Island History

“Stories from the 1870’s – 1970’s”
Fri, 07/01/2016 - 1:15pm

There’s much to celebrate this summer at the Block Island Historical Society. Plans for the fourth phase of renovations to the museum building are being readied for a summer fundraising campaign. Visitors are welcome into the gallery and onto the porch, both of which have been newly restored.
 The first and foremost of the projects on the Board’s agenda over the last several years has been the restoration of the Historical Society’s building. The historic house museum was originally known as the Woonsocket House ca. 1871. It was purchased in 1945 by the newly formed Historical Society that did not own a building to display the furniture and artifact collection from islander Lucretia Mott Ball (1866-1941).
After the restoration of the ell wing a few years ago, the focus has been to complete the work on the first floor and fully implement a climate control system which helps protect our archives. The plans to restore the sills, walls and windows in the West Gallery room on the first floor will allow for more group tours and rotating exhibits. “We have so much in the archives, quilts, old tools, fishing equipment, wonderful clothing collections,” Gasner says speaking of the coming summer’s exhibits. “Each month we will have a different focus.”
The building has been kept open through membership donations since l945. “I’d love to start the summer with 100 new members from the Block Island local and summer community.  There are family, business and individual memberships, and even junior memberships for only $1.
Today, the Museum houses an extensive collection of significant artifacts related to Block Island's history from early maritime and farming displays to colonial memorabilia and scenes from Victorian summer pastimes. The two floors of exhibit rooms include fine furniture, textiles, quilts, boat models, tools, fishing gear, newly discovered information about the Manisseans dating over 4,000 years B.C.  “Manissean” is the name of the indigenous inhabitants of Block Island and “Manisses” was the name of Block Island, prior to European settlement.
The Society also has a collection of oral history tapes and other interesting displays. This summer the exhibit “Windows to the Past: Recent Discoveries” will highlight the history of the ferries that ran to the island during the 1970’s with handmade models by Joe Giglietti. The Yankee, Block Island, Quonset and Manisee are on display with notebooks to record visitors’ memories of trips to the island on these boats.
The other updated rooms exhibit panels produced by Kevin McBride, archeologist and Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Research Center
This month’s special programs are a Cemetery Tour with Karin Sprague on July 11 at 6:30 p.m. and “Art Night” every Thursday evening from 7-9 p.m. Special tours, history scavenger hunts and programs can be booked at the Historical Society by appointment and are part of Executive Director Pam Gasner’s plan to invite the community into the building for fun events and  functions, as well as to see the newly updated exhibits.
 “The building contains the cultural history of Block Island. The stories are waiting to be told.” Gasner says. Those stories will be told both inside the building and throughout the island on special walks and tours, and will have a wide view of the island’s historical places and the people who settled them.  
A special “Old Harbor Walking Tour” has been planned with Southeast Lighthouse Foundation Board member, Elliot Nerenberg. The walking tours will be on Thursdays at 10 a.m. Meet at the Rebecca Statue and stroll through town back to the museum. Tickets for the walking tour are $10 and include admission into the museum.
The museum is open daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Thursday evenings 7 – 9 p.m. and by appointment. Call (401) 466-2481 to learn more or visit our website Research and personal tours are by appointment.