Bombs Bursting in the Air: The Dedication of Butts Hill Fort, 1923

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Two thousand people came to Butts Hill Fort on August 29, 1923 to celebrate the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Rhode Island and the dedication of the fort. The Newport Artillery Company led the procession up Butts Hill followed by the Naval Training Station Band, the Bristol Train of Artillery and the Fort Adams Band. The ceremonies began with a recitation of the events in the Battle of Rhode Island. Roderick Terry, who purchased the land and gave it to the Newport Historical Society, talked about his long dream to preserve this site. He hoped it would be a reminder to future generations of what past generations had done to win our independence. He stated that the land was given to the Newport Historical Society as a trust which they held for the community.

After the raising of the flag there was a reenactment of the Battle of Rhode Island. Two detachments of troops were stationed at Mill Lane. Another detachment was at Union Street and East Main Road – by the headquarters of the Portsmouth Historical Society today. The U.S.S. Antares was stationed in the Middle Passage. The August 30th edition of the Fall River Herald gave this account of the reenactment.

“Mortars from a concealed redoubt below the ramparts hurled bombs high over the old fort, while deeper detonations of the bombing squadron in the channel off Prudence Island mingled with the staccato sputtering of rifle fire and the discharge of field pieces. ”


Fall River Herald, August 30, 1923

Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, November 1923

Photo from Pierce Collection of the Portsmouth Free Pubic Library

Lost to Time: Oakland Lodge

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“A roaring fire last night destroyed the Oakland Odd Fellows Hall at 126 East Main Road, Portsmouth, after 250 people attending an auction walked quietly outdoors to safety.” (Newport Daily News – January 19, 1955).

Lost to Time? The Oakland Lodge was lost to time and Portsmouth in a rather dramatic way – a fire.

The fire that took the building in 1955 must have been a traumatic event. John E. Janes of Newport was the auctioneer and his assistant smelled smoke and discovered it on the second floor. Janes calmly led his patrons out of the building. He saved some of his merchandise, but lost 125 chairs in the blaze.

Fire equipment from Portsmouth, Middletown, Glen Farm and the Navy tried to put out the flames, but the water supply was limited. Fifteen thousand gallons of water had to be shuttled from a hydrant on the corner of Forest Ave and East Main Road. Empty petroleum trucks helped to ferry the water. Chief Henry W. Wilkey said that he could have had three 500 gallon pieces from Tiverton, but the Stone Bridge was not passable. Wilkey believed the fire probably started from an overheated stove pipe running through the partition.

In a recent blog I wrote about the arts in Portsmouth. In researching what was going on with the arts in Portsmouth in the 1920s, I came across a theater troop centered at Oakland Lodge. As I gathered materials for our 1920s exhibit at the Portsmouth Historical Society, I came across a photo of the Lodge. The Lodge was located close to the Middletown border on East Main Road. On the back of the photo (taken in April of 1925) there is a brief history of the Lodge.

“Oakland Lodge, No. 32, I.O.O.F., was chartered January, 1874, with twenty members, of whom Charles C. Slocum was Noble Grand; Samuel G. Arnold, Vice P.S., Constant C. Chace, W.S.; Peleg L. Thurston, P.S. and Herbert Chace, R.S. Oakland Lodge Hall was built in 1875. It was destroyed by fire on the night of January 18, 1955. The one story building that was built to replace it was used by the Lodge for about twenty years, until its membership grew so small, that it merged with the Excellent Lodge of Newport and the property was sold.”

The Independent Organization of Odd Fellows was a fraternal organization – one of the largest groups in the United States. Newspaper accounts show that the Oakland Lodge was a very active organization. The Odd Fellows were one of the first fraternal groups to welcome women – “Daughters of Rebekah.” Their purpose was:

  1. To improve and elevate the character of mankind by promoting the principles of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.
  2. To help make the world a better place to live by aiding each other in times of need and by organizing charitable projects and activities that would benefit the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and the community in every way possible.
  3. To promote good will and harmony amongst peoples and nations through the principle of universal fraternity, holding the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank and station are brothers and sisters.
  4. To promote a wholesome fraternal experience without violence, vices and discrimination of every form.

Although the Odd Fellows rebuilt and continued to meet for twenty more years, the members dwindled and they closed the doors in the 1970s.

Portsmouth in the 1920s: Artists

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Three Portsmouth artists illustrate the importance of the arts in Portsmouth during the 1920s. Sarah Eddy of Bristol Ferry, Finis Macomber MacLeod of Quaker Hill and Elizabeth Anthony Wilkey of Elm Farm on Park Avenue were accomplished artists who shared their love of art with the community.

Sarah Eddy trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. She was a nationally known painter, sculptor, and master photographer. She established her own studios on her property on Bristol Ferry Road around 1900 and founded the Social Studio which taught artistic skills to Portsmouth youth. She drew artists to Bristol Ferry and an artist community grew there. Often her students stayed at her guest house, Willowbrook – the Connors Funeral Home today. Dressed in smocks and berets, Sarah and her students would venture out early to capture the beautiful light. Sarah contributed the money to add a room to the Portsmouth Free Public Library that would be used to display art work. Sarah’s work was regularly displayed there during the 1920s and one painting mentioned in a newspaper article is now in the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society. It is a painting of an older woman, Mrs. Burke, and she is preparing a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner.

Finis Macomber MacLeod was one of Sarah Eddy’s students. She continued her studies at Moses Brown School and in Boston where she took up sculpture. Finis later studied with Helena Sturtevant, a very accomplished artist, at the Newport Art Association. Finis was a minister’s wife and often moved around New England, but she kept coming back to the area. Newspaper accounts show she shared her skills in portrait sculpture with local artists. She exhibited her paintings and sculptures locally including the Newport Art Association and the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

Elizabeth Anthony Wilkey began teaching art in the 1920s and continued to train Portsmouth artists throughout a lifelong career as Art Teacher and Arts Director for Portsmouth schools. Elizabeth was a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. A 1929 newspaper article is centered around a exhibition of her students work at her studio on Park Avenue.  She designed the insignia for the town of Portsmouth based on old drawings of the original insignia. Her seal design appears on official Town of Portsmouth vehicles and documents.

If you know of other Portsmouth artists who worked in the 1920s, I would love to learn about them and see images of their work. Hopefully we will have displays on the artists this summer at the Portsmouth Historical Society Museum.

Photo of Finis Macomber MacLeod and her painting courtesy Christine Stockman – her granddaughter.