The following is from Our 2017 Featured Exhibit.
Out of the Attic
We will show you what we found in our attic.
What is there to discover in yours?
Our Curators have assembled an unique display of artifacts that had been stored away in the attics of Portsmouth citizens.
They are on display in special cases in the Main Museum and the Old Town Hall.
Shown in the display cases in the Main Museum.
Researched by: Joana Hall
- Jack Straws
- Newspaper Transcription (Benefits of Doll Play)
Before the digital age, before battery-operated toys, even before plastic toys, children’s toys still managed to entertain and challenge young people. The toys exhibited here are older versions of games still in use today.
- The Magnetic Jack Straws were copyrighted in 1891. The box shown here is by Milton Bradley Co. dated 1920. It included 2 V-shaped magnets.
- The Velasquez Non Poisonous Art Crayon by the Standard Crayon Co. probably dates to the early 1900’s. The company began operation in the 1890’s and was purchased by Binney & Smith in 1958. An article in the Flint Daily Journal dated 9/27/1905 spoke of poisonous crayons: “Many contain chrome, . . . sulphur and quicksilver. If this stuff is swallowed, . . . it would have serious effects.” This “Non Poisonous” box is an attempt to solve the problem.
- The Game of Authors was first published in 1861 in Salem, MA, by G.M. Whipple and A. A. Smith. In 1897 the game was also published by Parker Bros. of Salem, MA. No photo match or date for this box was found.
Newport & Fall River Street Railway
Researched by: Marjorie Webster
- Photographs (Power House, Re-purposed Car, Trolley Line, Franchise Report)
Electric trolley car service began in 1898 between Newport and Fall River The trip lasted one and one half hours with stops along the route. It was formed with the connection of the lines of two earlier railways, the Middletown & Portsmouth and the Fall River & Stone Bridge The line became the Old Colony Street Railway in 1902 and the Bay State Railway in 1911 The trolley service ceased operation in 1926 when it was under the control of the Newport Electric Corporation. The cars were relocated and continued to move passengers in other locations such as Asbury Park NJ
Did You Know …
A Trolley car converted for use as a cottage can be seen at the Quaker Campground located on Hedly Street.
Power Street was named for the railway’s electric generating plant which once stood at its terminus
Bristol Ferry Artist Community
Artist Paint Box
- Paintings from Oscar Miller & Sofia Mitchell
- Map of Bristol Ferry Area
Researched by: Gloria Schmidt
We received this artist box a number of years ago. It had belonged to Claire Fay, a longtime board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society. The paints are relatively new, but the box itself dates from a hundred years ago. A note said it originally belonged to Bristol Ferry Art Colony member Mariette Letourneau – the great aunt of Claire Fay. This item raised some questions. Who was Mariette Letourneau? Was there an “art colony” at the Bristol Ferry neighborhood of Portsmouth.
Finding Mariette Letourneau was not so easy. Genealogical resources show an aunt for Claire that was named Mariette Letourneau, but the birth date doesn’t match the date given on the card that was left with the box. Was she an artist at Bristol Ferry? Perhaps she stayed with the Fay family and they did live on Bristol Ferry Road.
Was there an artist colony? There were certainly a number of artists that lived in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood. Many of them were drawn there by Sarah J. Eddy. Sarah was a noted photographer, sculptor and painter. Her most famous works are portraits of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Sarah would invite artists to come visit and stay at her home (if they were female) or at Willowbrook, her guest house.
Among the most famous artists in the neighborhood was Oscar Miller who had international fame. He married into a family with Bristol Ferry roots and kept a studio there. Miller’s studio is still there under the care of his grandson.
Sophia Mitchell was another artist who had a national following. She traveled extensively and had studios in Brooklyn as well as Bristol Feny. There were as many as six studios along Bristol Ferry Road.
Bristol Ferry had a reputation for having the quality of light that artists love – beautiful morning light and gorgeous sunsets.
Researched by: Marjorie Webster
- Tax Book
- Some Constables
- Town Report of Dog Damages
Each spring, beginning as early as 1878, licensing of dogs was mandated The shape and color of the dog license tag changed each year Pre-dating neutering laws, the fees for female dogs were higher than for males.
In 1965 the fee for male or spayed females was $1.30 and unspayed females at $3.30 Before leach laws wandering dogs were a nuisance to the town’s farmers They frequently attacked farm animals.
- The town was required to compensate the farmer for the damages.
- Dead animals had to be buried and dangerous animals destroyed.
- Records indicate the appointment Pound Keepers predated Dog Constables.
- In 1878 Carmi Harrington was the Pound Keeper.
- In 1899 Jacob Marz was both Dog Constable & Pound Keeper.
- In 1917 the Pound Keeper was George Hicks & the Dog Constable was Wm W Anthony.
- Dog Registration was often ignored.
- In 1886 131 were licensed with the total number of dogs unknown.
- In 1948 506 dogs were licensed with a total number of dogs estimated at 717
- In 2016 1,623 dogs were licensed with the total number of dogs unknown
- In 1948 Anti Rabies Vaccination was ordered for all dogs
Did You Know …
Dr Minot Steele, Portsmouth physician & county medical examiner, died on Feb 18,1913 as the result of a dog bite inflicted while making a house call on a Portsmouth patient
From Literary Society to Library
Researched by: Nancy Crawford
Library Historic Document
- Programs of South Portsmouth Cultural CLub
1 In the early length century, the invention of the steam powered press and innovative printing technology allowed books to be produced in mass quantities which vastly altered the way authors, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Harriet Beecher Stowe, sold their works from serialized episodes for magazines and newspapers to individual volumes.
Literary societies were organized where people would meet to discuss and exchange books. Much like today’s book clubs where
wine, cheese and gossip are part of the experience, literary society meetings evolved into places where local inhabitants could socialize, enjoy music and entertainment, and debate the issues of the day.
One such organization in Portsmouth was called the Active Culture Club of South Portsmouth. Members of this group, or another group like it, worked toward the establishment of a library. The Portsmouth Free Public Library, built in 1897, still stands on its original site.
Did you know …
The curve going north on East Main Road just past the library at Church Lane was once known as “Library Corner”.
Arthur A. Glines Photography
Researched by: Marjorie Webster
Glass Photo Plates
- Family Tree
- Slide Reproductions
- Glines Studio Card
A. A. Glines was active in Photography from 1880-1926 He began his studio career as a landscape & portrait photographer.
The studio was on Centre Street in Newton Massachusetts.
During this phase of his profession he twice served as president of the ‘New England Society of Photographers’
In 1890 he moved to 6 Winter Street in Boston Massachusetts.
Here he concentrated on photographs of the celebrity trade.
He became an activist for photographer’s rights with the ‘Photographers Association of America’ Joining with other photographers he moved to Boylston Street.
He was a leader in the formation of ‘Photographer’s Row’
Over twenty photographers under unified to protest against the city fathers prohibition of sidewalk photographic displays.
In 1906 A. A. Glines secured the photo concession at “Wonderland”, the pleasure park at Revere Beach.
Why do we have a Boston Photographer’s Slides in our Attic?
Research points to the connection between Portsmouth historian John T. Pierce and the Glines’ family. Mr. Pierce’s sister, Ruth, married the photographer’s grandson, Roland Arthur Glines. Since no documentation for the donation can be found, we can only surmise that it may have come from his attic to ours.
Thurston Mill Grain Sack
Researched by: Gloria Schmidt
- Newspaper Articles
- Post Cards
- Fire Picture
This paper grain sack has been part of the Portsmouth Historical Society collection for some time. Much of what we know about the item is printed right on the bag. The bag held wheat ground at Thurston Mill at Melville, Rhode Island. It also tells us that the mill was once owned by D. Almy. Starting with this information, we began our research into our questions:
Where was Thurston Mill? When did it operate? What did it look like? What happened to it?
Where was the mill? If you are familiar with Portsmouth you might think that it was located on the westside of Portsmouth near the old Melville Navy area.
The Melville post ofice, however was located on East Main Road by Clearview Avenue. Maps from 1907 give us a clearer answer. It was just down East Main Road from the Christian Union Church which is the Portsmouth Historical
Society headquarters today. The Melville Post Office is right next to it. When did the mill operate? The sack itself lists D. Almy as a previous owner.
We know from newspaper articles that Almy Mill was operating in 1886. It seems that Richard Sisson’s horse, “Bootsey Barker” ran into an arm of the mill while it was grinding. (The horse was unharmed.). Newspaper articles also tell us that the mill passed from Almy to his niece who was Edward Thurston’s wife. Mills were a community gathering spot in Portsmouth and farmers from all around would bring their grain to the mill to be ground into flour. This bag is for wheat flour, but corn meal was commonly ground as well.
The miller was entitled to a portion of the flour he ground. Thurston (and Almy) would have sold his portion of the flour to make an income.
What did the mill look like? There is a vintage postcard of the Thurston Mill.
What happened to the mill? In April of 1959 Thurston’s Mill was destroyed in a fire. A newspaper article tells us that it had stopped operating forty years before, so it had been used for storage before the fire. Among the photographs in the PHs collection is an image of the mill on fire.
Mount Hope Bridge
Researched by: Nancy Crawford
Bridge Construction Booklet
- Photos (Mascot (Bob the Cat), Construction, Dedication Ceremonies
In 1927, a group of investors led by Herbert W. Smith, the “father of the Mount Hope Bridge”, came together to create the New Hope Bridge Company with the goal of erecting a structure to connect Providence Plantations, settled by Roger Williams in 1636, with Aquidneck Island, settled in 1638. The bridge would replace the Bristol ferry that began operations in 1680.
Construction of the longest suspension bridge in New England began in early 1928 with an expected completion date of November 15, 1929, at a cost of $5,000,000. Some girders utilized measured 150 feet, the longest fabricated to that date.
Building the momentous span was not without its difficulties. In March of 1929, it was discovered that some wire cables supporting the deck were broken making replacement crucial. This dilemma resulted in dismantling and rebuilding the entire superstructure with all components stored and reused with the exception of the cables.
At least four fatalities were reported during bridge construction.
Mt. Hope was the first “colored bridge”, painted light green to blend in with its surroundings rather than grey or black.
The bridge was dedicated and opened on October 24,1929, just five days before the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression.
During dedication ceremonies, Norman S. Case, Governor of Rhode Island, observed the historic achievement, saying, “Its building brings Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth into direct communication with the city of Providence and all communities in the northern part of the state.”
Quotation by Emilie F. Connery
“By this bridge is the state more united and the traveler made safe from the perils of the sea.”
Dedication Ceremonies were many and varied as local businessmen, politicians from across the state and across the country, and ordinary citizens celebrated the opening of the great span that linked Aquidneck Island with the rest of the state and the rest of the nation.
Vice President Charles Curtis pressed a telegraph key in Washington, DC, providing the signal to begin the festivities at 12:OO noon.
Processions set out from both Bristol and Newport to meet in the middle for a pageant including costumed representations of Roger Williams, Rev. John Clarke, William Coddington, Anne Hutchinson, other early American-era notables, and a group of fifty Native Americans in full tribal dress.
The US Navy Band, Drum and Bugle Corps, and four companies of apprentice seamen, the Newport Artillery Company, other military units and bands, along with contingents of local and state police paraded, followed by speeches offered by notable Rhode Islanders.
Charles Chamberlain, famed aviator, executed a fly-over accompanied by two Navy torpedo planes from their base on Gould Island while an American warship sailed under the bridge as it delivered a salute from its big guns.
An aerial bombardment from the Bristol side released hundreds of tiny American flags to be taken by the wind to the waiting crowds below while balloons released from Portsmouth contained coupons for four free trips over the toll bridge.
Senator William Vanderbilt, long-time supporter of the bridge, held a luncheon at his residence, Oakdale Farm in Portsmouth, for 800 prominent guests where each was presented with a bronze commemorative medallion.
More than 5,000 cars and an estimated 25,000 people traversed the bridge on that first day.
The final journey of the Bristol Ferry occurred on the evening of October 24 at 6:30 PM, captained by Senator Vanderbilt, owner of the ferry line, thus ending almost 250 years of ferry service between Bristol on the mainland and Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island.
The Portsmouth Asylum
Researched by: Anne Northup Burns
- Documents (Fales Memoir, Oakum)
- Images (Poor Farm, Dorothea Dix, Thomas Hazard (Social Reformers)
Portsmouth’s poorhouse, the town “poor farm”, was in existence from 1833 to 1929. It was located on 60 acres of land off West Main Road on what is now the southwest corner of the Raytheon property. It was officially called The Portsmouth Asylum, and all that remains are several sunken foundations.
Prior to this time, before state mandated county poorhouses, aid was provided to “paupers” (people who fell on hard times whose family, friends or church community could not help) primarily in three ways:
- Application to an elected local official called the “Overseer of the Poor” who might provide food, fuel, clothing or medical care from the town tax fund
- Public Auction where the pauper was sold to the lowest bidder for free labor in exchange for food and shelter, typically for a year’s time. This was a form of indentured servitude, and the pauper and family were at the mercy of the fairness of the bidder.
- Paupers were grouped together and delegated to the person(s) who would contract to provide care for the lowest cost. This was a potentially better situation than above, as minimum standards of care were sometimes required, but there was still opportunity for abuse.
In 1851 a “Report on The Poor and Insane in Rhode Island” by Thomas R. Hazard described Portsmouth this way: The Asylum of this town is pleasantly, but inconveniently situated, being quite a distance from any open road. The arrangements seem well calculated to promote the comfort of the poor, and to a stranger, it appears to be well conducted.”
On average there were 15 paupers living at the Asylum, from small children to over 80 years old, with some lifelong residents. Some causes for impoverishment listed were blindness, old age, insanity, rheumatism, and imbecility of mind.
The report also indicated that those in charge ‘&give no security for their behavior7,. There was no care given for mental illness, disability or old age. All were housed together, and “inmates” lived in fear of their lives, justified by reports of physical abuse documented in town records. All able-bodied persons were expected to work farm labor or pick oakum in return for food and shelter.
Hazard used the abuses and dire conditions at The Portsmouth Asylum as an example of why regulations for standards of care for the treatment of the poor were needed. Toward the end of the 19th century, institutions and special schools were developed for the blind, deaf and mentally ill. Children were sent to orphanages. The role of the poor house had evolved, and in 1929 The Portsmouth Asylum was closed and sold to the public.
Researched by: Nancy Crawford
- Photo of Old Dumpling Bag,
- Cookbook with Pudding Rcipe
Dumpling (or pudding) is a broad classification for a dish that consists of small pieces of dough (made from a variety of starch
sources) and may be savory or sweet.
Early American puddings (dumplings) were not sweet and were not usually eaten as desserts. Indian pudding, in particular, was often eaten first, so that less meat would be required to satisfy hungry appetites.
Puddings were boiled in cloth bags because home ovens were not common and the boiling water provided a constant and even heat source. A second pot of water was kept on boil and as water boiled away in the pudding pot, heated water was added until pudding was done in order to maintain temperature and ensure pudding did not boil dry, usually about three hours.
Aquidneck Island supported several windmills for the grinding of corn meal. Early settlers learned from their Native American neighbors that corn flour could be used in the place of wheat in their dumplings.
Did you know …
Locust Avenue was once known as “Pudding Bag Lane” possibly because of its proximity to Boyds’s Mill located near the corner of Old Mill Lane and West Main Road (near the Dunkin Donuts parking lot).
WILLIAM BAULSTON TAVERN
Researched by: Joanna Hall
- Early Town Recodes
- Map of Town Pond/Tavern Location
“The first inn in the colony was licensed to William Baulston at Portsmouth in 1638.”
Weeden, William B., Early Rhode Island: A Social History of the People (1 91 O), p. 95.
“Among the records of the second meeting held in 1638 is found a provision for a public house. ‘It is ordered and agreed upon by General consent that will Baulston shall erect and sett up a howse for entertainment for Strangers, and also to brew Beare and to sell wine and strong waters and such necessary provisions as may be useful in any kind.”‘ Edward H. West, History of Portsmouth 1638-1936, (1939).
“M’ Baston is Chosen to Ceepe an lnne to sell beer & wine & to intertayne strangers.” 812611 647 The Librarian of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth, (1901), p. 36.
The plate and pottery shards were found at the site of Baulston’s Tavern, which was licensed in 1638. However, the pottery does not date to the 1600’s or even the 1700’s. Instead, research has shown the plate and 2 of the shards could only have been made in the 1800’s.
– – Reading Early American Colonial writing (17th and 18th centuries) can be difficult since many European groups influenced the words. Scribes and cloistered priests studied and wrote in Latin. Writing was an ‘art’ form which was not something that gentlemen did back then. In 1713, when English finally became the official language of England, it still had many French, Italian, and Latin phrases.
Researched by: Nanci Smith
Ink Nibs with Pens
- Transcribed Document of Original Hand Script
- Ink Pot
Most early Colonial Americans could not read or write. Studying, reading and writing became an educational necessity. Quill pens made from feathers, ink ‘pots’, and ‘copy books’ were used to teach the beautiful script of the scribes. Comparing English and American alphabets, as well as phonetic spellings and Latin shortcuts (i.e. & and @), shows a few reasons why the reading of Colonial American writing is quite challenging. In 1830, quill pens were replaced with steel pen nibs, which increased writing speed and helped letters flow into each other.
Displayed in the Old Town Hall
Glen Farm Award Ribbons
Researched by: Gloria Schmidt
Husbandry Award Ribbons
- Photos (Missy of the Glen, Newspaper Articles)
- Book of the Glen “Annadale Farm”
The award ribbons are a recent addition to the Portsmouth Historical Society collection. For years they had been in a display case in a Glen Farm barn. They offer an opportunity to highlight the outstanding success of Glen Farm. The Taylor family, like so many of the gentleman farmers in our town, were very proud of what they bred or grew on their farm. It was a matter of pride and sometimes a point of contention.
A 1910 National Magazine article reports. “In most national dairy shows and state expositions, the Glen Farm stock has taken many of the prizes, both for butter fat tests and as breeders.”
Perhaps the brightest star in all Mr. Taylor’s constellation of prize winners is “Missy of the Glen.” But another gentleman farmer claimed that Missy’s butter fat content was not as high as claimed. H.A.C. Taylor, the owner of Glen Farm, brought that farmer as far as the US Supreme Court. Taylor won after the state college monitored Missy’s butter fat for an entire year. According to Taylor’s son Reginald, the award given by the court didn’t cover the legal costs, but Missy and the Glen Farm workers were vindicated.
Civil War Era Sword
Researched by: Richard Schmidt
Serpentine Sword and Dagger
- Description of Typical Kris
The sword in this display had been laying on the top of a display case in the Portsmouth Historical Museum. It had an acquisition number written on it which refers to some old museum records.
According to the record it was a:
‘Civil War sword (that) belonged to Sheridan Smith, Calvary man. His horse was shot out from under him and for recognition he was made keeper of the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse. This is how they came to this section from Norton MA.”
Is this true? How can we determine that?
An on-line search revealed that historical records for the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse list a Thomas and Andrew Smith as lighthouse keepers – Not Sheridan Smith. Was Sheridan a middle name? The 1880 Federal census lists “Thomas S. Smith” as a resident of Portsmouth and a “Lighthouse Keeper”.
We learned that his wife’s name was “Roseanne” from census records. Does the “S” stand for Sheridan?
We noted that the census lists one of his sons as “Andrew.” Thomas Smith died in 1881 and it appears that his son Andrew took over the role as lighthouse keeper. A Veterans Schedule from 1890 lists Roseanne as the wife of Thos. S. Smith (Alias) “Thomas Sheridan.” It also says he was in the Cavalry.
Is this a cavalry sword?
It is similar to images we have seen of a typical Civil War Cavalry Sword found online. It appears that may indeed be a Civil War Calvary Sword that belonged to Thomas Sheridan Smith. Was his horse shot out from under him? That is more difficult to prove. Maybe someone in Smith’s family has more of the story.
The Portsmouth Coal Mines
Researched by: Anne Northup Burns
- Anthracite Coal
- Account Books
- News Article
From 1809 to 1913, there were significant industrial coal mining operations located in Arnold’s Point in the northwest corner of Portsmouth. Today it is the location of the Carnegie Abbey Golf Course, but throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, this former agricultural area was called The Coal Mine. It is not known when coal was discovered here, but in 1808 the RI General Assembly granted permission for the first lottery to raise $1 0,000 to finance a mining venture.
There were many lotteries and periods of inactivity over those years, and many names such as Rhode Island Coal Co, Aquidneck Coal Co, Providence and Portsmouth Mining Co, and The New England Coal Mining Co, with variations too numerous to mention.
The earliest mines were located in the area of Butts Hill. They were called Case Mine and Aquidneck Mine, and were originally operated by Bostonians.
The type of coal found in Portsmouth was anthracite, and it was plentiful as part of a bed that ran from Narragansett, RI to Mansfield, MA. Anthracite is a hard coal formed by fossilized peat. Portsmouth coal was close to turning into graphite. It was difficult to light, and the heat produced was so high it melted furnaces, so it was not suitable for the then desirable home heating market. It crumbled easily, was difficult to work with, and transportation costs to other areas of the country were high. The mine shaft filled with water that constantly needed to be pumped.
Experienced coal mining workers in the area were scarce. The labor problem was compounded by company policy that allowed miners to drink up to a pint of grog a day which led to a sometimes combative and unproductive work force.
Despite these shortcomings, the Portsmouth coal mines found a niche from the 1850s to the early 1880s providing coal to the Taunton Copper Co, who opened a plant nearby. The Coal Mine became a thriving community. It was serviced by a train depot and shipping wharves. There were blocks of tenement housing for hundreds of worker and their families, food and supply stores, a hospital that also served as a school, and the first Roman Catholic Church in the area, which was built by the workers. Thisperiod ended when the Taunton Copper Co closed in 1883.
In 1909 the coal mine was sold again and reopened as the Rhode Island Coal Company
A new technology had been developed that could make Portsmouth coal into briquets for cooking and home heating. Demand existed for the briquets, but the combination of the immense cost to reopen the plant, the continued high cost of transportation, the poor quality of Portsmouth coal, and persistent political problems among the owners resulted in the value of the stock plummeting. After 3 years, the company went into receivership, and was closed for the final time. In 1914 a wrecking company was hired to demolish the buildings and equipment. Today, nothing visible remains.