The RIHS Drop-Scene Project

2:00 pm, February 19, 2023, Blackstone Valley Historical Society 1872 Old Louisquiset Pike, Lincoln, RI

Richard Ring, RIHS

Free Lecture. All welcome.

Richard Ring, the Deputy Executive Director for Collections & Interpretation at the Rhode Island Historical Society, is coming on February 19 to talk about the RIHS’s Drop Scene Project. The RIHS’s Theater Drop-Scene is the earliest known surviving American theater backdrop.

The backdrop features a panoramic view of Providence from the base of Federal Hill looking east, painted by John Worrall in about 1809-1810. John Worrall (ca. 1783–September 14, 1825), was a scenery painter who had worked in Boston. It was made for the first theater in Providence, which was located at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson, a spot currently occupied by Grace Church. In the 1790’s John Brown gave the lot for the theater, and subscribed for seven shares of the company. The theater opened in 1795. The Historical Society acquired the drop-scene in 1833, soon after the theater was demolished and the land sold to the Grace Church Corporation. It is the largest graphic image of Providence in their collection.

The Drop Scene Project 2018-2022

The RIHS has been engaged in a massive project to restore and make available this image of Providence, and it has taken four years, from 2018 to 2022. The drop scene was first cleaned and then conservation work was done by Curtains Without Borders. Then Artopia Giclée of Stoneham, MA took 76 digital photographs of the scene and stitched them together. The image was then digitally retouched using existing visual information, and printed onto large pieces of heavy art paper at 1/4 scale for the artist to work on. The artist physically painted areas of the image that were difficult to repair digitally. The photographer then shot the painted prints and put them together to make a restored digital image for display and interactive use. We can see again what Providence looked like in 1810.

Read more about the Drop-Scene Project, and come on Sunday, February 19 to learn all about it.

Photograph of the restoration work from 2018 courtesy of RIHS.

Andrew Noone to Give Talk on “Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy”

2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 22, BVHS, 1873 Old Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln, RI

What possessed a woman from the elite of eighteenth-century New England society to conspire with American and British soldiers to murder her husband at the midpoint of the American Revolution? The story of Bathsheba Spooner has alternately fascinated and baffled residents of Worcester County for centuries. Beyond central Massachusetts, the tale is largely unknown. It was, in fact, the most sensational “true crime” tragedy of the American 1700’s.

Bathsheba Ruggles Spooner (1746 – 1778)was the first woman in American history to be executed  following the Declaration of independence.

     Spooner was the daughter of a leading Tory lawyer Timothy Ruggles, who served several terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives before the Revolution, and after the Revolution settled in Nova Scotia.  Bathsheba had an arranged marriage to wealthy farmer Joshua Spooner in Worcester and remained in Massachusetts. After becoming pregnant by her lover, 17-year old Continental soldier Ezra Ross, she enlisted the assistance of Ross and two others to murder her husband. On the night of March 1, 1778, Spooner was beaten to death and his body hidden in a well. Bathsheba and the three conspirators were soon arrested, tried, and convicted of Spooner’s murder, and sentenced to death.  She was buried in an unmarked grave in Green Hill Park in Worcester.

Andrew Noone became interested in Spooner when he realized that his house was adjacent to Green Hill Park where Spooner was buried.  He became fascinated with the story, and began to research the murder and trial.

     Andrew Noone, the author of the book, is an independent scholar with graduate degrees in art history and musicology from Syracuse University. He was music specialist in the Worcester Public Schools and has taught courses in the humanities at several colleges in Massachusetts, including Clark University.

See “Kittacuck Speaks” at BVHS

2:00 pm, November 20, 2022
Blackstone Valley Historical Society
1873 Old Louisquisset Pike 
Lincoln, RI 02865

BVHS will show Kittacuck Speaks, a film about the Blackstone River.  John Marsland, president of the Blackstone Valley Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, will introduce the movie.

The Blackstone River has been a lifeline to to the people living in the Blackstone Valley through the centuries, from before the Industrial Revolution. It is a beautiful part of our heritage. As time has gone by, there have been a lot of changes to the River, brought on mainly by humans, who used it as a dumping ground for hundreds of years. But now it is returning to its original beauty, and Kittacuck Speaks will show the river throughout the course of a year. It will take us on a tour of the majestic Blackstone River through the seasons, showing it as it has never been seen before: from above.

Kittacuck Speaks was produced by the Blackstone Valley Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, together with the RI Rivers Council. Kittycunk translates to “the great tidal river.” 


And they’re off! Relive the Narragansett Park racing days!

2:00 p.m., October 16th, 2022
BVHS, 1873 Old Louisquisset Pike (Route 246), Lincoln, RI 02865

This talk was postponed until March, 2023.

Rhode Island once had two major thoroughbred racing facilities: Lincoln Downs and Narragansett Park. Bob Kynch worked at both of them, and still follows the races in Northern New England. Join him as he relives the days in Pawtucket’s Narragansett Park, with the crowds, the beautiful animals, and even the train that brought the people to the Park to enjoy the sport of kings.

Bob Kynch started working at the Rhode Island racing facilities as a young man, and still is a part of the racing set. Join him as he goes back to the heyday of horse racing in Rhode Island. This was one of the major forms of enjoyment for many people in decades past. Bob will show you the reason why, and give you an appreciation for the joys of this sport.

Great Road Day

September 24, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
1873 Old Louisquisett Pike, Lincoln, RI 02865

Great Road Day Map

BVHS is participating in Lincoln’s Great Road Day, where historic properties are open to the public.  The Eleazer Arnold House, the Saylesville Friends Meeting House, Hearthside House, the Hannaway Blacksmith Shop, the Moffett Mill, the Pullen Corner Schoolhouse, and the Mount Moriah Lodge will all be open at no charge.  Northgate and Arnold’s Lonsdale Bakery will be open 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on September 24.   We will have chocolate chip cookies in the bakery. Please stop by!

Northgate was built around 1807 as a residence for the toll collector for the Louisquisset Turnpike, which was constructed at the same time to expedite the shipment of lime to Providence. In later years, the building served as the Lime Rock Grange, a social gathering place for local families.

The bakery was originally a one-room, one story workshop, which was used by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Jenks Arnold as a bakery in 1874, and was the start of their Lincoln business which lasted nearly 100 years. They were so successful that a large bakery was built in Saylesville, and eventually the little bakery was purchased by one of the Arnolds and moved to Saylesville next to their new building. In the 1990’s the original bakery was relocated and rebuilt in its current spot adjacent to Northgate.
The Jenks’ collection of antique baking equipment was placed on display at the bakery, and Gail Harris from BVHS has added to the bakery collection. Here is an article about the bakery from the Valley Breeze.

On Great Road Day, BVHS will also host an exhibit of Vincent Bernasconi’s paintings of the lime quarry and Lime Rock, courtesy of Joyce Bethel and the Conklin Lime Quarry. In addition, Dan Bethel will show material he has collected about Bernasconi.

Vincent Bernasconi (1885-1962) was a staff artist at the Providence Journal. He was born in Birmingham, England and graduated from art school. He began working at the Providence Evening Bulletin in 1917, drawing illustrations for the sporting page and sketching cartoons. He lived on Great Road in one of the houses just past the quarry, and in his free time he enjoyed painting his neighborhood. These illustrations of Lime Rock and the lime quarry may be on public view for the first time. On this page is a picture by Bernasconi of a lime kiln on Wilbur Road.

ZAP the Blackstone

2:00 p.m. August 14, 2022

Northgate, Blackstone Valley Historical Society (Upstairs)

Speaker: Raymond Kelley, Zap the Blackstone.

Fifty years ago, on September 9, 1972, 10,000 people spent a day cleaning up the Blackstone River, removing tons of trash, appliances, cars and even a school bus from its banks. It was called “Operation ZAP.” By 1972, the Blackstone, which had powered over 100 mills along its length from Worcester to Pawtucket Falls, was one of the most polluted rivers in America. The volunteer effort that day started the revival of the Blackstone River.

Raymond Kelley, whose grandfather was a leader in the original “Operation ZAP” effort, is coming to BVHS on August 14 to help kick off “ZAP 50,” the 50-year anniversary cleanup, with a talk about the original ZAP in 1972. Using images, a video and memories from “ZAPsters” recounting their experiences, he will show how so many helped save the Blackstone. If anyone would like to share their memories of that day, Kelley would love to hear them, either at this talk, or on the ZAP the Blackstone website. There are still many challenges facing the Blackstone, and we hope that many will volunteer for ZAP 50.

ZAP 50 will take place from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on August 27. Kelley hopes that it will be as big as the original ZAP in 1972. A valley-wide watershed cleanup is planned for that day, with cleanups, green-ups, and improvement projects across the entire Blackstone Valley. There is a project list on the website, with projects rated from easier to harder.  For more information, visit the Zap the Blackstone website.

Come to the talk on August 14 and hear about ZAP, one of the largest environmental cleanup events in the country and an important day in Blackstone Valley history.

Michael DiMucci “The Sensational 70’s” Concert

When: 3:00 p.m. June 12, 2022,

Where: Blackstone Valley Historical Society, 1873 Old Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln, RI 02865

Michael DiMucci, tenor and pianist,  will present a concert of songs and their stories from America’s past at the Blackstone Valley Historical Society. This concert is part of his Americana series. The program features well-known melodies from what he dubs, “The Sensational 70s!”

 Come celebrate with the music that defined the decade from country to pop to soul to singer-songwriter pieces and more.

Tickets are $15 each and are available at and will be sold at the door. This is a fundraiser for BVHS.

Slater Park: “A perfect union of art and nature”

Annual Meeting 1:30 pm. Blackstone Valley Historical Society, followed by the Christine Nowak Lecture on Slater Park and Looff Carousel by Donna Houle. The meeting and the talk will take place downstairs.

By Marie George

On Sunday May 15 at 2:00 PM, the Christine Nowak Lecture series will present Donna Houle of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.  Houle will give a talk on Slater Park entitled “A Visual Presentation of the History of Slater Park – A Perfect Union of Art and Nature.”

     In the late 1890s, the city of Pawtucket purchased the area around what was then known as the Daggett Farm.  Several years later, work began on this swampy and wooded area, transforming it into the oldest and largest park in Pawtucket.  The park is named after Samuel Slater, the famous industrialist who created America’s first textile mill.

    In the early 1900s, the initial work was begun to create paths, drives, ponds and bridges, making the previously unreachable areas of the park accessible to the walking and motoring public. The Daggett House was preserved and is one of the oldest buildings in the state, having been built around 1685.  Over the next decades, several buildings were added.

     In her capacity as a special projects manager for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, Houle has amassed a wealth of knowledge on the history of Slater Park.  Over the years, she has collected postcards and pictures of the park, and has used them to create her presentation portraying the art and nature that are combined in its history. Among the many features of the Park about which Houle will speak are the carousel, zoo, bandstand and boathouse (which houses the R.I. Watercolor Society), as well as the Marconi and Friendship Gardens, and Daggett House. She will also discuss the seasonal programs such as summer Arts in the Park, October’s Pumpkins in the Park, and December’s Winter Wonderland.

     Of particular interest is the Slater Park Looff Carousel, built in New York in 1895 by famed carousel designer Charles I.D. Looff, who also created more than 40 carousels around the country, including at New York’s Coney Island. It was moved to Pawtucket in 1910. At one time, it was in peril of being sold for parts until grassroots efforts rescued the carousel, known locally as “The Darby Horses.”

  More recently, $2.5 million in restoration has the carousel up and running and open to the public.

      In 2018, the National Carousel Association held its annual convention in Rhode Island and awarded the Slater Park Looff Carousel “Historic Carousel of the Year.”

     Houle is currently working on a documentary on Looff and the history and restoration of the carousel, which is over 125 years old. 

     Houle encourages all who attend her lecture to bring photos or memorabilia they may wish to share during a question-and-answer period following the presentation. She will also display Slater Park keepsake items, which are for sale, including Christmas ornaments, coasters and trivets.

For all who attended Theodore Coleman’s talk on Snowtown, he has sent additional information. We will put it in a better location soon but here are two interesting articles:

Joseph W. Sullivan’s paper on the Olney’s Lane Riot, in the Summer 2007 Edition of the RI Historical Society’s Rhode Island History publication. Copies of it and other editions of RI History are available on the RIHS Website.

Paper written by John Crouch, which provides the news/noise background surrounding both the Hardscrabble and the Snowtown attacks.


2:00 p.m. April 24, Blackstone Valley Historical Society, 1873 Old Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln, RI. Free lecture. All are welcome.

Theodore Coleman has sent us some additional literature for those who are interested.

Joseph W. Sullivan’s paper on the Olney’s Lane Riot, in the Summer 2007 Edition of the RI Historical Society’s Rhode Island History publication. Copies of it and other editions of RI History are available on the RIHS Website.

Paper written by John Crouch, which provides the news/noise background surrounding both the Hardscrabble and the Snowtown attacks.

On April 24 at 2:00 p.m,, Theodore Coleman will give a presentation at BVHS about the 19th century community of Snowtown in Providence, and the race riots that took place there in 1831.

Snowtown was a small, mixed race neighborhood of the early 19th century, initially developing around the area of Smith Street, and eventually expanding to encompass the entire hill where the State House is located, down to the Providence Place Mall.

Snowtown was made up of homes of poor black and white laborers, small businesses, saloons and boarding houses, and the population fluctuated with transients and migrants.  In 1831, a racially-motivated riot broke out, triggered by a saloon brawl, and the homes of black residents were targeted.  Over the course of four days, eighteen buildings in Snowtown and nearby Olney’s Lane were damaged or destroyed. Eventually, the state militia fired to disperse the mob, killing four people. According to Wikipedia, after the Snowtown riot, Providence voters approved a charter for a city government with a police force. Although the buildings in Snowtown were soon replaced, by the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood was lost to railroad construction and other development, including the building of the R. I. State House

Coleman writes that the original location of Snowtown, close to Smith Street, only appears as background in photographs of other subjects. The 1880’s photograph on this post is a detail of a photograph called “The Cove from the Top of City Hall” in the Pastore Collection at Providence College. It is one of the few images of Snowtown. It shows a mix of small houses and larger tenements, with the Zion Church building prominent on the west side of Gaspee Street.    

Theodore Coleman is a civil engineer by education and occupation. As a child, he pulled a copy of John Cady’s The Civic and Architectural Development of Providence from his father’s library. The evolving geography of Providence has been a passionate interest ever since.

He is the author of The 1824 Providence House Directory, and Camp Hill, Hardscrabble, and Addison’s Hollow in Early Nineteenth Century Providence, and he is currently working on a guide to the John Worrall Providence Theatre Curtain.

He has been a member of the Center for Reconciliation’s Snowtown Research Team for the past two years. The team includes historians, archeologists, and other historical researchers. The objective of the Research Team has been to expand the story of Snowtown, beyond being the site of a nineteenth century race riot, and to provide a fuller picture of who lived there, and what it was like.

An Afternoon of Maritime Misfortune in the Ocean State

2:00 pm, March 20, 2022, Blackstone Valley Historical Society, 1873 Old Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln, RI

Presentation by Charlotte Taylor, archaeologist, RIHPHC

RI Shipwrecks
RI Shipwrecks by Charlotte Taylor

Rhode Island has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state. The south coast and Block Island are the resting places of many shipwrecks, with many more located in Narragansett Bay.

     The first recorded shipwreck in Rhode Island took place in the  17th century, immediately after the arrival of the Europeans, with the grounding of a Dutch trading vessel. Over the centuries, thousands more vessels came to grief in  these waters. Bad weather, human error, equipment failure, and military action accounted for many of these tragic events. Many shipwrecks from the 19th century into the 20th were captured in dramatic paintings, drawings, and later photographs. Archaeologist Charlotte Taylor, author of the 2017 book, “RI Shipwrecks,” (Arcadia Publishing), will speak at the BVHS March 20. She will showcase some of the best pictures and stories from a long litany of maritime misfortunes here in the Ocean State.

     Taylor came to Rhode Island for graduate school in archaeology at Brown University and never left.  She is now an archaeologist at the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, where she maintains an inventory of the location and condition of the state’s shipwrecks. She has been part of the archaeological survey projects on several of the shipwrecks included in her book.