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Organization Spotlight: South County History Center

This is a photo from a ground-penetrating radar demonstration the South County History Center held at the Tower Hill Cemetery.

South County History Center

By: Erica Luke, Executive Director

From Fall, 2019

South County History Center’s mission is to lead the discovery and preservation of South County’s history.  (We define “South County” as sharing the geographic boundaries of Washington County.)

Following a 2015 comprehensive strategic planning process, the Center (then called “Pettaquamscutt Historical Society”) shifted our focus to growing and maintaining research collections representing South County’s history.  These collections are primarily archival, photographic, and library materials.  We work with researchers from across the county and the country who are interested in local history topics, including genealogy, architecture, and business histories.

In addition to this focus on research collections, the Center maintains our historic home (the Old Washington County Jail) as well as two historic cemeteries.  At the Jail, visitors can see the historic cell block and view changing exhibits.  We also work in conjunction with partners to present public programs throughout South County.

We also have a strong focus on training the next generation of library and museum professionals.  Our internship program offers hands-on experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as those considering entering a graduate program.  Interns work on a variety of projects, including inventorying and cataloging collections materials, planning and executing public programs, and developing and mounting temporary exhibits.

We are fortunate to have numerous pieces in our collections, from Civil War letters to the archives of the South County Hospital to a 25,000+ piece photograph collection documenting South County in the late 20th century.  One collection that has been of particular interest to our staff and patrons is the Allen Collection, which includes approximately 400 glass plate negatives capturing residences and businesses across South County ca. 1895.  The collection also poses many questions, as the photographer and purpose of the photographs are unknown.  (The negatives were found hidden under an attic staircase in a South Kingstown home in the 1950s.)

We focus our story-telling on the people, places and institutions that have most impacted the daily lives of South County’s residents.  This includes local photographers, like “Reckless Charlie” Thurber who had a beach photography cart in Narragansett Pier; special places, like the Wakefield Branch, now Arnold Lumber on Main Street; and critical organizations, like the century-old South County Hospital.

The South County History Center’s headquarters are the Old Washington County Jail in historic Kingston village, located at 2636 Kingstown Road, Kingston, RI.

We are open to the public, but our hours change seasonally.  In fall 2019, we are open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., as well as the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.  We encourage visitors to make research appointments in advance and to check our website for any operational changes.

To contact the South County History Center, you can visit our website: SouthCountyHistoryCenter.org. You can find us on Facebook: Facebook.com/SouthCountyHistoryCenter. Or you can call us on the phone: 401-783-1328.

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