In the 1920s (and even before) Portsmouth was home to some well known professional actors. Aquidneck Island has always attracted summer residents with its mild climate. Portsmouth was a transportation hub and the Fall River Line made travel to New York City theater sites easier. Newspaper articles from the end of World War I to 1929 record the activities of professional actors who lived in Portsmouth.

The January 5th 1918 Newport Mercury reported that the Christian Union Church pastor Robert Downing entertained the troops aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts for New Year’s Day celebrations. The boat carrying Rev. Downing had to break its way through the thick ice. The troops enjoyed the performance and gave the minister three cheers and wished him a happy New Year. Robert Downing was not an ordinary pastor. Before he became a minister, he performed Shakespearean plays and even had his own touring company. He retired from the theater in 1909 to became a minister. Downing’s church – the Christian Union Church in Portsmouth – is now the headquarters of the Portsmouth Historical Society. Downing used to dramatize scripture readings for his congregation. Some church members enjoyed the drama while others did not. He served as minister from 1915 to shortly after this performance for the troops. He continued to live in Portsmouth even after he resigned as minister. At first the congregation had a hard time getting the Downings to leave the parsonage. Late newspaper articles show the Downings continued to come back to their home on Quaker Hill in the 1920s. The New York Times reported in 1919 that he would take a role in a moving picture called Termination.

Robert Downing as Marc Anthony

Newspaper articles also tell us about an actors’ colony at Island Park that continued to spend summers in Portsmouth for over eighteen years. A 1908 Fall River Evening Herald article let us know that the actors enjoyed the pleasures of Island Park.

“Gertrude Dion Magill, Nat Leffington, and Mr. Royan of the Puritan Theater are having the time of the their lives rising, bathing and securing fine coat of tan coloring on their complexions. Miss Magill is remarked along the shore as an expert swimmer. The trio says they are charmed with the park as a summer resort and will surely laud its beauties to other members of their profession the summer season.”

In 1921 the Fall River paper includes an article on the arrival of actors Mr. and Mrs. Hill who have been coming to the Island Park Actor’s Colony there for over 18 years.