Gift of Lester Dodge

Mon, 11/30/2015 - 7:45pm
There is not a great deal in this town with the name of Lester Dodge written upon it. It is in the cemetery, on his gravestone, and beneath one of the long stained-glass windows in the Harbor Church, given by him in memory of his mother, Emmaline. He put her name on awards at school, and that of his wife, Harriet Blades Dodge, on the memorial scholarship he endowed.

Most notable, his name is not on the Island Free Library, which he determined would be the Uriah B. Dodge Memorial, for his father. A library building, owned by the Town, was his dream. There has long been a library, moving from one spot to another; in my memory it was in rented quarters on Chapel Street, first in the small building now more familiar as the shop East of the River Nile, later it moved next door to roomier quarters (Eli’s today).

It was barely funded by the Town, a tiny stipend for the librarian and a small rent for the space, an expense item difficult to find without knowing the landlord’s name. Open only one day a week in winter, the library on Chapel Street was dark and damp without even the “luxuries” of steady heat and running water.

Lester Dodge left the bulk of his estate for the construction of a new library to be located on the site of his home on Dodge Street. His will is a cautious document. He instructs any funding to be held for the library in trust by an outside institution; he also dictates what the Town will not store on his land during planning and construction. Among the forbidden items: tar barrels.

The income from that trust, enough at the onset to pay for cleaning, was not to be used for staff or books, which were to be provided by the town. It seemed fair enough. That the Uriah B. Dodge Memorial would become the center it has was likely beyond his wildest dreams.

Lester Dodge was among the incorporators of the Historical Society and in the second year of operation became the President of the nascent organization. It was under his leadership that the Board set about finding a home and determined they would need no less than twenty $100 subscriptions to purchase the Woonsocket House. It seems a paltry sum but it was 1945; after the building was purchased the insurance on it and the collections was increased to $5,000.

Then there was the task of determining sites appropriate for some special recognition. In 1943, the Annual Meeting adjourned to “Middletown,” where the inaugural Center Cross Roads Marker was set with great fanfare. The Lt. Governor spoke, and Miss Elizabeth Dickens related a childhood experience “A V’yage With Grandfather” before President Dodge pronounced the dedication of the marker, set between mill stones, and a great boulder. He said explained:

“This granite boulder is a symbol of those enduring principles which have guided the people of Block Island for nearly three centuries. These mill stones are a symbol of that industry and courage with which those same people have struggled with the forces of nature and have met a changing civilization.”

The next year Lester was absent due to illness and the annual meeting adjourned to Crescent Beach where Judge Elmer Rathbun pronounced the dedication of the marker flanked by two seats, “near the house of Trustrum Dodge.” His remarks concluded reminding the assembly they had a “heritage of courage, ingenuity and self reliance; the basic qualities which have given the world priceless rewards of civilization.”

That two years in a row two different speakers evoked “civilization” is striking, a reminder they were ever mindful that the world was at war.

Several other markers, all bearing the seal of the Historical Society, a circle enclosing the traditional double-ender, were erected over the following years.

The one pictured was set on the seaward side of Corn Neck Road, in front of a slight dune that over the years has grown huge, beneficiary of the ever-shifting sands of Crescent Beach.


Site of Channel and Harbor 
Three Piers Destroyed by 
Nathaniel Dodge 
First Harbor Master 1715 
Site of Bridge Gate to 
Corne Neck 1676 
500 feet south

Finally, last week it was re-located to the Solviken site, its full text visible after many years. The backside, now out of a dune, bears a “signature,” as do many of the markers: the “Gift of Lester E. Dodge” with the date of its installation, 1949.

Thanks to Solviken owners Block Island Conservancy and Block Island Land Trust for providing a little plot of land, giving a new home to this one of many of the gifts of Lester Dodge.