Saving the Birthplace

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Local history buffs, relatives of early residents and visitors to the North Kingstown/Saunderstown area are invited to the North Kingstown Free Library on October 24th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm to help the Gilbert Stuart Museum in identifying some 1931 faces captured on a short Museum film discovered in its archives.

 In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, a group of distinguished Rhode Islanders saved the house where Gilbert Stuart was born from falling ‘into decay”, in Chairwoman Caroline Hazard’s words.  After purchasing the house and grounds, the group, consisting of Hazard, former President of Wellesley College, Norman Isham, well-known and eminently respected architect and historic preservationist, artist and college professor, Herbert R. Cross, community leaders, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Warren Green, Judge Ira Lloyd Letts and art gallery owner and community leader Nathaniel M. Vose, raised sufficient monies to restore the buildings and to open the newly dubbed Gilbert Stuart Memorial to the public, making available to all the site of the birthplace of one of America’s foremost portrait painters and documenter of the likenesses of six of the first Presidents of the United States.  As many are aware, a facsimile of Stuart‘s Washington portrait graces the face of our current one-dollar bill. 

To celebrate the 81st year of the acquisition of Stuart’s birthplace, we are asking   the public to help us to learn some of the names of original 1931 attendees at the opening of the Museum who were recorded on a small piece of 8mm film...  A number of stills of people on the film will be displayed for easier identification, thanks in part to the East Greenwich Photo Studio and Soozie Sundlun. 

Also on display will be pictures of the Museum at various times in history, newspaper articles dug from the archives of the NK Standard and Providence Journal, if any are to be found, copies of the pages of the original visitors book for the days of the Museum’s initial opening, an alphabetical list of attendees and other interesting Museum memorabilia.

To that end, the Gilbert Stuart Museum and historian Tim Cranston invite you to the NK Free Library on Monday, October 24 from 6:30 to 8:00pm   If you think your parents (if you around 60 or older, or if younger, your grandparents), may have attended the Museum’s opening event, please come to the Library and view our film. One of the Museum members found his grandparents on the film and was able to give us their hitherto unknown names. To assist you in deciding if one or more of your relatives might have attended, a list of the attendees are posted on the Gilbert Stuart website under August 1931 visitor list in alphabetical order and the North Kingstown Library also has a copy at the reference desk

As part of our celebration/identification agenda, Tim Cranston will help us tell the story behind the 1931 rescue of this critically important local historic site. This recently discovered film from the 1931 kickoff fund raiser and its intriguing guest sign-in book    will all be on display and the efforts made to save the Birthplace of our nation’s premier portrait artist will be discussed in the larger context of the race to save the past that occurred all over New England at the start of the 20th Century.  Were your grandparents or great-grandparents there on the day that the future of the Gilbert Stuart’s Birthplace was secured? Check our list, but all are welcome to come and help us make our discoveries together at the NK Free Library on October 24th/  This event is free and open to the public.


Submitted by Harriet Powell, Sec’y, Gilbert Stuart Museum.  Submitter’s address: 865 Gilbert Stuart Road, Saunderstown, RI 03874


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