So You Want to Live in ... Jamestown, Rhode Island

At the end of the bridge from Newport lies a peaceful island town with water almost everywhere.

"Just grab a seat at the Jamestown salon," says Catherine Finney. "Sooner or later, over the course of the day, everyone in town will show up."

Catherine is a Web site designer, land conservation consultant, real estate appraiser, and recent chairwoman of the zoning review board in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It's easy to see why everyone would visit the "salon"―or, more officially, the East Ferry Market & Deli. The deli and its little patio overlook the town dock at the end of Narragansett Avenue. Sailboats slice across the serene waters of Narragansett Bay. The spires of Newport rise in the distance. To the north, the great silver span of the Newport Bridge―now called the Claiborne Pell Bridge―arcs across the bay.

The vistas seem as big as all creation, but the distances are on a human scale remarkable even for compact New England. "The nice thing about Rhode Island is that you can be hopelessly lost on the other side of the state and be home in less than an hour," says Catherine. "We're lucky to have our open spaces and yet have so much available just a few miles away."

"Jamestown is small enough that if you want to know a large number of your neighbors, you can," says real estate agent Ginny Prichett. "But it's large enough that if you want privacy, you can have that, too."

Neighbors seem the farthest thing from the mind of the sea kayaker paddling the edge of a salt marsh on his way toward the island's Beavertail peninsula. The peninsula, where rambling shingle-style mansions loom above the water, culminates in Beavertail State Park, with its gentle bike paths, 1856-vintage lighthouse, and wave-hammered, rocky shores.

Beavertail and the smaller Fort Wetherill State Park are the area's major public preserves. But land-owners have kept open a significant amount of island acreage through conservation easement programs and sale of development rights.

At the heart of the island is a property safe from any threat of development. The Watson Farm, with three-quarters of a mile of bay frontage, was bequeathed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities so that it might remain a working farm. Don and Heather Minto have managed the property ever since.

"We both grew up in the suburbs, but we'd decided that farming would be our vocation," says Don, as he and Heather relax in the barnyard. "There are moments when we stand on top of the hill looking down toward the bay and just say 'Ah.' "

(published 2002)

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