Jamestown Historical Society

Thorndike Hotel

A view looking south
A view looking south

In the halcyon days when Jamestown was a summer resort, visitors stayed in hotels and cottages for weeks at a time. One of the premier hotels was the Thorndike (sometimes spelled Thorndyke). It was located where BankNewport is now.

In 1879, Mrs. Marion Fife had paid $1,200 for the property. In April 1889, Patrick H. Horgan, a successful Newport businessman, bought the lots at auction in a bidding war with a consortium of Jamestown men led by John Jay Watson. He paid $10,050, 13 cents more per square foot than had ever been paid before in Jamestown. He hired Charles L. Bevins to design and Nicholas Dillon to build his new hotel.

The “Hotel Hawarden” opened that summer with only two stories, giving it a somewhat “squatty” appearance. Work on adding two more stories started that fall.

Thorndike (left) & Gardner Hotels, 1889
Thorndike (left) & Gardner Hotels, 1889
Horgan ran the hotel for two years. In February 1891, he leased it to Charles E. Weeden for five years and changed the name to the “Thorndike Hotel.” “Thorndike” was the maiden name of Rebecca Thorndike Marin, who died in 1890. She was the wife of Capt. Mathias C. Marin of Newport, who had taken the 14-year-old Horgan under his wing during Horgan’s stint as a cabin boy during the Civil War.
Three sisters south of the hotel
Three sisters south of the hotel
As tourism increased, Horgan recognized the demand for cottages adjoining the hotel. Around the turn of the century, he built three cottages “with all the modern conveniences.” They were called the Three Sisters and named for his daughters: Myra, Nina, and Betty.
A view looking north
A view looking north

The Thorndike was described in a 1912 directory as “… widely and favorably known to the best traveling public on Narragansett Bay. The building is a handsome four-story structure, after the Colonial style, with effective exterior finish of dark gray shingles. The verandas are both broad and deep, and on the upper floors there are innumerable bay windows. In all there are one hundred and thirteen guest rooms with ample and superior accommodations for two hundred and fifty people.”

The hotel offered meals and many entertainments. From 1890 until St. Mark was built in 1893, Catholic mass was celebrated there on summer Sundays.

A fire destroyed the hotel on Saturday, October 12, 1912.

Men looking at the rubble
Men looking at the rubble

The alarm was sounded a little before 11:00 p.m. by the cook in a nearby cottage. Jamestown firemen responded quickly. The 11:30 ferry run brought several Newport firemen, and the Conanicut returned across the bay by 12:17 to bring more firemen and equipment. Thirty senior apprentice seamen from the Training Station on the ferry Inca pitched in along with seamen from the German cruiser Victoria Louise and the destroyers Dixie and Solace and men from Fort Wetherill and Fort Greble.

The men concentrated on keeping the fire from spreading. Neither the Gardner House to the north nor the Three Sisters to the south were affected.

Boys with Gardner in background
Boys with Gardner in background

It is generally believed that the fire started when red flares were thrown from the roof of the hotel in a farewell gesture to passengers on the Fall River line going to New York.

The hotel was quickly replaced.

New Thorndike
New Thorndike

The new Thorndike hotel was the same length – 200 feet – as the old hotel but it was built 30 feet further from the shore. Wood construction – despite the danger of fire – ensured that it would be ready for the 1913 season. The new hotel did not have the beauty of the old though it did offer more conveniences.

The Great Depression made vacation travel an unaffordable luxury. The automobile changed vacationing patterns. Jamestown hotels suffered greatly. The owner razed the Thorndike one week before the 1938 Hurricane.

Click on this link to see more Thorndike images from our Online Catalog

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