Mrs. Jeness R. Peckham & the Port of Galilee

By Oliver H. Stedman

The Pettaquamscutt Reporter, November 1982

The Pettaquamscutt Historical Society
Credit for the growth of the village of Galilee to its present size and importance as a fishing metropolis and tourist mecca should go to a young lady from Kingston Rhode Island - Mrs. Jeness R. Peckham. She was not a native of these parts but a Midwestern girl, a graduate of Dennison College in Ohio, and the wife of Arthur N. Peckham.

The Peckham family were part owners of Great Island, now a city by the sea, and for years it lay to the north of the breach-way, stark and uninhabited except by rabbits, woodchucks, and sea gulls. The Peckhams recognized the opportunity for development there, and Mrs. Peckham became the one to carry development forward. She was an inveterate lobbyist with a remarkable personality and a winning smile and one who never took “No” for an answer. About 1930, she started on a campaign to raise sufficient funds to carry out the growth of the Port of Galilee and the island to the north.

First, gaining the attention of Senator Jesse Metcalf, then one of Rhode Island’s senators in Congress, she spent several weeks in Washington working with the Senator and his conversional colleagues and succeeded in obtaining an ample appropriation from the federal government for deepening and widening the channel and dredging a deep water harbor at the entrance of the pond.

On returning to Rhode Island she made contacts with members of the legislature and obtained from the state a very generous sum for building docks and acquiring land by purchase - all long term leases to provide a site for the location of buildings necessary to the fishing industry.

With this new and deeper channel and new and sufficient docking facilities, business increased rapidly. The trade with Block Island which formerly had been though Newport was soon changed to the new harbor at Galilee and a regular shipping line to the island was soon established. The fishing business drew many of the larger fishing boats which had been based in Newport or New Bedford. Because of the larger docking facilities, these boats came to galilee, and, thanks to Mrs. Peckhams fund raising efforts, Galilee grew into the port and mecca that it is today.

Late in 1942, Mrs Peckham died at a rather early age at her home in Kingston, but the development of great Island and the busy Port of Galilee should remain dedicated to her memory.