220106ind History

The building that is home to Jitter’s Cafe in North Kingstown has quite a length history since it was constructed 90 years ago as a small diner located on Post Road.

There’s no denying it, I drink way too much coffee.  Iced coffee, hot coffee, I like them both and consume far too much of it at home, at work, and when I’m on the road.  Hey. I’m old, I have a veritable laundry list of bad habits that I’ve given up over the years and heck, I’m hanging on to coffee.  As often as the opportunity arises, I like to assuage my guilt by reading various web tidbits regarding the positive benefits of coffee consumption, probably all written by coffee industry lobbyists and insiders, and all of course, pertaining to “moderate” coffee drinkers. I try to delude myself, usually unsuccessfully, into actually believing that a pot and a half of coffee a day is “moderate”; but like I said, moderate or not, I’m not giving up my coffee.

Here in North Kingstown, I feel lucky to have two really good coffee shops to select from when I’m out and about; Updike’s Newtown Coffee on Post Road and Jitters on Tower Hill Road. Now, how could a guy like me not love a place with an ancient and historic name like Updike’s Newtown? It features fresh coffee roasted on the premises. I’ve got to say though, the building that Updike’s Newtown Coffee is in, is far from possessing an interesting history, but that’s not the case with our other local coffee hangout “Jitters”.

What’s real interesting about the Jitters building, from a historic perspective, is that it’s a small building that has been “on the move” in its 90 or so years of existence. It purportedly began its time as a small diner style restaurant located on Post Road near its intersection with Camp Avenue, where it was run by June and Henry Tillinghast. Around about the same time June Tillinghast was serving hot grub in her place on Post Road, recently retired former famed vaudeville slack rope walker Jack “The Great Javelle” Jenkins was expanding his business, an ice cream shop, which began on Tower Hill Road, at a new location at the head of Phillips Street, where the Wickford Medical Office Building is now sited, and also decided he wanted to open up a sandwich shop on that site as well. So he purchased the Tillinghast’s little restaurant building and hauled it on down to its new home at the corner of Phillips Street and Tower Hill Road and opened up Jack Jenkins Sandwich Shop in it. It operated there for quite some time, a popular place for a working man or a family to get a hearty lunch for a reasonable price.  During its tenure there, the ice cream shop next door became a grocery store, run by the Jenkins family and the Rockwell clan, two long time West Wickford families joined together by marriage. They can both be seen in the accompanying painting, with the sandwich shop located just on the other side of the Jenkins & Rockwell store. Jack Jenkins, in the meantime, was always looking for a new business opportunity and realized that there were an awful lot of folks travelling to and through South County in the summer months, especially after the close of WWII, and wanting to take advantage of this potential goldmine, so he reopened his old Tower Hill Road Ice Cream Shop building as a Clam Shack.  That enterprise just took off and, wanting both extra parking at the successful Jenkins & Rockwell grocery store and another chance to cash in on the burgeoning summer beach traffic down Tower Hill Road, the Sandwich Shop building was on the move again, this time to its present “Jitters era” location, just south of the clam shack. The newly relocated sandwich shop became a popular burger joint, run by the Jenkins, and then rented out to others, and then finally in the middle 1960’s operated by Regina Rockwell, daughter of Reggie and Harriet (Jenkins) Rockwell.  Regina Rockwell closed the place down finally in 1967, a victim of progress; you see the fact was that folks were no longer travelling to the South County Beaches on this stop and go road, preferring to use Route 2 and the Colonel Rodman Highway. Beginning in 1967, this building, which had travelled from Post Road to Phillips Street to here, and the old clam shack, became essentially storage places for Harriet Rockwell, a well loved local fixture in the community who had a penchant for saving, well just about everything. In 1982, the Rockwell family sold this building to another longtime local, Charlie Ellis Sr., who cleaned it out and got it ready to be a commercial building once again. Later that year, it was rented by Kathy and Bruce Kramer who opened it up as; you guessed it, a bakery and coffee shop called Peaches Uptown Bakery.  Peaches was later owned by Tuni Schartner and John Hammond, and closed in 1995. It was followed shortly after by Jitters, and that’s the whole story, caffeine and all.   

This story about, among other things, coffee, is dedicated to the memory of my friend Mark Additon who passed away recently. 

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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