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Portsmouth Landmarks: Glen Manor House.

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Glen Manor House in the 1920s

The Glen Manor House is a Portsmouth jewel. We will share some of what we know about the history of the building and what it was like when the Taylors lived here. Even though the Taylor family began Glen Farm in 1882, construction did not begin on their home until around 1920. The Taylors had a Newport summer home, but they preferred the countryside of Portsmouth to the high society of Newport. They hired famed architect John Russell Pope to design their new home. Moses Taylor and his wife Edith had lost a son in World War I in France. There are stories that the French chateau style and the broad grass steps of the house were designed to remember the place where their son died. The house was completed in 1923.

Architect Pope encouraged the Taylors to hire the famed Olmstead firm to do the landscaping. Mrs. Taylor was involved in the details of the landscaping. The gardens were designed to be at their best in July and August when the Taylors would be in residence. The Taylors relished their privacy and the home is situated away from the road to give them that privacy. Moses Taylor died in 1928, but Edith Taylor continued to spend more time at the Glen. She opened the gardens to the public to benefit the Civic League and hosted dog and horse shows on the farm. She remarried and became Mrs. G. J. Guthrie Nicholson, but continued to come to the Manor House until her death in 1959.

In 1960 the Manor House and 43 acres around it were sold to the Elmhurst Academy of the Sacred Heart. The house served as a dormitory for boarding students. When Elmhurst Academy closed in 1972, the Town of Portsmouth bought the house and the property. Portsmouth citizens still own the house and the Glen Manor Authority and the Friends of the Glen Manor House constantly strive to restore the house and gardens.

Some added information:

  • We call it the Glen Manor House, but the Glen Farm families called it “The Big House,” and the Taylor family called it simply, “The Glen.”
  • Taylors had a permanent Garden staff that took care of the gardens while the Farm staff took care of the farm.
    Some of the trees were grown in the glen nursery or brought from Long Island, “Vanicek delivered thirty four trees and shrubs.”
  • There was a house staff of over ten individuals, a garden staff and a person whose full time job was bringing in and arranging fresh flowers in the Flower Room.
  • Taylor used to enjoy sitting in the verandah watching the river. She enjoyed sailing and there was a dock and boat house at the Manor House . Her 24 foot sailboat (named the “Nieuport”) was anchored off the dock.
  • The boathouse by the dock had showers and changing rooms so they could freshen up after sailing or enjoying the beach (Sandy Point).
  • The stone boathouse that was cut into the hill was where they stored small boats and there was a skeet range on top of this structure. The skeet range was built by Guthrie Nicholson, Mrs. Taylor’s second husband.

The Boathouse and Dock

Portsmouth Landmarks: Prescott Farm: Nichols – Overing House

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Vintage Image of Prescott Farm

We call the area “Prescott Farm,”  but the home and nearby farm might be called the Nichols, Overing House.  The home, which straddles the Portsmouth/Middletown Line, is best known as the location of the capture of British general Prescott by American William Barton during the Revolutionary War.  The house has an earlier history when it was owned by Jonathan Nichols, who was a Lieutenant Governor.  After Nichols’ death, the property was owned by Henry Overing who was a Loyalist, wealthy slave owner, rum distiller and sugar baker in Newport.  It was common for Newport merchants to have a county house .  The Overing family opened this home to  General Prescott who often took the opportunity to get away from city life in Newport with his troops.

Capture of General Prescott
Portsmouth was a site of action during the Revolutionary War. The residents of Portsmouth suffered under the British rule of the island, but they were encouraged by a daring plan to capture a British general. In July 1777, while Aquidneck Island was under the control of thousands of British soldiers, American Major William Barton (who was in Tiverton) received word that the British Commander in Chief, General Prescott was staying at Mr. Overing’s house on West Main Road close to the Middletown border. When Prescott was at his headquarters in Newport he was well protected. Visiting friends in the countryside, Prescott was less well defended. Barton planned to get Prescott so he could be exchanged for American Major General Charles Lee who had been captured in New Jersey. Barton had asked for volunteers for this dangerous plan and out of the many who stepped forward he picked out the best rowers and four who had lived on Aquidneck Island and could serve as guides

The river crossing between Tiverton and Portsmouth was closely watched, so Barton and his men rowed to Bristol and then all the way over to Warwick to begin their secret mission. The mission was so secret that even the volunteers did not know where they were going until after their journey had begun. On July 9, 1777 Barton and 40 volunteers left Warwick Neck in five whaleboats and rowed across the Bay with oars that were covered in wool to keep them quiet. They had to row around British ships that were stationed on the west side of the island. The Americans landed on the west shore of Portsmouth and followed a gully up to the Overing Farm on the Portmouth/Middletown border. Barton talked his way past a guard and took control of a sentry so he could not sound the alarm. The men worked quickly and within a few minutes took Prescott, the sentry and Prescott’s aide-de camp with them. No shot was fired. They again had to row through British ships on their way back. This capture gave the colonial troops some needed encouragement.

Today the property is owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation.  The home is used as a rental property and “Prescott Farm” is the area where several historic Portsmouth buildings  (including the Sherman windmill) have been relocated.

Portsmouth Landmarks: Southermost School

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Southemost School before restoration

There is a little schoolhouse on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society. We call it the “Southermost School” and we believe it may be the oldest school in Rhode Island.

In the early days of Portsmouth, children probably were taught to read and write at home if their parents had those skills. Education was important to the townspeople of Portsmouth. In 1716, while considering how to divide land in the southern part of town, the freemen of Portsmouth were planning for public education in town. “Having considered how excellent an ornament learning is to mankind and the great necessity there is in building a public school house on said south side” of Portsmouth, the freemen put aside money to build a school and and chose a committee to raise money to build it. It must have taken a long time to collect the money needed because it took nine years for that school – Southermost School – to open its doors.

Land was donated on the corner of East Main Road and Union Street. Town citizens authorized 20 pounds (English money) for construction but it actually cost 23 pounds or about a hundred dollars in today’s money. We can understand how the school was built from reading the bill presented to the town by the builder, Captain Adam Lawton. The building is fourteen feet by twenty-six feet. It took eight days for Lawton and his “negro” to build it. Slaves and indentured servants (who had agreements to work for a specific time) were part of the community in early Portsmouth. The town was billed for 2000 feet of boards, 200 shingle nails and 200 clapboard nails. There were hearth stones for a fireplace for warmth and 200 bricks for an oven in the cellar so that cooking could be done. It has a simple “post and beam” construction which uses heavy timbers as supports. Even though it is an old way to build, the original wood frame has lasted all these years. To save costs it had a “pony chimney” which is supported by just the roof and extends down part way into the building. It has an arched and plastered ceiling that was unusual for a school in those days. It was a type of construction used in finer homes.

In colonial days the school teachers were all men. The families of the students in the school were responsible for providing a home and food for the schoolmaster and his family. Early records of the town tell us about the first schoolmaster, James Preston, and how his family ending up living in the cellar of Southermost School. The school opened in 1725, but by 1727 Preston was reported to be sick and unable to work. The Preston family had been living at the home of James Strange. Town records from 1727 mention that “James Strange refuses to entertain James Preston and his family any longer in his dwelling house. It is is agreed by this council that said Preston and his family be settled in the Southermost School house in town for the present, that is in the cellar part…” The town tried to take care of families in need and the school was one of the few public buildings that could house a family. By 1730 they family was ordered out of the schoolhouse. Interestingly, the widow of James Strange, Sarah Strange, ended up needing to use Southermost School as her home, too. In a town meeting in 1746 she and her family were ordered out so that the “school house might be improved in the use for which it was built..”

Sometime before 1800 the school was moved to the corner of West Main Road and Union Street. The entry way (as you see it now) was added at this time. A stove was used for heat.

Southermost School on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society.

Around the time of the Civil War the Gibbs School was built and the Almy family bought the school at auction. It took eight teams of Oxen to move the school building to the Almy Farm. The school spent 90 years at the Almy/Hall Farm (Lakeside) at 559 East Main Road where it served as a storage and harness shed. In 1952 the Hall family gave it to the Portsmouth Historical Society and once again it returned to the corner of Union Street and East Main Road, but this time across the street on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society. The society worked to restore the school house through grants, house tours and yard sales.

Inside the school house today you can sit in one of the original student desks and view the top of the original schoolmaster’s desk. There are also examples of the primers, copy books and textbooks students would have used in one room schools in Portsmouth. The entrance way has lunch pails and pegs to hang coats.

Posted on the wall is a 200 year old list of Rules and Punishment posted at Southernmost School.
• 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.

Portsmouth People: Schoolmaster James Preston

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What books would you think Portsmouth’s first schoolmaster had in his collection? You might guess an arithmetic book and a dictionary. Schoolmaster James Preston had those, but would you think of books for seamen and navigators? We happen to know what books he had because there is a record of the town selling eight books that comprised the library of the ” James Preston, school master, late deceased.”

Preston’s book titles lead me to believe that Preston was trained as a navigator, not a teacher.  Attracting a well trained teacher would have been difficult in the small town of Portsmouth.  Town records show that in 1724 it was voted that “that the schoolhouse erected and built in said town be improved by the freemen of said town and will hire and settle a schoolmaster in each house for the benefit of all children as shall be sent to be instructed therein.”  The Southermost School would serve the children in the south end of the town and the Northermost School would be built to serve the students in the more settled area of the north part of town.   By the next year at least the Southermost School was open.

Historian Edward West was able to go through town records to write an article about Portsmouth’s early schools and schoolmasters.  He found that our first school teachers were mostly poor, had large families and with the little salary they received they had a hard time providing for their families.  West believed that Southermost School was built to house the families of the schoolmasters because it was constructed with an oven in the cellar. West found a mention in the town records that “James Preston (school master) present at this meeting Engaged upon his word that he would Remove himself and his family out of the School House by the first day of September next except the Freemen of the Town should see cause to Improve him to keep school there after the Expiration of said Term.”

Although Preston and his family had lived in the cellar

Southermost School on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society.

of Southermost School, it was clear from the records that they also boarded with parents of students.  Documents show that James Strange had been boarding Preston and his family.  West found records that it was the town’s responsibility to keep the schools in repair, but that the parents of the children who attended the school paid for the expenses of the school.

The town had responsibility for the poor and there were few public buildings to house someone who was down on his luck.  In December of 1727 the Town Council heard that James Preston was sick and helpless.  Two men were appointed to “take care for his relief,” to find a place of residence for him and his family and to provide a nurse for his wife.  All that James Preston had, including his books and his cow, were sold to contribute to his upkeep.  When James Strange refused to house Preston any longer, it was ordered the the family be relocated to Southermost School in the cellar.  By 1729 the Town Council ordered ” that James Preston and his family be removed out of the School house wherein they now live…”  His wife was ordered to “bind out” her oldest children so they would no longer be a burden on the town.

In April of 1730 James Preston died and the town paid for the funeral expenses.  We don’t know what became of his family.  The Southermost School housed other families through the years.  Sarah Strange, who with her husband had turned the Preston family out of her home, found herself inhabiting the schoolhouse in 1746 after her husband’s death.

Credit to the work of Edward H. West:  Early Schoolhouses and Schoolmasters of Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  In the files of the Portsmouth Historical Society

Preston’s books:

Norwoods Epitomy of Navigation, Cockers Decimal Arithmetic, Mariners Compass Rectified, Seamans Kelender or an Ephemerides, The Art of Measuring, Marriners New Calendar, The Great English and Latin Dictionary and Gumbers Scale.

 

Portsmouth People: George Manchester – 1822-1879

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george mSo often we focus on the famous people associated with Portsmouth – Anne Hutchinson, Julia Ward Howe, the Vanderbilts.  This blog will call attention to one of those pillars of Portsmouth life who gets little recognition.  As I research Portsmouth history, George Manchester’s name keeps appearing.  He is like a thread that runs through the fabric of town society.

George Manchester was born in 1822, the son of John and Lydia (Albro) Manchester.  If you look at the town directories, George  is listed as  a carpenter.   He helped construct many homes in Newport County working with his wife’s family, the Coggeshalls.  One of his descendants has parts of his diary and from a diary entry we were able to mark the construction of the Leonard Brown House because he reported on construction there in 1850.  George built his own home and it was part of our “Whose Home Is It.” exhibit at the historical society museum last year.

As clerk of the Christian Union Church, George provided us with beautifully written descriptions of the spiritual life of the church.  He was a devoted member of the church at the location of today’s Portsmouth Historical Society, and taught Sunday School there.

Many Portsmouth farmers and tradesmen filled town positions, but George held quite a number of offices.   He was a public servant who represented Portsmouth in the RI General Assembly for several terms, as had his father, John, and his grandfather Giles Manchester.  At various times George held the offices of Superintendent of Public Schools in Portsmouth, State Railroad Commissioner, State Auditor, Customs Officer, Justice of the Peace, and High Sheriff of Newport County.  George was an active Republican and he helped organize an event for the Newport Wide Awakes (a group of young Republican men who were supporting Abraham Lincoln).  Newspaper articles are filled with examples of George’s ability as an orator.

George served as Vice President of the local Temperance organization.  He loved to read and collect books.  He wrote book reviews and articles for magazines such as Harper’s, and for religious publications such as the Herald of Gospel Liberty and the Christian Inquirer.  When the new Christian Union Church was built in 1865, a lending library was included.  George was part of the Library and Intellectual Culture Committee at the church.

George had his sorrows and struggles.  He and his wife Phebe Taber Coggeshall lived on Glen Road.   A Daily News article from November of 1862 provides an account of what they called “the melancholy death of the wife of George H. Manchester.”  At that time George was a clerk in the Providence Post Office.  He would stay in Providence during the week and come home to Portsmouth on weekends. This particular week, George “left his wife on Monday and she bid him good-bye and shortly after started for a walk to the Glen near by her residence.”  When she didn’t return her family looked for her and found her body near the old wharf.  “Near by was found her bonnet, shawl and parasol, all nicely laid together, and everything had the appearance of a premeditated death. ”  Why she would end her life seemed a mystery to her family and friends.  With the sorrow of his wife’s death, George would also have the responsibility for three children – Alfred, Charles and Leonora.    George found love again and in 1873, he married Eliza Maria (Peckham) Rogers, widow of Thomas G. Rogers.  George died in 1879 and is buried in St. Mary’s Church cemetery.

We owe a debt of gratitude to George Manchester and the others like him who volunteer their time and talents to make Portsmouth a better place.

The Night the “Wide Awakes” Came to Portsmouth

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Wide Awake insignia available on tee shirts on Amazon today.

A Newport Mercury account from 1860 details an excursion the Newport Wide Awakes made to Portsmouth Grove. I came across this article while researching George Manchester, a prominent citizen who will be featured in our History Comes Alive 2017 presentation on Oct. 8th. George was part of the group credited with organizing the event. He was part of the crowd that give the men “an honest farmer’s welcome” as they arrived on the steamer Perry at the dock to the Portsmouth House. They Wide Awakes performed a short drill and the men formed a line to listen to the speeches. The article mentions “blazing torches” revealing the military discipline and “noble appearance” of the men. It seems that George made a “brief, pithy, hearty speech” welcoming the companies of Wide Awakes to the hospitality of Portsmouth.  Major Paine of Johnston  gave  the principal speech which concerned Mr. Douglas, the Democrat candidate for President.  The group was treated to a bountiful supply of food.

I had never heard of the Wide Awakes, but the article gave me a few clues to what they represented. “The four companies were out in full ranks, making a fine show, while thee were many others present in citizens dress, who were unable to appear in the ranks from the want of uniforms.” This sounded like a military organization. The article quotes someone as saying “We hope that by efficient drilling..our boys can make themselves, as they can, the best in the state.

A Providence Evening Press article from September of 1860 provided information on the origin of the “Wide Awakes.”  In February of 1860 some young men were excited by Cassius Clay, a well known Republican orator.  These young men decided to act as an escort for Clay.  They borrowed torches from the fire department.  They cut capes out of glazed cloth to protect their clothes from the torches.  Some glazed caps as well.  Their makeshift uniform drew attention to the group.  On their way home they were attacked by a sturdy Democrat; but a blow from a torch stopped him from disturbing them.  They were angry at the attack so they formed a club equipped with swinging torches and black capes and caps to promote the Republic cause at public events.  The name “Wide Awake” came from the name of John Brown’s Company in Kansas.  There were about 400,000 “Wide Awakes” in the Northern States and they drilled, wore uniforms and had officers.  This military or militia like experience created a group of young men ready to volunteer for battle when the Civil War began.

Portsmouth People: Emeline Eldredge, Suffrage Agitator

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300Emeline EldredgeWhen Emeline Eldridge died at eighty years of age in 1934, her obituary mentioned many ways she made a difference in Portsmouth.  She had been Superintendent of Schools in an era when that was a rare role for a woman.  Emeline (also known as Mrs. John Eldredge) was a long time board member of the Portsmouth Library Association.  She was an active member of St. Paul’s Church and the Ladies Association.  For many years she was in charge of the Social Studio at Bristol Ferry “where (said the obituary) young people used to gather for dancing lessons, instruction in wood carving and other work.”

The Social Studio was founded by Emeline’s friend and neighbor Sarah J. Eddy around 1900.  It was a gathering place for youth in Portsmouth.  Emeline had no children of her own, but she worked with young people at the Social Studio for twenty years or more.    A 1913 Newport Mercury article mentions that Emeline was directing a group of twenty two girls called the “Girls Industrial Club” which met at the Social Studio.  The girls learned basketweaving, leather work, wood-carving, embroidery and other useful arts.

Social studio 1

Classes at Social Studio: collection of GSchmidt

Can you picture this School Superintendent, library supporter, craft teacher and church lady as a suffrage agitator?  Her obituary doesn’t mention anything about her efforts to secure the vote for women, but newspaper articles lead us to believe that she was an integral part of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League that was founded in 1908.  A group of Bristol Ferry area friends and neighbors was  (according to Elizabeth Cady Stanton) “among the nerve centers of suffrage activity in Rhode Island.” Among the members of this group were Emeline Eldridge, Cora Mitchell, Sarah J. Eddy,  Julia Ward Howe and her daughters Maud and Florence, Mrs. Oscar Miller and Mrs. Bertram Storrs and Mrs. Barton Ballou.  In Cady’s book on the History of Woman Suffrage, she compliments the women because “All rendered priceless service to what was then an unpopular and unfashionable cause.”  “..It took some courage in fashionable Newport to ‘come out’ for woman suffrage.  Emeline hosted some events by the Newport County Women Suffrage League at the Social Studio.  Emeline may not have been a nationally recognized figure in the suffrage movement but she certainly contributed to it here in Portsmouth.