Do you remember Nadeau’s Pharmacy? Did you go to the Roller Rink? Do you remember that Bernie’s Hardware always had what you needed? I’m not a native of Portsmouth (I’ve only lived here 43 years), but I still have fond memories of what used to be. Towns change and Portsmouth is no exception. We are so fortunate that there are many places where we can touch our history and we need to protect and preserve what we have. Through time, however, there are many farms, businesses and social institutions that have been lost through the years. The Portsmouth Historical Society’s 2014 exhibit at our museum is a celebration and remembrance of what we have “Lost to Time.” We focused the exhibit on what we have “lost” since around 1900. Farms like Sandy Point and Oakland Farm are now occupied by homes instead of livestock. In our exhibit we have objects and images of these farms along with those from Glen Farm, Hathaway Orchards and even a milk bottle from the Briggs Farm “Fairholm Dairy.” Business may come and go, but we have fond memories. The Roller Rink, Island Park, Nadeau’s, The Island Park Aquarium, Sea Fare Inn, the Wayside Gardens and many others are represented in the displays. Parts of our community fabric are gone as well. Around 1900 we had five working mills. Two of them – Boyd’s and Sherman’s – were moved and carefully preserved in Middletown. Vintage images of the mills and our lost ferries, trolleys, and bridges are included in our exhibit. With the destruction of Elmhurst School we remember the schools that have passed – Elmhurst School, Elmhurst Academy, Bristol Ferry, Newtown, Anthony and Coggeshall School (among others) are represented as well. Our one room school will have some reminders of those schools. As Elmhurst librarian for 20 years I have so many good memories. Social events and organizations have gone by the wayside. Social clubs like the Oliphant Club once flourished. The Newport County Agricultural Fair was a social highlight. We are looking for an Arts Center for our town, but we once had one in Sarah Eddy’s Social Studio on Bristol Ferry Road. “Lost to Time” opens Memorial Day Weekend and lasts through Columbus Day Weekend. The museum is open Sundays from 2 to 4 PM and docents will be available to guide you through the museum, the exhibits and our buildings.
Portsmouth’s Windmills: Lost to Time Middletown may have the windmill on its town seal, but Portsmouth had its share of wind powered and gasoline powered grist mills. Butts Hill was known as “Windmill Hill” on some of our oldest maps. Quaker Hill had up to three windmills at one time or another. The gristmills were part of the fabric of Portsmouth society, but as more grain was imported from the American West, local farmers turned to growing vegetables for market. In 1901 five mills were still turning in Portsmouth. What happened to our windmills? You can see two of them in preserved in Middletown. The mill now at Prescott Farm made the rounds of a few locations before being restored by the Newport Restoration Foundation. It was built in Warren in 1813, moved to the Highlands area of Fall River and then moved by Robert Sherman to Quaker Hill. Articles in the Newport Mercury from 1871 place the mill in Portsmouth and report that the mill was severely damaged by a storm. Later Benjamin Hall bought the mill and got it back in operation at Lehigh Hill off of East Main Road. The mill passed through other hands and was damaged in the 1938 hurricane. In 1968, Doris Duke and the Newport Restoration Foundation purchased the mill and painstakingly unassembled it for a move down to Prescott Farm. Unlike many of the other mills, Boyd’s Mill was built in Portsmouth and stayed at he corner of Mill Lane and East Main Road for over a hundred years. The wood for the mill, however, did do some traveling. Portsmouth was still recovering from the devastation to its trees by the British occupying forces during the Revolutionary War. The wood for the mill construction was cut in Wickford and ferried across the bay. Some of the wood was recycled from owner John Peterson’s damaged schooner. After five years the mill transferred into the hands of the Boyd family. In its original construction, Boyd’s mill had four panes. In 1901 one of the Boyds converted the mill to the eight panes we see now. Later it was fitted for gasoline power. The Middletown Historical Society has moved the mill to Paradise Park and has restored the mill to operation. Portsmouth maps from 1907 show a mill on the Thurston property just north of Union Street. It was originally built in Little Compton but was moved to Portsmouth in 1896. The Portsmouth Historical Society has a painting of a Glen Mill with the Thurston Mill in the background. Thurston’s Mill may have been destroyed in a fire in the 1950s. Windmills are an important part of Portsmouth’s history. We can be grateful that some of them still exist even if they have been lost to Portsmouth and moved to Middletown.
One and Two Room Schools Lost to Time Thanks to the efforts of the Hall family and the Portsmouth Historical Society, one of the original one-room schoolhouses in Portsmouth has not been lost to time. On the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society museum, the Southermost School provides a glimpse of Portsmouth School Days in the 1700s. Around 1730 there were two schools in town – the Southermost by the corner of Union and East Main and the Northermost School which was located (logically enough) in the north of town (near where the post office is today).
Around 1860 the town was large enough to divide into eight districts. Southermost and Northermost Schools were retired. Southermost served as a harness shed on the Hall farm on Union Street. Prudence Island’s one room school house is one of those original eight. Bristol Ferry, Chase Main (near the location of Melville School), McCorrie School (Schoolhouse Lane), Vaucluse (Braman’s Lane near Wapping Rd.), Gibbs School (Union St. near Jepson Lane) and a school that served the coal mine area were among these one room schools. As the school system outgrew the one-room schools, schools that had two or three rooms were built. Newtown School on Turnpike, Quaker Hill School (the Administration Building today) and Coggeshall School on East Main began to handle different grades. As the town grew older students went to Anthony School and Anne Hutchinson School held a variety of grades. Along the way the schools were repurposed or moved. Coggeshall School received a large addition that is used by the Aquidneck Island Christian Academy today. Here is a 200 year old list of Rules and Punishment posted at Southernmost School. Imagine if they were the rules at school today! Boys and girls playing together – 1 lash Fighting at School – 5 lashes Quarreling at school – 3 lashes Climbing for every foot over 3ft up a tree – 1 lash Telling tales out of school – 8 lashes Giving each other ill names – 3 lashes Misbehaving to girls – 10 lashes Leaving school without leave of the teacher – 4 lashes Wearing long fingernails – 2 lashes Boys going to the girls’ play place – 3 lashes Girls going to the boys’ play place – 2 lashes For every word you miss on your heart lessons without a good excuse – 1 lash For not saying yes or no sir or yes or no marm – 2 lashes Telling lies – 7 lashes Swearing at school – 9 lashes.
The Social Studio on Bristol Ferry Road Wouldn’t it be nice if Portsmouth had a place where young and old could gather for social, artistic and cultural events? There could be drawing and painting classes as well as craft and sewing lessons. There would be stage where musicals and plays could be performed. It would be a space for art exhibits, lectures and writing and reading. Portsmouth residents have been looking for such a space in the past few years, but we used to have it. The Social Studio on Bristol Ferry Road was such a spot a hundred years ago. Magazines at the time describe the studio as “a large room for assemblies, one end of which is occupied by a small stage, is furnished simply and artistically. Potted plants, a pianola, a huge open fireplace, oil painting on the wall and a good library-all lend great charm to the big room which is a delightful retreat for the young people who flock there from adjoining farms. Lectures, readings, musicals and social gatherings are frequently held. Classes in pyrography, drawing, water color painting and raffia are conducted by competent teachers, a nominal fee being charged for instruction.” (The Common, Vol. 10 – 1905) The Social Studio was founded by Sarah J. Eddy. This remarkable lady was a talented photographer, author, painter and sculptor. She came to Portsmouth in the early 1890’s and lived in Portsmouth until her death at age ninety-three in 1945. Sarah had a passion for the humane treatment of animals and was among the founders of the Rhode Island Humane Educational Society. You can find out more about the Social Studio when you come to the Portsmouth Historical Society Museum for the “Lost to Time” Exhibit for 2014. The Exhibit will be up and running at the museum (on the corner of East Main and Union St.) from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day Weekend. On display will be s a large painting of a cook which was painted by Mrs. Eddy. You will also be able to see animal books for children written and illustrated by Mrs. Eddy. A Good Housekeeping Magazine article on the Social Studio and a series of postcards of events at the studio help us to understand the activities that took place there. Newspaper clippings alert us to the various sales and lectures held at the site. Even Julia Ward Howe came to speak and socialize.
Glen Farm: Gentleman’s Farm Lost to Time
The Glen Farm era of Glen history lasted over seventy five years, and there are many stories to tell. This blog is the beginning of the story. Glen Farm developed when Henry A.C. Taylor, a successful banker and merchant from New York, began to purchase farmland in Portsmouth. The first purchase was 111 acres from Halsey Coon which included two houses, a grist mill, two barns, and two cribs. An 1885 map shows that this piece of land stretched from the location of Elmhurst School and the Glen Manor House up to the barn complex. In 1885 Taylor bought 700 acres around Glen Road and he officially established Glen Farm. Just as the Glen land of the colonial Cooke family had been sold off piecemeal. Taylor began to buy and consolidate the smaller farms in the area into a farm that would at one time reach 1500 acres. For example, the 82 acres of the Leonard Brown farm were added in 1902 after Brown’s death and six acres around the Durfee Tea House were added in 1909. Taylor had vacationed in Newport and owned a house there, but he liked the idea of a working farm. In 1889 he began to breed Guernsey cows and would later breed Percheron horses and Horned Dorset sheep. He was very serious about scientific breeding and kept detailed records of milk and fat production as well as the number of calves born. An October 1911 to March 1912 edition of National Magazine has an article on Rhode Island farming that details Taylor’s efforts with Glen Farm. Taylor’s intention was “not merely to develop an ideal farm, but also to establish a herd of Guernsey cattle upon the place that should attain and hold pre-eminance in this country.” Taylor spared nothing in raising the best. He hand picked the cattle from the Isle of Guernsey. The article goes on to explain that the arrangement of the barns and stables and their construction were all specifically designed. The last of the barns built was especially modern. “There was an inner wall of brick with a six inch air space between it and the outer wall, which supplies proper ventilation and insures a uniform temperature with.” Even the drinking basins for the animals have water “tempered by the furnaces in the basement which warm the buildings”. Mr. Barclay, the farm manager, explained that H.A.C. Taylor instructed him “not to study how to make money, but how to spend money in ways that will conduce to the highest development of his pets and pride, the Guernseys of Glen Farm.” Even with that instruction, Glen Farm was exceedingly profitable. The stock raised at Glen Farm was very desirable. H.A.C. Taylor was proud of his animals. The walls of the manager’s office were lined with hundreds of prize ribbons. When a friend challenged his claim that “Missy of the Glen” had set a record for butterfat production, he brought a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Taylor won the suit but paid more for the lawyers than he won in the suit. At least twenty-six families lived and worked on the farm. They raised all they needed for the families and the animals. A future blog will deal with what it was like to live and work on Glen Farm.
Anthony Seed Farm and Hathaway Orchards
Portsmouth is certainly known for its farms and some of our farms were the best in the state. We have lost many great farms, but this blog will remind us of two very special agricultural businesses: H.C. Anthony Seed Farm and Hathaway Orchards.
Henry Clay Anthony grew up on his father’s farm and understood farming, but he also had training at Scoffield Commercial College in Providence and that prepared him for business. Early on Anthony became interested in raising seeds to supply to the local farmers and he perfected his techniques through the years. By 1920 he was the largest seed grower in all of New England. His seed was sold through many areas of the United States and Canada. He had more than 800 acres of land in Rhode Island and rented land in Massachusetts to grow his seed. Besides working at his business for sixteen hours a day, Anthony devoted time to community service as a State Representative, Portsmouth Town Councilman and active member of countless religious and social groups.
You can see some of the drawers that stored Anthony Seeds at Denise Wilkey’s Pottery Studio on East Main Road.
Hathaway Orchards began in 1926 when Howard W. Hathaway bought one hundred and thirty (plus) acres of land around where Montaup Country Club is today. The Hathaway fruit packing house is still used by the Portsmouth Public Works Department as a storage location. Another Hathaway Orchard area was located on Middle Road close to where the Escobar Dairy Farm is today. Some “Hilltop” area streets have names that reflect the fruits that were grown there. From 1932 to 1959 Hathaway Orchards produced peaches, apples, pears, currants and gooseberries.
In 1944 Hathaway had the largest peach orchard in the state and produced 2500 bushels. The peach tree rows were over a mile long. The picking season lasted six weeks. Fifty workers were needed and boys and girls earned two or three dollars a day for their work.
The Hurricane of 1938 severely injured the orchard and it took six years for another good crop to appear. Hurricane Carol in 1953 was the end of the peach orchards, but the apple orchards hung on until 1959. The peach orchard was close to the water and the salt spray from the hurricanes ruined the trees.
Like Henry Anthony, the Hathaways were very involved in the community as well as running their agricultural businesses. Both Howard and Merrill Hathaway (his son) served on the Portsmouth School Committee. Howard also served on the Town Council and as Town Treasurer. Hathaway School is named after Howard Hathaway.
In the Portsmouth Historical Society’s “Lost to Time” exhibit you can see clippings from a Providence Journal article on the Hathaway Orchards and an interview Elmhurst students did with Flo Hathaway Olivieira (Merrill Hathaway’s daughter) about growing up on the orchard. In the display case there are vintage images of Anthony Seed Farm. The Portsmouth Historical Society Museum is open on Sundays from 2PM to 4PM from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day weekend.