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 Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society

The Western Rhode Island
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First Paine House Paranormal Event for 2015


The first Paranormal event for 2015 is scheduled for April 25, 2015.

Join RISEUP Paranormal in this remarkable location for some fun and exploration.

These investigations are perfect for serious investigators and groups, but for the curious public they are also a great way to do something a little “different” this year.

Thanks for everyone’s support of the Paine House over the years and for helping keep the doors open and bringing its spirits from the shadows into the light..  Space is limited, make your reservations early.

Call 401-249-0633 for more information and to secure your reservation, or reserve your space online at


Posted by: norma
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 6:17 pm
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Jerimoth Hill-Still the highest point in Rhode Island

Jerimoth Hill

Jerimoth Hill, 212 Hartford Pike, Foster

When Christopher first moved to Rhode Island, he was told by several people that the highest point in the state was a landfill. While intriguing and seemingly appropriate for a state known for its mob bosses and corrupt politicians, it turns out the landfill in Johnston, at about 550 feet, is actually the highest man-made plot of land in Rhode Island. The highest natural point in the state is 812-foot Jerimoth Hill in Foster.

The summit of Jerimoth Hill is only a short, unstrenuous walk from Route 101, but in the 1990s it was named “America’s most inaccessible high point” by the Highpointers Club, a group of individuals dedicated to standing on the highest point in each of the fifty states.

Jerimoth Hill is named for Jerimoth Brown, a fellow who owned the hill and much of the surrounding land in the late 1800s. According to Foster historian Viola Ulm, most people pronounce the name incorrectly. “It’s Jer-eye-moth,” she told a Providence Journal reporter in 2002.

For the full article click the link below.


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 24, 2015 at 1:48 pm
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South Ferry Church

South ferry church

One of the finest examples of an early Victorian church, the South Ferry Church, is located 1000 feet from Narragansett Bay on a hilltop on South Ferry Road in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Designed by Thomas Tefft, a prominent 19th century Providence architect, the South Ferry Church was built in the 1850′s for the Narragansett Baptist Church.

A Beacon of Light

For the next 65 years the South Ferry Memorial Society took title to the church; preventing it from being moved, while preserving it as a memorial. The Reverend Alfred C. Thomas described the South Ferry Church most beautifully when he said “The builders of the church were occupied with a conception of freedom of religion. This spirit led the community to build not only a place of worship, but a spiritual beacon light that has been seen by generations of seafaring heroes that have come up this passage.”

Sadly, the church’s beacon went out in the 1938 hurricane. The church was devastated, the roof gone, the steeple on the ground after the storm. It might have been left deserted had it not been for a group of concerned citizens and the South Ferry Memorial Society who successfully rebuilt it and for the next 30 years, continued to open it once a year in August for a non-denominational service.

In 1974, the title of the church was passed to the University of Rhode Island to become part of the expanded Bay Campus. In 1977, through efforts of URI, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Keep the Beacon Bright

Today the stewardship of the South Ferry Church has passed to the Friends of the South Ferry Church, a group of concerned citizens. We are a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and are dependent on our many donors for the annual costs of maintaining and improving our historic building and grounds.

Recognizing the building’s priceless and irreplaceable part of the architectural historic heritage of Rhode Island, the Friend’s mission is to protect the South Ferry Church from alteration or deterioration.

The church holds several events throughout the year highlighted by our August Lecture Series which features outstanding speakers covering a wide variety of subjects of national and international interest. The Lecture Series is free of charge and is open to the public.

Become a Friend

Please join us in preserving this beacon of light for future generations by becoming a “Friend”. Your donation will be added to an endowment fund, the income from which will be used each year to restore and enhance the historic charm of the church. Checks may be made payable to Friends of the South Ferry Church and are tax-deductible. Please send checks to Jill Patterson, SM Capital Management, One Financial Center, 24th Floor, Boston, MA 02111.



Posted by: norma
Posted on January 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm
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Dutch Island Lighthouse


Dutch Island Lighthouse circa 1916

Photograph courtesy Rob Wrenn

William Dennis, an American colonial and ship captain, was on a vessel in Europe when he heard news of the Boston Tea Party. The uprising prompted his quick return, and soon he was fighting in the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists. In 1827, Dennis, who had twice been taken prisoner during the war, was appointed as the first keeper of the Dutch Island Lighthouse, a position he would hold until retiring thirteen years later at the age of ninety-three. In 1843, his son Robert Dennis assumed the keeper position.

The Lighthouse Board attempted to fire the younger Dennis because he had not, as his terms of duty required, been living at the lighthouse. Robert Dennis wrote an impassioned letter to the Board pleading with them to delay his removal as he wanted his father to live out his remaining days at the lighthouse. Records indicate that Dennis stayed on as keeper until November of 1844, when he was replaced by one William Babcock. Dennis, however, returned to duty at Dutch Island two years later, and remained keeper until 1853.

The author of an 1855 inspection report declared “the lantern and stairs of the tower of Dutch Island light are extremely bad. The stairs are very rough stone, dark, cramped, and slippery in winter. The lantern is wretched, astragals very broad, glass bad, and the door so broken that it cannot be closed tight. It is very desirable that the lantern, illuminating apparatus, and stairs of this tower, if not the tower itself, should be rebuilt.” A sum of $2,000 was deemed sufficient for the task.

In 1856, Congress provide the generous amount of $4,000 for “reconstructing the light-house tower and for new illuminating apparatus.” The reconstructed tower was forty-two feet tall, made of brick, and rested on the island’s rocky surface. The new illuminating apparatus was a fourth-order Fresnel lens that produced a fixed, white light. In 1924, the light’s characteristic was changed to flashing red.

Following the Civil War, gun batteries were placed on Dutch Island, and by the late 1800s the defensive works had grown to become Fort Greble, named after Lieutenant John T. Greble, an early casualty in the Civil War. The fort was home to as many as 495 soldiers during World War I, but was later abandoned in favor of other nearby installations. Remnants of the fort can still be see on the island today.

Extensive repairs were made at the Dutch Island Lighthouse in 1878. A capacious cistern was built in the cellar of the dwelling and connected to the kitchen, and atop the lighthouse, a lightning rod was installed. A fog-bell operated by machinery was also added to the station that year.

The lighthouse was almost destroyed by fire in 1923, when the mother-in-law of the keeper piled up what was left of the previous year’s crops behind the station and decided it was time to burn them. It was calm when she lit the fire, but a short time later the wind picked up, scattering sparks and igniting a fire in a nearby field. The keeper was away at the time, but his alert wife quickly called for help from nearby Fort Greble.

The few men who were stationed at the fort at the time all raced to the lighthouse to battle the blaze. The wind directed the fire towards a storage building that was soon engulfed in flames and then started to blow towards the lighthouse. The group of volunteer firefighters was finally able to extinguish the fire, although the storage building was a total loss. An investigation concluded that the fire was an accident, and no punitive action was taken.

When the light was automated in 1947, the Fresnel lens was replaced with a 375 mm lens. In the late 1950s, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the state of Rhode Island. The keeper’s dwelling was torn down at some point during the early 1960s.

In 1972, the Coast Guard decided to deactivate the light because, as one Coast Guard official wrote, “the light appears to have outlived its usefulness because it was out for a week last month and several days last Fall before someone reported it.” Local mariners and residents protested the announced closure, and the Coast Guard relented and kept the light operational. In 1979 vandals put the light out of commission, and the Coast Guard decided not to incur the expense of repairing the beacon.

In 2000, the lighthouse was leased to the American Lighthouse Foundation, and the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society was established to raise funds to preserve and restore the tower. By July of 2007, the society had raised almost $150,000 and was awarded $120,000 under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Using $160,000, the society hired Keith Lescarbeau, of Abcore Construction, to stabilize and weatherproof the tower and restore its exterior. Lescarbeau had previously worked on the restoration of the Plum Beach and Rose Island lighthouses and said the Dutch Island tower was structurally “very, very sound.” Work on the lighthouse was carried out in late 2007, and thanks to an anonymous donor the tower was activated as a private aid-to-navigation using a battery-powered, solar-charged light. The society is now focusing on securing funds for further restoration of the tower and island and for the establishment of a maintenance endowment.


Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.

America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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Coal mining in Rhode Island?


The first commercial coal mine in Rhode Island opened in 1808. The last one, in Cranston near today’s Garden City shopping center, closed in 1959.
Rhode Island’s caol deposits were not mined with the same intensity as, for example, Appalachia for a couple of reasons. One was that Rhode Island coal is the very hard anthracite variety which burns very hot, but is much harder to ignite than the more common, softer bituminous variety. Eastern Pennsylvania was famous for its anthracite coal as well as for very early mine worker organizing by the Irish miners who are known to history as the Molly McGuires.
Rhode Island’s coal seams are also thinner than the seams in Pennsylvania by half – 2 to 4 feet thick compared to 4 to 6 in Pennsylvania, although there was one seam found – but not exploited – in Briston that measured almost 27 feet thick.
Cranston mine near what is now Reservoir Ave 
near the state office complex at Sockanosset
In today’s modern coal-mining, even a thin seam can be cheaply mined through a method called “mountain top removal.” This is becoming a preferred method in West Virginia where earth moving equipment shears off the top of slopes down to the top of the coal seam and drops the rock and soil into the valleys between the slopes (‘valley fill”). Then you just scoop up the exposed coal and move on to the next slope.

This smooths out the landscape – the coal industry argues that this is a tidy solution that provides wonderful benefits for communities that now have cleared spaces that are perfect for development. They’re the right size for a prison (West Virginia has an amazing number of federal and state penal institutions) or Wal-Mart Supercenters.

There is, as you might imagine, some collateral damage to the mountain ecology, especially stream flow. But, hey, we need the electricity and it’s better than some damned wind turbines!

As conservatives and anti-environmentalists turn us away from developing alternative energy and back to “Drill, Baby, Drill” and “Dig, Baby, Dig,” what about those deposits of high-energy anthracite left untouched under half of Rhode Island?

And do those deposits on Aquidneck Island stretch into South County? Active mining peaked in the mid-1800s and pretty much ended a century ago, long before modern surveying methods would have been used to search for mineable deposits in our area. Imagine though what could happen if that anthracite seam runs from Portsmouth and under the glacial moraine along the northern length of Route One.

Author: Will Collette
Posted by: norma
Posted on January 21, 2015 at 11:42 am
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Early Ferries of Rhode Island

newport ferry


Photo of the Jamestown Newport Ferry.

The following is excerpted from a longer article published in the Providence Sunday Journal on September 30, 1923, under the title “Rhode Island’s Ferries Form Historical Romance.” The portions not transcribed here had to do with a proposal to make Rhode Island’s ferries an official part of the state highway system. Transcribed with minimal correction by Christopher Martin.

Click link to read article.



Posted by: norma
Posted on January 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm
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Fort Wetherill

Ft. Wetherill 6-15-05-1

Fort Wetherill History (1972)

Fort Wetherill State Park, on the Island of Conanicut (Jamestown), situated upon 100 foot high granite cliffs across the water from Fort Adams State Park, is a former coastal defense battery and training camp. Comprised of 61.5 acres, it was formally acquired by the State of Rhode Island from the United States in 1972. Its history as a military site dates back to the American Revolution. As a prominent overlook to the East or Middle passage of Narragansett Bay, it has been a favorite site for viewing Tall Ship events and America’s Cup races.

The military story of the site began with an effort by the American colonists to fortify it to prevent British attacks on Newport at the outbreak of the Revolution. The battery here to be known as the Dumpling Rocks Battery was captured before it could go into effect. In December of 1776, the British captured Jamestown along with Newport. The British retained control of the lower Bay, except for a brief interlude in August of 1778, until 1779. During the Battle of Rhode Island, the troops of the French fleet occupied Jamestown.

The location of the first permanent fortification at the southeastern end of Jamestown went atop odd-shaped outcroppings, called the Dumplings. Fort Dumpling, a defensive installation, built here in 1799-1800, was a round, Martell-style, fortified tower. Its purpose was to support Fort Adams blocking enemy ships from entering Newport Harbor. It was never really used and in the 19th century and became a stabilized ruin after gunners at Fort Adams used it for target practice. Fort Dumpling remained a romantic image that appeared on countless artist’s canvases and in dozens of picturesque prints, almost rivaling the other popular icon of the day, the Newport Viking Tower made famous by Longfellow’s poem. Unceremoniously, what remained of Fort Dumpling was blown up in 1898 to make way for more modern defenses. In 1885, Congress had directed the Secretary of War, William C. Endicott to draw up plans for new coastal defenses all along the Atlantic seaboard.

With the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898, and with the growing importance of Newport to the U.S. Navy, the property was enlarged for new gun emplacements as part of the Endicott Defense system. This tied Jamestown to other defensive locations around the lower bay. In 1900 Fort Dumpling became Fort Wetherill in honor of Captain Alexander M. Wetherill who died at San Juan Hill in Cuba. His family was area residents. The new 12 inch, 10 inch, disappearing rifles and their mounts were installed in 1905 and 1906.

Endicott batteries, as described by military historians “were designed for two or three weapons, each gun having a separate platform protected on three sides by concrete walls 15 to 20 feet thick. These massive structures were further protected on the exterior by parapets of sand and dirt 40 or more feet thick. Vegetation was planted so that the mounds would blend with the natural terrain. Located below and adjacent to the gun platforms were offices, plotting rooms, communication equipment, and ammunition vaults with mechanical hoists for moving powder and shells.” Seven separate batteries like these were located at Fort Wetherill.

In 1940, just prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, new construction began at Fort Wetherill and nearby Fort Getty. Managing the site were units of the 243rd Coast Artillery, based at Newport’s Fort Adams. The barracks installed here at that time could accommodate 1,200 men. The training which occurred at Wetherill during this period included artillery spotting, signaling, and observation. While the Endicott defenses were the most modern for the period of the Spanish American War and World War I, they were not suitable by the Second World War and the age of air power. Fortunately, the revamped facilities were never put to the test. Part of Wetherill’s responsibilities included caring for the mine fields and submarine nets between Jamestown and Newport. After the war, as was the case of the interwar years, Wetherill was placed under a caretaker status. Guns were removed and by 1970 the land was put on the Federal government’s list of surplus facilities. Wetherill became one of several properties acquired by the State of Rhode Island for open space and recreational uses.


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 19, 2015 at 12:29 pm
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Seabee Museum

Seabee memorial

 The Seabee Museum and Memorial Park began as in idea in the minds of a group of retired Navy Seabees who were members of Seabee Island X-1 Davisville.

In the late 1990s, the original home of the Seabees, Camp Endicott, Rhode Island, was deactivated by the Navy and the land and buildings were transferred to the State of Rhode Island.

Island X-1 approached the state with a plan to lease or transfer about 6-acers of land containing the historic concrete Chapel-in-the-Pines, constructed by the Seabees in the 1960s, three ammo bunkers and two Quonset huts. A key component was moving the famous Gate Seabee a few hundred yards north to its present position on the Museum grounds.

A non-profit 501(c) (3) corporation was formed originally made up of members from Island X-1 Davisville.

From its founding, the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park has stood on its own, collecting grants from federal, public, and private sectors. The majority of funding received to date has been from the MCB-6 Association, other Seabees, the Rhode Island State Preservation and Historical Society, the Federal HUD Office, and a Federal Grant from the Department of Defense (allowing Seabee Reserves to perform a full summer training program here). While this may sound significant, it’s only a small percentage of the bricks and mortar required to complete this tribute to the “Original Home of the Seabees.”


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 16, 2015 at 12:25 pm
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Seabee is a member of the United Stats Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (CB). The word “Seabee” comes from initials “CB”.  The Seabees have a history of building bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplishing a myriad of other construction projects in a wide variety of military theaters dating back to World War II.

World War II

In December 1941, with U.S. involvement in war soon expected on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Rear Admiral Ben Moreelll, Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks, recommended establishing Naval Construction Battalions at a newly constructed base at Davisville, Rhode Island (part of North Kingstown). With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war, he was given the go-ahead. The Davisville Advanced Base Depot became operational in June 1942. Camp Thomas, a personnel-receiving station on the base, was established in October of that year. It eventually contained 500 Quonset Huts for personnel. On August 11, 1942, the Naval Construction Training Center, known as Camp Endicottt, was commissioned at Davisville. The Camp trained over 100,000 Seabees during the Second World War.

In California in May 1942, a base for supporting the Naval Construction Force was established at Port Hueneme in Ventura County. This base became responsible for shipping massive amounts of equipment and material to the efforts in the Pacific.

The earliest Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were placed under the leadership of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. Because of the emphasis on experience and skill rather than physical standards, the average age of Seabees during WWII was 37.

More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, gasoline storage tanks, and Quonset Huts for warehouses, hospitals, and housing. They often operated under fire and frequently were forced to take part in the fighting to defend themselves and their construction projects. In the Pacific Theater they built 111 major airstrips and 441 piers, tanks for the storage of 100 m gallons of fuel, housing for 1.5 million men and hospitals for 70,000 patients.

The Seabees were officially organized in the Naval Reserve on December 31, 1947.

With the general demobilization following the war, the Naval Construction Battalions (NCBs) were reduced to 3,300 men on active duty by 1950. Between 1949 and 1953, Naval Construction Battalions were organized into two types of units: Amphibious Construction Battalions (ACBs) and Mobile Construction Battalions (MCBs), which were later designated Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs) in the early- to mid-1960s to eliminate confusion with Marine Corps Base (MCB) in Vietnam.

To find out more click the link below


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 15, 2015 at 12:19 pm
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The History of Quonset Huts

quonset hut

“Success has many fathers”, so the saying goes.

Way back in the 1960’s , when most young people are filling up stadiums  and farmstead  to listen to rock bands play their latest tunes; a parallel groundswell of support was being carried out in the hallways of educational institutions. The main difference is that they were not looking for the usual high of drugs being passed around but they are nevertheless a “cool crowd.” Whom were they listening to? The epitome of “uncool” at the period of our history when the flower people are the mainstream  – the famous  professor Buckminster Fuller and his famous out-of this world ideas.

It is said that Fuller was the first mainstream icon to propose the proliferation of spherical structures as the next big thing in architecture. Some of his ideas are so radical that they are even used to design space stations and a proposed glass hemispherical dome to cover several Burroughs of New York City. Fuller was soon credited with many environmentally centric paradigms including the global warming and climate change concepts we hear of today.

But was it really radical? The truth is that even way back to Word War I and II, proponents have already surfaced to trumpet the praises of hemispherical shaped housing structures. Soon enough, when the concept was successfully proven as a reliable design for Martian structures.; many versions of the  Quonset Hut history soon surfaced. With its murky past, this is probably why there are several versions of the history of the simple by popular design known as the Quonset Hut. First seen after World War I’s British designed prefabricated cabins, Quonsets began transforming into a variety of uses and configurations soon after World War II.

Further back in history, the modern version of the Quonset Huts bear lose resemblance to the long houses used by the Native American tribes particularly those of the Iroquois. The basic structure of the Quonset Hut is composed of steel ribs covered by corrugated steel and closed at the bottom by a layer of plywood. These structures can provide between 700 – 1000 square feet of usable floor space.

But there are also some accounts that say the Quonset hut developed by the US army is based on the Nissen Hut of British Origin. Regardless of its political history and whoever deserves the credit for it, Quonset huts have made their mark in the architectural world as reliable and readily assembled solutions for immediate housing needs both in wartime and in peacetime. Nowadays, there is a renewed clamor for similar solutions for a variety of applications such as greenhouses, immediate housing for evacuees and triages, and the like.

The concepts and ideas derived from natural discoveries will continue to emerge; and what may happen soon is the realization that solutions like these do not have to expensive for them to work as designed. Further down the road, the future of Quonset Huts may give way to modern materials to give them better strength to make up for its relative weaknesses to heavy focused loading particularly when exposed to heavy snowfall. Possible changes may include a design revision that allows several levels of the Hut can be constructed on top on of one another.


Posted by: norma
Posted on January 14, 2015 at 11:53 am
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