Jamestown Historical Society

Share this Page

Celebrating Jamestown Ferries

Summer 2023 Exhibit

This exhibit has passed. Click here for current exhibits.

Celebrating Jamestown Ferries, summer 2023’s museum exhibit, co-curated by Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden, commemorates the 100th anniversary of Narragansett Bay steam ferry service.

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 the isolated island, the town and some of its prominent citizens formed the Jamestown & Newport Ferry Company, with the town 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 celebrates this anniversary, and the 96 years of service that followed. Pictures and artifacts of the town-owned Jamestown & Newport Ferry Company, its successor state-run Ferry Authority and RIDOT Ferry Division, and the opposition Narragansett Transportation Co. 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.

Become a JHS Member

Help preserve & share the history of Jamestown, RI. Maintain the Museum, the Windmill, the Meetinghouse and the Conanicut Battery. Preserve the Society’s collection of documents, photographs and artifacts.