On the corner of... Ray Lewis’s chair

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 7:45am

Ed. Note: The Block Island Historical Society was founded in 1942. To help celebrate its 75th year, the Society’s Diamond Anniversary, The Block Island Times will be publishing sketches and photographs of items it has in its collection.

Prior to the reapportionment of the 1960s, the Town of New Shoreham had its own representation, literally, our own seats in the Rhode Island General Assembly — in both the House and Senate.

A transcript of a 1985 tour of the Historical Museum includes mention of a sturdy piece of furniture from the “...State House in Providence. When they got new representatives' chairs, they gave the old ones to their holders. Ray Lewis in the early 1900s had this chair... .” 

Lewis, in a letter to his son and niece, wrote a bit about his early life on the family farm, his time as a school teacher and a prominent businessman but, primarily, of his experience representing his town over a 25-year span.

He held a number of local offices and was elected to the State legislature in 1897 at a time when the town was “in a very precarious condition, both socially and financially.” Lewis strove to normalize frayed relations with established Providence pols before returning to the island full-time to tend his business and spend time with his ailing wife.

He later returned to the Assembly as a Senator, and had among his successes the forgiveness of portions of debts outstanding, especially those related to the opening of the New Harbor Channel, which he reminded all “during the War... became a public landing... of great service to the state and nation.” 

Ray G. Lewis wrote of meetings in the State House in beautifully appointed rooms where deals were brokered and decisions made, of politics of repudiation and redemption. He related petitioning the President of The Providence Journal company, without introduction, for favorable coverage, and being told by the House Speaker he did not have the votes with: “Well, Ray, I'm sorry, but you'll have to tell your constituents that you did your best.” The latter, of course, made him work harder and ultimately prevail “with not a vote to spare.” 

His chair is a tangible reminder of public service and a real accomplishment.