WARWICK, RI — The Steamship Historical Society Association moved to Post Road in 2014, made permanent over the summer as the organization secured the site, allowing the collection of its scattered records of ship travel’s transition from wind to steam power under one roof.
“This is a momentous occasion for SSHSA, one that I have been working on since I came on board more than 13 years ago,” Executive Director Matthew Schulte said. “We are extremely grateful to our colleagues at NEIT who approached us with this opportunity, and for our partners at Greenwood Credit Union for continually working alongside us as we overcame the challenges presented by this ‘new normal.’ ”
The total purchase price for the building was $775,000, according to Bryan Lucier, membership and public outreach head at SSHSA.
He said the SSHSA put 25 percent down ($193,750), which came from fundraising, and financed the rest through Greenwood Credit Union.
“It’s important to note that the property has been assessed at $840,000, which means that we already have equity built in, and that the financing payments are approximately $2,000 less than our lease payments. It was a real win-win for the organization,” Lucier said.
In August, SSHSA completed the purchase of the former New England Institute of Technology library at 2500 Post Road, which it had been leasing from the university since 2014. Dubbed the Ship History Center, it is the first time in the organization’s history all of its collections and library existed in one physical location. That collection has drawn the interest of historians, researchers, and, in 2011, Hollywood, with the science fiction western thriller, Cowboys and Aliens.
The Ship History Center serves as a museum, research library, archive storage, meeting space and administrative headquarters office for SSHSA, which was founded in 1935. The group has had a home here in Rhode Island from the beginning, with two of its seven founders — William King Covell of Newport and Edwin Patt of Barrington — hailing from the Ocean State. From that time until 2014, portions of the archive were scattered throughout the country while SSHSA operated out of temporary homes in Providence, East Providence and Cranston.
“There are easily more than 1 million images, brochures, paintings, artifacts and books in our archive,” Lucier said
“When you look at the archive in its entirety, it tells a unique story about how the transition from sail to steam transformed America through immigration, trade and leisure,” Schulte said. “We believe that this collection needs to be together in a place where it can be preserved, studied and made available to the public. The fact that so many of our members and donors stepped up to make this happen in the face of a worldwide pandemic confirms that we are charting the right course.”
SSHSA has decided to only open the Ship History Center by appointment given the current restrictions, there are a bevy of resources available online through its STEAMing Into The Future website at www.shiphistory.org. Launched in 2018, the site has lessons, videos and activities for all grade levels, giving students the chance to work with primary sources directly from the archive. When much of the country shifted to distance learning earlier this year, the number of participants on www.shiphistory.org quadrupled, and new content is being developed monthly to keep up with demand.
SSHSA will also be hosting a virtual Ocean Liner Gala on November 7 to support the education program and building purchase. While the annual event has traditionally been held here in Rhode Island and featured a dinner menu replicated from a classic ocean liner like the Queen Mary or the Titanic, this year’s presentation will be free and open to all online. Call 401-463-3570 or email [email protected] for more information on how to register.
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