Jamestown, Rhode Island

Jamestown is a town in Newport County, Rhode Island in the United States. The population was 5,405 at the 2010 census. Jamestown is situated almost entirely on Conanicut Island, the second largest island in Narragansett Bay. It also includes the uninhabited Dutch Island and Gould Island. Jamestown is ranked as the 444th wealthiest place to live in the United States as of 2016, with a median home sale price of $1,229,039.


In 1524, Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano and his crew visited Narragansett Bay.Dutch Island was used by fur traders c. 1622, and English colonists made arrangements to use Conanicut Island for grazing sheep in 1638.[citation needed]

Ferries were in operation between Conanicut Island and Newport by 1675. In 1678, Conanicut Island was incorporated as the town of Jamestown, when there were about 150 residents. It was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.

By 1710, many of Conanicut Island’s current roads were in place. In 1728, the town of Jamestown built a windmill for grinding corn, which used the sea breeze for power since there was no source of running water to turn a waterwheel.

American Revolution

Two hundred British and Hessian troops, commanded by James Wallace, landed at East Ferry on Conanicut Island on December 10, 1775. They then marched to West Ferry where they burned the ferry house. As they returned to East Ferry, they destroyed many buildings, including 14 homes, which caused more than 200 of Conanicut Island’s 556 residents to flee to the mainland.

In December 1776, a British fleet arrived in Narragansett Bay and occupied Newport. The British took over the colonial militia batteries at Fort Dumpling (now part of Fort Wetherill) and the Conanicut Battery at Beavertail, just south of Fort Getty at the end of Battery Lane. They left Narragansett Bay in October 1779; as they departed, they destroyed the fortifications which they had occupied and burned down the Beavertail Lighthouse.

18th and 19th centuries

Beavertail Lighthouse was back in operation by 1784, and Jamestown rebuilt the Jamestown Windmill and Quaker Meetinghouse in 1787 that had been destroyed during the occupation.

In 1800, Fort Dumpling was established on the site of previous fortifications overlooking East Passage. A tall stone tower atop the highest cliff could hold eight guns.

The town of Jamestown commissioned a steam-powered ferryboat in 1872 and initiated service between Jamestown and Newport in May 1873. The availability of reliable and comfortable ferry service to and from Newport had a significant impact on agricultural Conanicut Island, and Jamestown became a destination for both day trips and summer vacations.

The 1880s and 1890s saw a construction boom, with hotels, private summer homes, and municipal buildings going up. The island’s population tripled between 1870 and 1900.

20th century to the present

There was a burst of military fortification activity from 1890 to the end of World War I. The Spanish–American War was a catalyst, beginning in 1898, and work began on Dutch Island’s Fort Greble. The War Department bought 31 acres (130,000 m2) for Fort Getty, and fortifications were quickly erected. Summer homes were condemned near Fort Dumpling to establish Fort Wetherill. More land was acquired at Prospect Hill near the Conanicut Battery site for an observation and fire control station, and the government established a torpedo station and test facility on Gould Island. Then, at the end of the First World War, the Conanicut Island fortifications fell into disuse. World War II brought establishment or reactivation of military bases around Narragansett Bay, including Forts Getty, Burnside, and Wetherill on Conanicut Island, Fort Greble on Dutch Island, a torpedo factory on Goat Island, and a torpedo station on Gould Island.

Jamestown was a bustling summer destination in the early 1900s, and it had nine hotels in 1903. The golden age of large resort hotels was brief, however, in Jamestown and elsewhere, and patronage rapidly declined in the 1920s. The Thorndike Hotel was demolished in 1938. The Gardner House was one of the larger hotels, but it was taken down in 1941 after being idle for several years, and a USO building was built on its site. After the war, the town purchased the building and it is now known as the community center. It was extensively landscaped and remodeled in 2002. The Bay View Hotel closed in the 1960s, the last of the very large hotels. The building was demolished in 1985, and the Bay View Condominiums opened for occupancy four years later. The building exterior was designed to resemble the hotel. The Bay Voyage Hotel is the only survivor of the many hotels that once lined Jamestown’s eastern harbor, now operating as a time share resort.

In 1938, a major hurricane caused much property damage and the loss of more than 300 lives in the Narragansett Bay region. It swept away much of the sand from the Mackerel Cove beach, destroyed its popular beach pavilion, and destroyed the West Ferry docks—which actually speeded approvals for a bridge to Saunderstown. The first Jamestown Bridge opened in the summer of 1940, replacing West Ferry service with a continuously available link to the west.

In 1969, the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge was completed, establishing Route 138 as a continuous highway from South County to Newport. With its completion, traditional ferry service was eliminated. The bridge is pictured on the Rhode Island commemorative quarters. In 1992, the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge replaced the narrow steel bridge erected in 1940. It was accompanied by construction of a new western-end access road and a cross-Conanicut Island highway.


As of the census of 2000, there were 5,622 people, 2,359 households, and 1,625 families residing in the town. The population density was 580.0 people per square mile (224.0/km2). There were 2,769 housing units at an average density of 285.7 per square mile (110.3/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.55% White, 0.78% African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.39% Asian, 0.00% Pacific Islander, 0.23% from other races, and 0.84% from two or more races. 0.89% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 2,359 households, out of which 28.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.5% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.1% were non-families. 25.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 2.88.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 22.0% under the age of 18, 4.3% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 33.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 44 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.6 males, and for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.6 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $87,073, and the median income for a family was $117,990. Males had a median income of $50,185 versus $35,056 for females. The per capita income for the town was $58,664. 2.9% of the population and 1.7% of families were below the poverty line. 1.4% of those under the age of 18 and 3.1% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Jamestown Public Schools encompasses two buildings: Melrose School for elementary students and Lawn School for middle school students. For high school, public school students matriculate to either North Kingstown High School or Narragansett High School.

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