CHARLESTOWN — Jean Pellam may be a Buckeye by birth, but the Charlestown resident has learned so much about her adopted hometown that she’ll certainly have her place in the history books.
An Ohio native who’s lived in Charlestown for the past 40 years, Pellam has recently completed her first book, “Historic Cross’ Mills: A Self-Guided Tour.” On Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m., the Charlestown Historical Society and the Cross’ Mills Public Library will host a book signing and presentation by Pellam, who plans to show slides and talk about what she calls “Histourism,” or historic tourism.
Inspired by local lore, Pellam decided to organize a driving tour for herself, to see some of the areas and buildings she had heard so much about over the years.
Pellam, with her husband, Michael, owns Michael’s Garage, Shell Station and Food Mart on Route 1, and raised her two daughters in Charlestown. She was one of the founders of the Charlestown Parks and Recreation Commission, and has volunteered to organize, preserve and display the historical society’s collections of artifacts.
She certainly has heard her share of stories. “It started innocently,” Pellam says, “but each one ... each building and place ... had its own interesting story.”
So Pellam began her research. “I come from a long line of teachers,” says Pellam, who studied at the Cleveland Institute for Art, taught art classes at St. Michael School in Pawcatuck, and continues to teach painting and art classes to children. “And I have a long-standing passion for art history.”
Pellam approached each building and location on the tour as a historic artifact, “researching primary sources of documentation and consulting various other written materials to form a story describing the evolution of each site.”
“The narrative entries are the framework of the book, describing in a tour-like progression each location’s significance in local history and comparing structures to other building styles within the state,” she says.
Pellam started at the beginning: “The Town of Charlestown was named after King Charles II. Formerly part of Westerly (incorporated in 1669), Charlestown gained its autonomy and was incorporated in 1738,” and continued through to the present day, including the effects of Superstorm Sandy.
Pellam describes the town’s history as that of “a small community with big issues.”
Big issues like land acquisition, slavery, indenture, public education, detribalization, gambling, agricultural stability, the environment, military readiness and recreational pursuits, all of which she touches upon in the self-guided tour.
“I stayed away from wars and politics,” says Pellam, who received a legislative grant to cover some of the printing costs. “It’s really been an interesting process. You really get a warm sense of community ... and of the decency and civic mindedness of the people.”
Pellam takes the tourist from the Charlestown Breachway, “the first documented access point in Charlestown for European contact and trade with the Native-American people,” to the 1845 Peleg Tucker House on Old Mill Road. Stops include Cross’ Mills Public Library, Fort Ninigret, King Tom Farm and the Perry Hoxie farm, among others.
Pellam includes historic narratives about 36 buildings and public sites in Cross’ Mills. They were chosen, says Pellam, to “illuminate the rich cultural history of the original hub of Charlestown following settlement by the Europeans and trade with the Native-American people in the 1600s.”
The tour takes about two hours to complete, she says, and “makes for a neat day trip.”
Among the many fascinating facts to be found in Pellam’s book may be a sigh of relief for people who have trouble remembering whether to say “Cross Mills” or “Cross’ Mills.”
“The appropriate Yankee pronunciation is ‘Crosses’ Mills,” says Pellam, explaining that the name comes from one of the original owners of the property. “Land ownership was first documented by deed for a gristmill, passing from Niantic Indian Sachem Ninigret to Joseph Daville, then to Joseph Cross in 1709.”
The public in invited to attend the Nov. 1 lecture. Pellam says books will be available for sale and that all proceeds will benefit the Charlestown Historical Society. For information, or to obtain a copy of the book, call 401-364-1838 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.