th Anniversary of Jamestown’s First Steam Ferry.” In 1870, the population of Jamestown had fallen to 378. Although steamboats had been around for 50 years, the island was connected to the outer world only by unreliable sail ferries. Ambitious younger people were leaving to find jobs elsewhere.

Unable to interest the state or outside investors in financing a steam ferry to put the isolated island in easier touch with the larger world, the town and some of its prominent citizens formed the Jamestown & Newport Ferry Company, with the municipality as the majority stockholder. The first steam ferry, Jamestown — the first of four ferryboats with that name — made its maiden trip on May 12, 1873.

The exhibit at the museum celebrates this anniversary, and the 96 years of service that followed. Pictures and artifacts of the Jamestown & Newport Ferry Company, its state-run successor, and the opposition (Narragansett Transportation Company) are on display. Models of the ferries, many of them made by ferry employees, are featured.

In 1986, the historical society undertook an oral history with former employees of the ferry company. Thirty-six former employees were interviewed. Together they had worked for the ferry company for 334 years.

In preparation for the 2023 exhibit, the recordings of the interviews were scoured for descriptions of duties and anecdotes about working on the ferry. Part of the exhibit is devoted to snippets of the interviews.

The exhibit was co-curated by Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden. The museum will be open from 1-4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sunday and holidays through Columbus Day.

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