Island History

New Perspectives on the History and Archeology of Block Island
Fri, 09/02/2016 - 2:30pm

As summer winds down, the Block Island Historical Society acts as a time machine for guests to escape the hectic activity outside. Visitors are welcome to visit the Gallery and Museum Shop or to enjoy sitting in the rocking chairs on the recently restored front porch.
Inside the Museum, the Block Island Historical Society is excited to continue this year’s special exhibit “Windows to the Past: Recent Discoveries” with a new focus: “New Perspectives on the History and Archaeology of Block Island”. The new panels for the exhibit room on the second floor were produced by Kevin McBride, Director of Research at the Mashantucket Pequot Research Center.
Following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, McBride and his team of archaeologists and students conducted systematic walkover surveys along 23.5 miles of the seaward and salt pond shorelines to identify artifacts and features  (ie. hearth, wigwam post) eroding out of the bluffs, beaches and dunes.
In the second phase of the survey, thirty-three HDADs (Hurricane Damaged Archaeological Deposits) were selected for metal detector surveys, with archaeologists identifying potential Contact (1600-1675) or Early Historical Period sites. Due to the surveys done by the Mashantucket Pequot Research Center, new discoveries on Manissean subsistence, settlement, and land use have come to light. The research team’s findings have gone a long way in painting a picture of the indigenous Block Island people’s culture, as well as uncovering information on how the first European settlers used the land in the late 1600’s
To complement these new panels, the Historical Society also has a replica shell midden dated to 500 B.C. on display. Executive Director Pam Gasner notes “the museum is honored to display and interpret the history and culture of the Manisseans prior to European settlement. We hope visitors will learn more about our fragile and special environment that was inhabited for over 4000 years.
Another “Recent Discoveries” exhibit on display in the museum highlights handmade models of the passenger vessels that ran during the 1970s. Model maker Joe Giglietti crafted The Yankee, Block Island, Quonset, and Manisee and has loaned them to the Society for the season, and notecards are left with the models for visitors to share their favorite ferry memories and stories.
In addition to the special exhibits, the Historical Society proudly displays treasures of Block Island history, including the original Statue of Rebecca at the Well, Elizabeth Dicken’s organ and photographs, original Block Island fishing equipment and much more. Photo slideshows and films are available for showing upon request as well.
“It is amazing to see so much of Block Island’s history preserved and on display” says summer intern Sean Kunic. “I think it makes you look at the island in a different way, you become more aware of the history behind it all.”
A big hit for the 2016 season has been the new “Old Harbor Walking Tour” started by Southeast Lighthouse Foundation Board member Eliot Nerenberg. Beginning at the statue of Rebecca, the tour strolls through town as the guide illustrates the importance of the Old Harbor stone breakwater and details the vivid histories behind the historic buildings that make up Water Street. Tours are available weekdays through October 15th by appointment. Look for schedule in The Block Island Times and on the Historical Society’s website:
Please save the date: Oct 1 is Archeology Day at the Museum. This event features lectures by Joseph Waller of the Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. (11 a.m.) and Kevin McBride of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (1 p.m.), and includes a stone tool making demonstration by Timothy Ives of the RIHPHC (2:30 p.m.).
The Museum is open weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekdays by appointment. Call (401) 466-2481 or email for more information.