2014-04-03 / Front Page

Drawings in the Attic Reveal 1904 School Project

By Tom Shevlin


Chris Migliori visited Thompson Middle School last Friday where his attic discovery now has a new home. (left to right) John Migliori, Vicky Greeley, Chris Migliori, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Jo Eva Gaines, Lucia Migliori, Katie Kirwin (Photo by Tom Shevlin) Chris Migliori visited Thompson Middle School last Friday where his attic discovery now has a new home. (left to right) John Migliori, Vicky Greeley, Chris Migliori, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Jo Eva Gaines, Lucia Migliori, Katie Kirwin (Photo by Tom Shevlin) The cardboard box tucked away in the eaves of Chris Migliori’s Brooks Avenue home was heavy and for years he chose not to move it.

When he finally did and saw what was inside, he knew he had found a story worth telling. The modest, tightly bound book of detailed industrial drawings immediately caught his attention. On the cover, were the words “Townsend School” and a date that placed the book at the turn of the last century.

Migliori began researching the origins of the book, which he soon discovered was part of a school project completed in 1904. The drawings ran the gamut from detailed plans for a carpenter’s chisel and saw horse to intricate geometric designs.

“I couldn’t believe they were teaching this back then,” Migliori says, adding that he had taken mechanical drawing when he was a student at Rogers and was struck by the skill of the illustrations.

One was particularly impressive: a monkey wrench.

A plumber by trade, Migliori was over at City Councilor Jeanne- Marie Napolitano’s house working one day when he first told her about his discovery.

“He kept talking about what was in this box that he had found,” Napolitano says. “He was getting more excited and more enthusiastic about it, and so I finally told him I had to see it.”

When she did, she was floored.

“It’s a piece of our history,” she says. A phone call to her counterpart on the School Committee, Jo Eva Gaines, would soon follow.

“What’s amazing is that this is the same thing that we’re teaching today. But these drawings are 110 years old,” says Gaines.

At the time, the 10th grade was the last year of school for students in Newport, and Gaines suspects that the drawings were part of a senior project. Marveling at their precision and detail, she sees parallels between this work of the past and what’s being taught today across the city’s schools.

“What’s really new under the sun?” she asks with a laugh.

Not much is known about the author, but Migliori is hoping that some publicity might be able to fill in the gaps.

The book was signed by a J.H. Radford, who was a 10th grade student at what was then the Townsend Industrial School (which would later go on to become Rogers High School and then Thompson Middle School). Migliori suspects that Radford may have become a local craftsman, and perhaps even built the bungalow-style house he now calls home just off upper Broadway.

A search of the city’s property records indeed shows that a J. Howard Radford owned Migliori’s home from 1925 until his death in 1958. His wife, Lotta Radford, owned the house for another 10 years.

Last week, Migliori was joined at Thompson Middle School by School Superintendent Colleen Jermain and Principal Jaime Crowley, where he helped present more than a dozen framed drawings culled from the book. They’ll be hung on the walls as you enter the new Thompson – just across from the exposed brick wall of what was the old Townsend School.

There, they’ll serve as a reminder to the students of the long tradition of the city’s public schools and pay homage to the craftsmen who have long been the backbone of the community.

“I think it’s a real tribute,” says Napolitano. “Particularly to those who work with their hands and have built the city of Newport.”

For his part, Migliori didn’t ask for much in return except for that drawing of the monkey wrench, which he said he’ll hang with pride in the home whose history he’s now a bit closer to.

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