The island’s Camp Meade served as a Civil War training site
Shortly after Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, Rhode Island was called upon to provide troops to quell the rebellion.
The training of raw recruits was of paramount importance, and Jamestown was the site of two training camps.
This included Camp Bailey on Dutch Island, the home of the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery (Colored), the Black Rhode Island Regiment, and Camp Meade.
Sometimes spelled Mead, Camp Meade was the training camp for the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry. It was created in 1863 between June 26 and August 18 and is probably named after General George Gordon Meade who had just taken command of the United States Army of the Potomac.
The 16-acre government compound was inside the village of Jamestown, although its exact boundaries are unclear. To the north was Narragansett Avenue, and to the east there was a drift, or path, through Howland Farm which is now Green Lane. The southeast corner appears to have been at what is now the southeast corner of the lot at 56 Green Lane with the southern boundary parallel to Narragansett Avenue and the western edge in farmland east of Howland Avenue.
Between August 28, 1863, when the first 150 trainees arrived, and the early summer of 1864, all of the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry’s recruits—about 1,000—trained at Camp Meade. None of them came from Conanicut Island.
The total population of Jamestown in 1860 was only 400, and the men of Camp Meade far outnumbered the inhabitants of the small village surrounding it. They lived in their own separate world and, as is often the case when military encampments are built near civilian businesses, there was friction. Public records from early October 1864, when the trainees had been on the island for just over a month, contain complaints that the horses housed at the camp were “running loose on the public roads of Jamestown”. The following month, the city council heard complaints that soldiers were “indiscriminately taking poultry and sheep and tearing down fences”. The council’s reaction to the complaints was to send a committee to the governor asking him “either to have the camp fenced and guarded, or moved to a more suitable place”.
At the end of December 1863, the main body of the 3rd left Jamestown for the front. New recruits continued to be trained at the camp throughout the spring, but complaints, at least those reaching the city council, were dwindling.
The Army constructed several buildings in the camp, and after the departure of the 3rd Cavalry from Rhode Island, at least three of the buildings were refitted.
The town, through John Cottrell, purchased the hospital building, which was on the Green Lane side of the camp, to serve as town hall. The clapboard building, which was 20 by 40 feet and about 14 feet high, cost $150. The city had 30 days to move it to a new location, but it burned down. The exact time the fire occurred is unknown.
Colonel A. Crawford Greene, who had served at Camp Meade, and his family purchased two other government buildings near what is now 56 Green Lane. (Family members believe the street is named after the family despite the lack of the final “e” in the street name.) They then leased the land on which the buildings stood. The lease allowed them to keep two horses and two carriages in John Howland’s barn for a period not exceeding three months during the hot season of each year, to obtain water from an adjacent spring, to use drift from Green Lane and use a private road through Howland land to the shore.
By converting the buildings into summer residences, the Greenes became Jamestown’s first resort-era summer cottage owners.
The Howland Flat dividing Howland Farm into house lots and establishing new streets including Howland Avenue was recorded in 1873. Houses were built along Green Lane. Clinton Avenue through the center of the old camp was accepted as a public thoroughfare in 1881. Colonel Greene’s daughter, Clara, and her husband, William Allison, demolished Greene’s remodeled military building and built the Sea Haven still standing in its place around 1897.
Evidence of the short-lived military presence at Camp Meade has disappeared.