Paul Revere is best known for his midnight ride in 1775, but he was also an accomplished silversmith and iron worker. In 1798, he cast four bronze cannons for the state of Rhode Island. They live on at the armory on Clarke Street. It’s home to the Artillery Company of Newport, the oldest militia still in continuous service in the United States; it was chartered in 1741 by King George II. The military museum housed in the armory speaks to the breadth of the militia’s centuries of experience: In addition to the cannons, it
contains military uniforms and memorabilia from as far away as India and Egypt. The militia remains active today, with uniformed members providing cannon salutes and color guards at ceremonies and events throughout the year.
The tools needed to make a breathtaking cake just might surprise you. Culinary students at Johnson and Wales University spend eight days in a concentrated class, then present their creations on the next, which is known as Day Nine. Students in chef David Ricci’s “Tiered and Themed Cakes” lab divided into seven teams of two to create cakes based on popular children’s books. Inspired by the likes of Winnie the Pooh, Little Red Riding Hood and Harry Potter, they learned how to frame and finish the cakes, using piping, gum paste and rolled fondant. On Day Nine, one student painted golden dust on a creation, while another steamed her cake to make it shiny. “It’s just the finishing touch.”
When sixth graders report for the first day of school at Roger Williams Middle School on September 6, the brass front doors will be polished. The school on Thurbers Avenue was built in 1932 along with four other junior highs in Providence — Nathan Bishop, Oliver Hazard Perry, Nathanael Greene and Gilbert Stuart constructed since 1929 — that became showpieces of the system, according to Patrick Conley and Paul Campbell’s history of Providence, 375 Years at a Glance. There hadn’t been a school building program since the 1880s and the existing facilities were
underfunded, overcrowded and archaic, a Columbia University professor had found. With its beautiful architectural details still evident, Roger Williams is now home to more than 900 students and more than 100 faculty and staff members. Parents come in for a meeting the week before school starts and new kids will get acclimated with tours. “It is overwhelming for some of them,” says principal Jennifer Vorro. “You see them holding tight to their parents as they come in, but trying not to look un-cool, because it’s middle school now.”
There’s a science to acoustics, but there’s no guarantee that a venue is going to have it. “So when you have a building that has it, it’s a gem,” says Brenda Nienhouse, executive director of the Newport Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center. The oldest surviving theater in Rhode Island has it. Originally built in 1867 to accompany the Perry House Hotel in Washington Square, the theater was remade into a single-screen cinema in 1929, with the elegance that can still be imagined when the layers of time are peeled away. With its beautiful proscenium, the stage played host to dances, political events, John Philip Sousa’s band, Duke Ellington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Armelia Bloomer’s Suffragette Rally and more. Ownership eventually changed hands, and in the 1970s, the theater was divided up into a triplex with dubious carpeting. But now a $14 million effort — including a $4.2 million grant approved by Rhode Island voters — is underway to restore the Opera House to its former glory in time for its 150th anniversary in December 2017. “We’re really excited to see all of that come back,” Nienhouse says.
Kidding season is winding down at Silk Tree Farm in Little Compton. Starting in February and into mid-March, Cathy Bardsley and Tom Sherman brought fifteen newborns — two purebred Spanish goats, eleven Nigerian dwarf goats and five crosses — into the world. They raise heritage breed livestock; twenty-four does were bred for this year’s kidding. Bardsley, who tracks her flock’s gestation with an app, anticipates births into June. (Gestation typically lasts 150 days, but her phone goes off at 145.) Sometimes bottle-feeding the newborns late at night when their mom doesn’t accept them, Bardsley’s goal is to have the kids weaned by May, so the moms can go out to pasture. Here, Nigerian Whoopie Pie, at just a few weeks old, relaxes against her mother, Puppet. (Whoopie Pie has since become a farmers market celeb.) And her brother, whose new owners later named Backpack, rests on his mom’s back.
The seventy-foot-long aluminum catamaran that Blount Boats is scheduled to deliver this month to Rhode Island Fast Ferry owner Charles A. Donadio Jr. is no ordinary vessel. Designed by a shipyard in the United Kingdom, it’s the first wind farm crew transfer vessel built in the United States. When construction began last April, “the pieces came in like a puzzle,” says Marcia Blount, president of Blount Boats in Warren. Workers framed the interior of the hull, cutting, rolling and bending the metal, and welded it solid, creating room for fifteen tons of cargo. The superstructure was built in a nearby building. Once the boat launches, sixteen technicians for the Deepwater Wind project off Block Island — the nation’s first offshore wind farm — will transfer from the bow to a turbine ladder and install final electrical wiring. But first, Blount Boats will sign the vessel over to Donadio and it will make the fifteen-minute trip across the bay from Warren to Quonset, where it will be based as part of a twenty-year contract. “It’s the closest delivery we’ve ever had,” Blount says.
For textile conservators, the shape of a needle can make all the difference. Eleven years ago, RISD curators found this reception dress from about 1874 in a trunk at Providence’s Goddard House. The family donated the silk skirt, day and evening bodices to the museum; they were designed by Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered the father of haute couture. Now featured in the ongoing exhibit “Swagged and Poufed: The Upholstered Body in the Late Nineteenth Century and Today,” the dress initially needed repair. Some netting was damaged, so textile conservator Jessica Urick “stabilized” it, using contemporary nylon netting that will endure, silk thread and a small needle like the ones used in veterinary and eye surgery: “You want something with a little bit of a curve so you can go in and out without having to do much manhandling to get things in the right position,” Urick says.
The speculation starts in January, when Dave Richards announces that this year’s King Jace has been crowned. Over the next month or so, a bearded man in a bathrobe, crown, sunglasses and beads pops up at meetings and events around Woonsocket, and residents try to guess his identity. The tradition dates back to the 1950s, when signs were in French and Mardi Gras was a major celebration. “In New Orleans, they call him King Rex, but in Woonsocket, we call him King Jace, because the Jaycees started it,” says Richards, general manager of WOON 1240 Radio. Each November, Richards and the Northern Rhode Island Council for the Arts decide on the next year’s king. The royal one can only tell his wife, so he won’t raise questions when he sneaks out in a bathrobe. Local media run ten clues about King Jace’s identity. But sworn to silence, he answers questions by honking a horn (one honk for yes, two for no, three for can’t answer). This year’s king will be unmasked on Saturday, February 6, at the Mardi Gras Gala Ball at St. Ann’s Arts and Cultural Center. Says Richards: “I don’t know how many people fast anymore for Lent, but I can tell you that everyone comes to the party!”
Collecting books for the Providence Athenaeum was a labor of love for founders like John Russell Bartlett (pictured below). It was the 1830s and ’40s, Providence had just incorporated and an influx of young people came to work. The Athenaeum saw its role to provide books to educate them. Bartlett, who later served as Rhode Island’s secretary of state, organized the purchase of a twenty-five volume collection of books called Description of Egypt, and designed an Egyptian cabinet to hold them. The Athenaeum drew writers like Sarah Helen Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe, who hung out (and broke up) there. The only public library in Providence at the time, the stacks were filled with conversation. In fact, some visitors “were getting in trouble for being too rowdy and reading too many novels,” says Kate Wodehouse, director of collections and library services. “The board wanted them to be reading more highfalutin histories and classics.” Today, students still fill the Athenaeum’s desks and it remains open to the public with a weekly salon series, music nights and children’s events. This month, the Athenaeum is scheduled to reveal its latest chapter: a new website at providenceathenaeum.org.
Each year, an American president takes the form of an ornament made in a bustling factory in Lincoln named ChemArt. The company was founded in 1976 by Richard Beaupre, a research chemist who invented photo resist, a material used to coat metal and streamline the photo-etching process. Today, ChemArt sends out about 2 million ornaments a year. Its clients range from the San Diego Zoo to the White House Historical Association, which was founded by Jacqueline Kennedy to refurbish the inside of the White House and educate the public. ChemArt started in 1981 with a George Washington ornament; this year, the company’s up to Calvin Coolidge. “We’ve become pocket historians,” says President David R. Marquis. Making the ornaments is a seventeen-step process from design to shipping. Here, in an early phase of the process, designs for the Coolidge ornament have been converted into two large pieces of film. Workers then sandwich the film around the metal and expose it to ultraviolet light, which burns the image into the metal sheet and helps preserve Coolidge for posterity.
Snapshot: The Cabaret Room
The year was 1880, and a group of artists and patrons decided they wanted a space “for art culture.” The Providence Art Club was born. “They were radicals in those days,” says general manager Seb Borges. “It was founded by sixteen members. Six of them were women — that was unheard of — and one African-American.” Five years later, they established a Club House on Thomas Street, where member artists provided chairs and tables they made, painted silhouettes on the walls, created friezes and lined the walls with beer steins. They were “notorious for having a good time,” Borges says, and often gathered in the Cabaret Room. The art club has expanded and modernized in recent years, but the Club House still looks much as it did in the 1800s. The cafe remains private, but you can see the legacy of the club’s founders in its public galleries, where the 111th Annual Little Pictures Show and Sale opens on November 16.
Snapshot: Bouldering in Lincoln Woods
When Matt Gentile comes back to Rhode Island to visit family twice a year, he
always makes sure to sneak in a couple of days of climbing. Gentile, who moved to Arizona so he could ascend rocks in places with no other people for a hundred miles around, discovered bouldering when he was eighteen and living in Foster. He got hooked, became an instructor and often made the drive to Lincoln Woods. With more than fifty spots to climb, he recommends it for everyone, from the beginner to the professional. “It’s really a great bouldering area,” Gentile says. “You could spend a couple of years just trying to climb and see all the things in the park.” He loosens up with an easy scale in the warm-up area just inside the park. “You’ll see anywhere from a few climbers to groups of twenty on weekends. It’s definitely a popular spot.”
As warm breezes give way to crisp nights, vineyard grapes begin to ripen and develop sugar. Fans of wine from Greenvale Vineyards aren’t the only ones who like its varietals; birds, deer, raccoons and other predators are attracted to the sweetness of the fruit. So each fall, the vineyard manager and his staff protect the grapes on Greenvale’s twenty-four acres along the Sakonnet River by netting the vines, says Maggie Harnett, the tasting room manager. Focusing on the areas birds have damaged in previous years, they attach the netting to a post at one end of a row, then roll it across the grapes to the other end and secure it. It’s effective in keeping the pillagers away. When it’s time to harvest the grapes, the staff lifts the netting the day before, and once the harvesting is finished, returns to
remove the netting completely.
Nicky Sergi’s job is not for acrophobes. He’s jumped out of planes around the country and he’s spent the last half-decade working as an instructor for Skydive Newport. From April through October, they often jump seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Based out of Newport State Airport in Middletown, instructors show skydivers a brief instructional video before they ascend to the sky in a Cessna 182, upwind of the airport. “We jump at 10,000 feet and we open the parachutes right around 5,000,” Sergi says. First timers are typically apprehensive. “Usually that disappears once you leave the aircraft and people realize it doesn’t feel like you’re plummeting to your death. You don’t get that pit-in-your-stomach feeling. There’s a lot of wind and you just feel like you’re flying.”
Every year on the last Saturday in July, vessels ranging from historic fishing boats to jet skis make their way to the Harbor of Refuge in Narragansett for the Blessing of the Fleet. The procession begins at about noon, as boats pass through the channel lined with spectators, Jerusalem to the left and Galilee to the right, to receive a sign of the cross from Father Francis Kayatta, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. “Sailboats, canoes, anything you got,” says organizer Mark Deresienski. “Anyone who wants to be blessed.” Some festooned with flags or manned by a crew outfitted as pirates, the vessels compete for the best design. But the Blessing of the Fleet also stays true to its solemn roots, as names are read out. In addition to members of the Narragansett Lions Club who have died, Deresienski says “we’re honoring all the fishermen lost at sea from Galilee.”
Roger Williams University has a whole world of oysters in its hands. Bivalves are grown from larvae produced by spawning oysters inside the Luther H. Blount Shellfish Hatchery as part of the university’s oyster gardening program, which is helping to restore the population to Narragansett Bay. There’s also a separate dockside program where residents are taught how to cultivate oysters. Citizens get equipment and live oysters for a fee, and associate professor of marine biology, Dale Leavitt, provides instruction and assists in permitting and growing. Profits benefit the university’s oyster restoration program. “It allows people to maintain their own crop of oysters, if they meet certain criteria, and they get permitted for a small amount of oysters only for their personal consumption,” says Leavitt. “We offer a complete package for a certain level of donation that includes the classes you need — which I teach — and the equipment to hold your oysters. Then we give you 2,000 baby oysters [the amount pictured below] and help you set it up and show you how to do it.” By next fall, participants could be eating their own homegrown oysters.
For more than forty years, people have cooled off from the heat with icy cold lemonades at Mr. Lemon. The family-owned business at 32 Hawkins Street in Providence is still run by the woman affectionately known as Mama Lemon and her kids. They use a family recipe capable of producing a rotating array of flavors (while supplies last): Banana, Banana Creme, Banana Swirl, Blueberry, Blue-Ice, Cherry, Cherry-Vanilla, Grape, Grape-Root Beer, Grape-Watermelon, Lemon, Lemon Meringue, Lime, Lime Rickey, Mango, Mama Mango, Mango-Watermelon, Orange Creamsicle, Passion Fruit, Peach, Peaches and Cream, Pina Colada, Pina Colada-Watermelon, Pineapple, Pineapple Creme, Pineapple Crush, Pineapple Delight, Purple Cow, Raspberry, Raspberry Rumble, Rocket, Strawberry, Strawberry Creme, Strawberry Tart, Sweet Tart, Tequila Sunrise, Vanilla, Watermelon, Watermelon-Vanilla, and always, Tutti Frutti! Once warm weather arrives, fans know to expect chill “flavor updates” like this one on Mr. Lemon’s Facebook page: “Just a heads up. Root Beer and Root Beer Float tomorrow. Y’all.”
Far from the rigors of academic life, students from Brown and RISD create living sculpture with their bodies. Late Tuesday and Saturday nights, former dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders and other limber souls convene to participate in the Aerial Arts Society. Members such as Aashna Mansharamani (pictured above), who is studying architecture at RISD, perform splits, twists and other balletic moves with fabrics known as silks, trapezes and hoops called lyras that dangle from above. The aerial acrobatics are such a calling that one member, who grew up performing on the lyra, took temporary leave from Brown to attend circus school. The society’s spring performance is scheduled for April 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. in Alumnae Hall.
Stacked neatly in a closet at the Avon Cinema are some of the few survivors of the revolutionary changes in the world of film. The Providence theater looks much the same as it did when Richard Dulgarian’s grandfather started showing foreign films here in 1938. “This is my little time capsule,” he says of the Art Deco cinema. Meanwhile, the movie industry has transformed. Projectionists and film reels are relics of the past, replaced by digital technology. Many of Dulgarian’s former suppliers have gone out of business. Even the company that makes the letters for the marquee no longer makes red ones, which are used to spell out the movie titles, Dulgarian says. He does his best to repair them when they break, because he can’t replace them anymore. Dulgarian’s got a good supply of most letters, but jokes, “I guess if I’ve got a film with too many N’s in it, I can’t order it.”
Hours before most people can think about eating candy, work begins at Sweenor’s Chocolates in Wakefield. Brian Sweenor and his employees start at 8 a.m. in the factory behind their retail store. Over the next several hours, they mix up batters for vanilla, strawberry and coffee creams, dip peppermint patties in chocolate, and spread almonds across large trays, then add dollops of caramel and chocolate to make the perfect turtles. Before Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter are the busiest times. It all started in 1955, when Walter Sweenor started making and selling candy out of his home basement in Cranston. He eventually opened a shop in Garden City, and four generations later, his descendants are still keeping business sweet.
Listen close on College Hill and you might hear the classical strains of the legacy of Mary Kimball Hail. After her husband’s death in 1925, the musician decided to use property he left her on the corner of Meeting and Congdon streets in Providence to build an English-manor-style mansion with a concert room that could hold 100 people. But mystery surrounds Mary Hail. She used a wheelchair and many believed she commissioned the architect to include a balcony in the design of the mansion so she could come out from her personal chambers on the second floor and watch concerts from the balcony above. But her diaries say it was the year after the mansion opened in 1928 that her legs were damaged in a car accident. When Mary Hail died in 1948, she left her estate for public concerts. Today, with the help of a nonprofit, the Music Mansion is still a center for lessons and performances.
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it’s a magical event,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote. “You go to bed in one kind of world, and wake up in another. And if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?” Those early flakes refresh the world each year, covering the landscape in a blanket of white. “I wonder if the snow loves the trees and the fields, that it kisses them so gently?” wrote Lewis Carroll. “And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt, and perhaps it says ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.’ ” So bundle up and head out to your favorite sledding hill, like this one on Rector Street in East Greenwich, and revel in the warmth of the coldest season.
Rhode Islanders head to the polls this month, but may not know that the state’s first mechanical voting machine was only used in one general election. Weighing about 150 pounds and measuring thirty-two inches high, the McTammany voting machines displayed candidates from the Republican, Democratic, Prohibition and Socialist Labor parties on November 3, 1901. Voters pushed the buttons next to their choices, which punched holes in a spool of paper inside the machine. “It was the hanging chad of its day,” says Ken Carlson, a reference archivist at the Rhode Island State Archives. Election officials then cranked the spools to ready them for the next voter; votes were later tallied by another machine. But the state discontinued the use of the McTammany “due to inadequacies associated with the machines” and returned to paper ballots from 1902 to 1935. In 1936, the state introduced the more modern Shoup voting machine, which was used until 1997.
The Zeiss ZKP3 Skymaster at Providence’s Cormack Planetarium has helped people understand the night sky for more than twenty years. Installed in a renovation at the Museum of Natural History in 1993, the star projector recreates the phases of the moon, the paths of the planets, the starry sky, constellation figures and the whereabouts of distant galaxies. But maintaining the projector is not a simple task. Each year, a technician named Mario travels from Germany — where Zeiss projectors are made — to Providence and checks off a long list of tasks to keep the projector running smoothly. Each component must be cleaned and lubricated and parts must be replaced. He tests the planetary clockwork mechanism to be sure the positions are accurate. “It’s a very involved and complex maintenance, along with our caretaking, that keeps it in operation,” says museum
director Renee Gamba.
Stone mason guilds formed starting in the twelfth century, but the secrets of the masons may date back to biblical times. “Some say it goes back beyond Solomon’s temple to the Egyptians,” says Andrew Benn, past Master of Washington Lodge No. 3 in Warren. “No one knows for sure because it was an underground organization and everything had to be passed along orally.” But the second oldest masonic temple in continuous use in North America provides a glimpse into that mystery. Built in 1798 to honor George Washington, the temple is filled with rich testaments to a history of free masonry. Visitors to the lodge’s main room are surrounded by a mural inspired by the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was painted in 1914 and 1915. This section of the mural is called “The Solemn Thought of Death.” It depicts the god Anubis embalming, which the Egyptians believed was an important service.
For at least 339 years, the Narragansett Indians have celebrated tribal tradition and the earth’s bounty at their annual August Meeting powwow, also known as the Green Corn Thanksgiving. “In more of a modern sense, it’s like a family reunion, too,” says Anthony Stanton, a tribal councilman and powwow organizer. Hundreds of Narragansetts from near and far, plus members of neighboring tribes and the general public, descend upon a shaded patch of tribal land off South County Trail in Charlestown for two days of song, dance and traditional cuisine. “It’s a way for elders to feel connected to their culture and for younger people to understand what they need to do to sustain it,” says Stanton. “We’re a living culture, not a dead culture. Everything we do today is not like we did in 1600, but it has ties to the past.” This year’s event is scheduled for August 9 and 10.
Toward the end of the western side of Misquamicut Beach in Westerly stand the stairs to nowhere. Major storms often uncover concrete pilings from the remnants of the hurricanes of 1938, 1944 and 1954, each of which destroyed almost every structure along the beach. The steps are believed to be the remnants of Pleasant View, a community of dozens of cottages that once lined the beach and were likely buried in sand during the Hurricane of 1938, according to The Westerly Sun. One local at the beach on a recent bright Sunday, whose daughter was clambering up and down the stairs, said rebuilding there wouldn’t be allowed now, but the owner still comes back each year to visit the lot.
Dust-covered and preserved with arsenic to ward off hungry beetles, a mere fraction of the curiosities John Whipple Potter Jenks amassed during his lifetime were until recently tucked deep in the basement of the Biomedical Center at Brown University. The avid naturalist and taxidermist collected more than 80,000 specimens, ranging from marine life from the Narragansett Bay to a preserved pony that belonged to Queen Victoria. They were showcased in Jenks’s museum in Rhode Island Hall for the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1894, he died on the front steps of the hall. About fifty years later, ninety-two truckloads worth of his collection were taken to the university’s dump. Fewer than 1,000 items still remain, and a group of Brown and RISD students have collaborated with artists to help keep Jenks’s legacy alive with an exhibit that opens May 1 in Rhode Island Hall.
The Seabees now have a new version of the Quonset hut. Officially known as members of the United States Navy Construction Battalion, the “CBs,” who became known as Seabees, were established in Davisville during World War II. They built bases, airstrips, roads and bridges to support military operations and remain active today. The Navy invented the steel Quonset hut that went to war with the Seabees at the base, and it was used for housing, storage and hospitals. The Navy departed Davisville in the late 1990s, but a dedicated group of retired Seabees there collected artifacts, establishing a museum in a rehabbed Quonset hut. “There’s a tremendous amount of history that the Navy chose to abandon when they left,” says James Rugh, a Vietnam-era petty officer. Now, after years of raising funds, they’re planning to open the new museum this summer in a sleek, climate-controlled steel building right next door — a modern take on the Quonset hut.
Victor Kinoian was sleeping on a friend’s couch when his brother’s girlfriend decided she wanted a teacup pig and they realized it was cheaper to buy two. He’s since registered as a livestock breeder with My Pet Piggy at a farm in Hopkinton. Now he’s got five sows and one stud waddling around the farm; a new litter is usually born every other month. They range from nano pigs like Lulu (pictured) to mini pigs weighing in at more than forty pounds. Known as one of the smartest animals, the pigs communicate in thirty-two different ways, from soft little chirps to deep angry grunts. And they grow close to the person who initially feeds and takes care of them. “That’s what people pay for,” Victor says. “The bond.”
Arthur Guinness opened his brewery in Dublin more than 250 years ago, and went on to create porters that have become an iconic symbol of Irish life. He developed his first porter in 1770 and within a century, the Irish brought it to America. Aidan’s Pub in Bristol is still serving it up right, dedicating part of its menu to Guinness’s history. “Neither sea, nor war, could stop the Guinness stampede,” the menu declares. “During World War I, when severe energy restrictions halted England’s brewing industry, the Guinness kilns remained fired and the ruby black velvet smooth brew flowed throughout the globe.” Pair a pour this month with some of Aidan’s famous corned beef and cabbage.
During a time when nurses were often reviled as germ-ridden prostitutes, Florence Nightingale was a breath of fresh air who changed medicine forever. Constrained by upper-class life in Victorian England, the mother of modern nursing took off for Constantinople, where she observed troubling rates of death during the Crimean War and instituted revolutionary reforms. “By improving ventilation and by allying the scientific nursing principles that she had developed, Florence Nightingale revitalized, with unbelievable success, the treatment of the wounded and the sick,” according to a history written by Doctor R. Bruce Gillie. It’s believed that during the war Nightingale met Cyrus Hamlin, an American missionary who invented the laundering devices she used to sanitize hospitals, and that she gave her cap to him as a memento. The delicate head covering was passed down through Hamlin’s family and donated to Westerly Hospital on May 12, 1965, the 145th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth.
Lace up some sturdy shoes, grab a flashlight and come out to Newport’s Ballard Park for an illuminated celebration of creation. For nine years, students, artists and community groups have fashioned displays such as this replica of the Pell Bridge, which students from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newport County constructed last year. The installations must light up and be able to withstand the weather. Tree climbers and volunteers also pitch in each year to string lights. You can wander through Ballard Park’s quarry meadow and see this year’s handiwork on February 20 to 22 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Spray-painted city walls may seem modern, but graffiti dates back to ancient times. The word comes from the Greek “graphein,” which means “to write,” and the Italian word “graffiato,” which translates into “scratched.” Figure drawings and inscriptions from the catacombs of Rome and Pompeii show what life was like then. The practice continued into Colonial times, when someone etched a sailboat on the back of the balcony railing and on a wall casing in Newport’s Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House, which was built in 1730. Similar graffiti appears on the benches and walls of the Great Friends Meeting House, according to the Newport Historical Society. The identity of the carvers isn’t known, though they did leave their initials. The boats are believed to be a symbol of life in the City by the Sea, which was one of the top five leading seaports in eighteenth-century America.
Two hundred and fifty years ago this month, a group of Jewish congregants in Newport dedicated a synagogue unlike others found around the world. In 1758, they decided they needed a permanent house of worship. The congregation enlisted the talent of Peter Harrison, a self-taught architect who volunteered to design the building. Known for designing churches, the Redwood Library and the Brick Market, Harrison may not have ever set foot in a synagogue before. But unlike many synagogues in Europe that were constructed to be unobtrusive, New England’s first synagogue was built in plain sight. With its large palladian windows, the interior of the synagogue is easily visible from the outside. The siting of the building — high on a hill, filled with glass — was a testament to the level of acceptance the congregation felt in Newport at the time.
Surfers from around the world rallied when proposed repairs to Newport’s Cliff Walk — damaged by Superstorm Sandy — could have changed the pattern of waves at Rhode Island’s most popular surfing destination, known as “Ruggles.” Local surfing legend and shop owner Sid Abruzzi, whose challenge of the prohibition on surfing in the very same spot forty-two years ago led to its eventual legalization, headed up the effort to preserve it. An agreement was eventually reached that the surfbreak would not be interrupted during repairs. Abruzzi’s holding his third annual public celebration of surfing, Water Brothers Surf Fest 3, at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 20. More than 300 boards — ranging from iconic wooden surfboards from the 1930s to hand-carved boards from today’s local manufacturers — will be featured. And Sonny Miller, the surfing world’s equivalent of Martin Scorsese, will attend for a screening of his film about the former world surfing champion, Searching for Tom Curren.
The turnoff lane on Eddie Dowling Highway backs up quickly on summer Friday and Saturday evenings. Carloads of families and teenagers pay their $25 at the front gate of the Rustic Tri Vue Drive-In in North Smithfield, drive across the asphalt toward their screen of choice, then jockey for position and set up camp. First opened in 1951 when drive-ins were plentiful, it fell on hard times and showed adult films for a while. Then in 1986, a couple who met at the drive-in bought it and added more screens. The drive-in has changed hands since then, but maintains the same summer-night-under-the-stars feeling it has for decades as the sky darkens and the screens flicker on.
Generations of children have ridden the hand-carved steeds in the Looff Carousel under the watchful eye of Ed Serowick Sr. Opened in 1895 by famed carousel designer Charles Looff, the wooden building in Riverside’s Crescent Park served as the showcase for Looff’s carving style. Serowick Sr. began working at the carousel sixty-six years ago, briefly under Looff’s grandson. In 1979, the carousel closed and was boarded up for five years. But “it was saved by the people, and it’s still running,” Serowick Sr. says. His son now runs the ride on a daily basis during the season, but Serowick Sr. still checks to make sure everything’s in working order. “We did extensive work mechanically over the past three or four years, so we’re probably good for another hundred.”
Perhaps the most important document in Rhode Island’s history turns 350 this year. Now housed in a vault at the State House, the Royal Charter of 1663 reaffirmed some of the young colony’s most important principles. After facing territorial threats, Dr. John Clarke traveled back to England and asked King Charles II for a new charter to reaffirm its right to self-rule and guarantee complete religious freedom. Since 1915, the parchment document has resided in the vault. It was restored during the 1990s and now, a librarian opens the vault each morning so visitors to the State House can see it. As part of a celebration of the charter’s landmark birthday this year, archivists plan to move it to a specially designated exhibition room in the State House, where the document will be displayed alongside other essential pieces of Rhode Island’s history.
Hundreds of feet underwater, the U.S.S. Providence does its work. Partly built at Quonset Point, the attack submarine was commissioned in 1985 and is the fifth named for Rhode Island’s capital city. Last spring, sixteen officers and a crew of about 130 sailors returned from a seven-and-a-half month mission in the Middle East. Inside this self-contained world under the sea, where they make their own water and air, “essentially the only thing that limits you is food,” says the sub’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O’Donnell. Ten to twelve sailors, such as sonar technician first class Andrew Stockwell, are on watch in the control room at all times when they’re operating at sea. And one level down, the torpedo room can hold twenty-six Mark 48 torpedoes and vertical launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. “She still goes out and fights a good fight,” O’Donnell says.
Seventy-five years ago this month, the Hurricane of ’38 slammed into Rhode Island, submerging downtown Providence. Sixteen years later, Hurricane Carol caused more than $41 million in damage. Construction of the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier began in 1960 and it went into operation in 1966. Today, three forty-foot-wide gates span the Providence River and when a serious coastal storm or hurricane arrives, workers shut them to stop the surge from progressing. But “you can’t simply stop the surge, you have to keep the water going out,” says John MacPherson, a civil engineer with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Water accumulates upstream of a brick and concrete pumping station with five, 4,500-horsepower pumps and courses into a suction chamber. The pumps then lift the water over the gates and spit it out downstream through a hole in the back of the building and into Narragansett Bay.
It’s surrounded by cherry blossoms come spring instead of barbed wire, but that doesn’t mean the old Foster Jail was a comfy place to be confined. Elijah Sanders knew the building firsthand, as the only person to actually be imprisoned there. Sanders got in trouble in 1916 for assaulting Monk Evans as he walked to work at the East Killingly Mill, according to a news account. After a failed attempt to bribe a deputy sheriff, Sanders was taken to the jail, where the only cell was not much bigger than an outhouse. “It’s not a place that you’d want to spend an extended period of time,” says Edwin Robinson of the Foster Preservation Society. Sanders was released after just one day and the small building eventually was used for storage, then later renovated as a historic building. As for the prisoner? “That’s probably the only thing he’ll ever be remembered for,” Robinson says.
South County is ideal for producing beautiful turf that makes its way to Fenway. Home to more than a dozen turf farms, the climate is good, the land tends to be flat and the soil is relatively free of rocks. Farmers started growing turf in South County over the past generation because of the demise of the potato market. Now, what’s known as the “green industry” comprises about 60 percent of agriculture in Rhode Island, says Ken Ayars, chief of the Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Farming. And Kingston Turf Farms has “always been ahead of the game, very innovative farmers,” Ayars says. Years ago, owner Brian Bouchard invented a machine that slices sod into four-foot-wide segments. Cutting-edge at the time, it gave the family-owned business the chance to sod for World Cup soccer and the Meadowlands. The machine has since become industry standard.
RISD has a long history of making science visible. In 1937, professor Edna Lawrence founded the art and design school’s Nature Lab, a hands-on collection that ranges from preserved bobcats and delicate butterflies to high-powered microscopes and TVs that allow students to study organisms up close. Now, as part of an initiative with Brown and URI, RISD students are helping people understand the impact of climate change on marine life. In this example, two undergraduate students — one majoring in textiles and the other in apparel — designed and built a special aquarium for comb jellyfish with materials from a plumbing supply store and traveled to the Barrington River each week to collect specimens for an ongoing live exhibit. Lab director Neal Overstrom says: “We keep telling students it’s all here. All you have to do is look.”
While most of us are still asleep, Allie’s Donuts is a hive of sweet activity. Long before dawn, workers arrive at the landmark South County institution on Route 2 to mix up batches of dough for their famous circular confections. The family-owned establishment has been doing it this way since 1968, when Frederick Alvin “Allie” Briggs started the business. His daughter, Anne, and son-in-law Walter “Bud” Drescher bought the business in 1986. But not much has changed. They’re still working at least twelve-hour days, fielding orders and turning out light but sinful maple frosted old fashioneds and Boston creams. And what Rhode Islander hasn’t marked a birthday, graduation or other special occasion with one of their donut cakes? They’re still cash only and on weekend mornings, you know the line will be out the door.