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Rescued from the Confederates: Colby Mitchell of Portsmouth

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Mitchell land Bristol Ferry Road area 1907

What would you do if your teenage son was kidnapped from a Florida school and conscripted into the Confederate Army? This was the dilemma for the Mitchell family who had strong ties to the Bristol Ferry neighborhood of Portsmouth. The Mitchells had business interests in Florida and their son Colby was in school in Apalachicola. A detachment of Confederate soldiers took young Colby from his school and conscripted him into the Southern army even though he was underage.  The men wouldn’t even let Colby go home to get a change of clothing.  His parents pleaded with the army colonel to release their son, but he was taken to the army camp anyway.  Fortunately the young man had some friends in the camp who took care of him and gave him food as there was “no food for conscripts.”  A few months later Colby was allowed a few days furlough because his health had deteriorated from malaria.  He was forced to go back to camp.

Colby had a severe relapse of his fever, but the kindness of his fellow soldiers pulled him through his illness.  At that time he was able to get another four day furlough to visit his family in Apalachicola.  If the Southern army could kidnap young Colby, his father Thomas Mitchell decided to kidnap him back.  His father took him to a Union vessel that was blockading the harbor and father and son were soon on their way north.  The trip to Rhode Island took several months and father and son had left the rest of the family behind in the south.

Colby and his sisters, May, Cora and Sophie were part of the Bristol Ferry community for many years.  Colby’s story was told in a Newport Mercury article (July 20, 1934) when he was awarded the “Boston Post Cane” – given to the town’s oldest resident.  He must have recovered well from his wartime ill health.  He was described as an eighty-nine year old who was “well and hearty” and living with his niece.

Sold at Auction: Glen Farm Herd

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Photo from auction catalog.

A  Newport Mercury  account in 1949 provides the story of the end of the renown Glen Farm herds. The entire herd of 89 cows were dispersed in one auction for over $36,000. The herd, one of the oldest in Rhode Island, had been established in 1889 by H.A.C. Taylor and had been continued by his son Moses. Moses Taylor’s wife, Edith Taylor Nicholson had continued the herd, but she made the decision to sell in 1949.

Glen Farm Guernseys were known for high quality breeding and an outstanding record for being disease free. The original stock came from the Island of Guernsey, but the Taylors continued to selectively breed and improve their herds.

Among the buyers at the auction were Francis Taylor, the grandson of Glen Farm’s founder.  Francis, who is listed as being from Seekonk, bought a cow (Frolic of the Glen) and a calf (Gold of the Glen).  Local buyers were former Governor William H. Vanderbilt who purchased four of the better known cows for his Massachusetts farm, Hugh D. Auchincloss (Jacqueline Kennedy’s stepfather), and Mervin Briggs (who had Fairholm Dairy in Portsmouth). Most of the herd went to Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The week before the cattle auction, Edith Taylor Nicholson disposed of all the Glen Farm sheep  and some years before the bred horses had been dispersed as well.  After the auction there was still cattle on Glen Farm. Sixty head of Angus beef cattle were still being bred in the last years of the farm.

Cundall’s Mills in the Glen

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The landscape of the Glen provides a special place where you can see Portsmouth history.

The Glen

Painting of early Glen mill found in the attic of the "Durfee Tea House." Painting of early Glen mill found in the attic of the “Durfee Tea House.”

Courier and Ives view of picnicking in the Glen in the 1850’s

At the historical cemetery, the Cundall family stones led us to uncover another tragedy during what would become the Glen mill days. The Glen’s first settlers, the Cooke family, gradually moved away and sold their land, but many of the Cooke daughters married into local families. It is hard to trace all the ownership of what is now the town owned Glen land, but we did discover information on some of those landowners. In 1720 John Cooke sells a portion of his land to James Sisson. By 1745 Sisson had a water powered grist mill to grind corn on the brook in the Glen. Revolutionary War era maps show the location of that mill as just east of Glen Farm Road and the barn…

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Portsmouth Landmarks: Greenvale

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Grapes in the vineyard.

Vintage image of the Barstow house at Greenvale

Greenvale Farm has been in the same family since the 186os. John S. Barstow, a China-trade merchant from Boston, created a “gentleman’s farm” on fifty-three acres of land on the shore of the Sakonnet River. Greenvale was Barstow’s country retreat and he constructed a large main house and stable designed by Boston architect John Sturgis. Barstow followed a pattern for a gentleman’s farm from the agricultural literature of the day (Country Life by Robert Morris Copeland). Retiring to a farm and working with your hands was considered an ideal situation for the gentleman who had already made his fortune.

When Barstow died, his fortune was divided among many brothers and sisters. Sister Catherine was given Greenvale Farm. At her death in 1910 the house had been closed and was considered “a resort for tramps and idlers.” (Providence Journal, 14, June, 1910d).  For decades the property was abandoned. One of Catherine’s nieces – Charlotte Condit Parker and her husband Major General James Parker, took an interest in Greenvale and revived the farm. The property has been in the Parker family since then. Converting the property to a vineyard has been a way to keep the land together in family hands.

A few years ago Elmhurst students interviewed owner Nancy Parker Wilson.
Do you use machines for making wine? Machines do make wine. They press the grapes. You use the same machines to make white and red wine. You have to clean the machines before you make white wine.
What is the grape growing season? May to October
When did the winery get started? Started their own label of wine in the 90’s.
How many people work on the farm? Seven people work full time. Other people help.
Why do you pick a certain bottle for a certain wine? Traditional colors are used. There are different bottle shapes for different wines, too.
What do you do about pests? Birds, beetles, moths and mildew are pests that bother the vines. They put nets on grapes vines to protect them from birds. They use a chemical on a twist tie to protect grapes from moths and other insects. They may use a spray.
What is your biggest selling wine? Chardonnay
What do you do in a drought? A drought does not really affect the grapes. The roots are very far down for older vines, but the younger vines are not so lucky.
How long does it take to make wine? It takes from five days to two weeks.
Where do you make your wine? Now they make their wine at Newport Vineyards.
How did you get started growing grapes? The Parker family got help from grape growers across the river.
What was the farm before it became a vineyard? It started out as a farm raising prize-winning cattle. There were barns and a horse stable.
Have you had any damage from storms? There has been damage from the salt water coming from storms.
Where do you sell your wine? They have a tasting room at Greenvale.
Do you use any machinery to pick grapes? No, the grapes are hand picked. They put them in bins and carry them away.
Have you had any disasters with your crops? No, a hurricane almost came. Some salt water got on the top leaves, but that was about it.

Portsmouth Landmarks: Glen Ridge Farm

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New birth at Glen Ridge

Vintage photo of Glen Ridge Barns

The land in and around Glen Ridge Farm has a history that reflects the history of our town. It was part of an original land grant given to William Brenton and then sold to members of the Cook family who served in town offices from the 1640s on. It was an area that served as a ferry landing for the Fogland Ferry to Tiverton.

The land went through a number of Yankee farm families including that of Captain John Stanton until H.A.C. Taylor bought the land in the 1880s. Taylor was a New York businessman who established Glen Farm to be a model farm dedicated to raising the best livestock. His son Moses Taylor added the stone horse barns you see at Glen Ridge Farm today. The horse barns originally housed the Percheron horses that the Taylors bred, but also were home to the Taylors’ own riding horses. The 1925 barn structures were added to an already existing frame barn structure that is very old and maybe one of the oldest barns in our area. Another building in the compound served as a garage for the Taylor cars and as the headquarters for the Glen Farm Fire Truck (which served at Prudence Island and is being restored today.)

We are fortunate to have parts of Glen Farm in town ownership. Glen Ridge Farm is in private hands, but its owners are keeping the traditional farming use of the land. It is home to an elite herd of colored hucaya alpacas. It is truly a part of our town history that we can see and touch today.

Portsmouth Landmarks: Founder’s Brook

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Founder’s Brook

Portsmouth Compact on the Puddingstone Rock

We call it “Founder’s Brook” because that was what the Portsmouth tercentenary committee called it when they unveiled a monument to Portsmouth’s founders there in 1936. In old records it was known as the “watering place” and later it was called “Stony Brook.” Today it is a place set aside to remember our founders, the Portsmouth Compact and the life of the community in its earliest days.

Although there is debate about whether Founder’s Brook was the original spring where the earlier settlement was centered, this area has traditionally been an important spot to remember the founders.  The bronze tablet with the words of the Portsmouth Compact inscribed was placed on a large “pudding stone” believed to be a spot where the founders made their speeches.  As the small group of settlers prepared to go to Aquidneck Island, they organized themselves into what they called a Bodie Politik or group of citizens. They picked William Coddington as their judge (ruler), William Aspinwall as their Secretary and William Dyre as the Clerk. They formed a government even before they left Boston. What is known as the “Portsmouth Compact” was a pledge to follow God and live by His laws as written in the Bible. These settlers were organized and came to Aquidneck Island with the idea that they agreed with each other to form a government which would follow the laws of God. Other settlements had the structure of church or a patent (agreement from the king) to guide them. These men and their families were developing something new.

As the spring of 1638 came, the little band of settlers began their journey to Aquidneck Island. Some came over the land by way of Providence. Others sailed around Cape Cod. The settled at the North end of the Island around Founder’s Brook and another brook in the area. They had left the security of Boston for tent like homes or dug out caves lined with wood. Just like the Native Americans before them, they hunted and fished for food and they began to prepare the land for planting. There was a new community on Aquidneck Island beginning as the old community had ended. At first this small settlement of English families was known by the Native American name of Pocasset.

Today we come to Founder’s Brook to honor the founders and to get a glimpse of the early roots of Portsmouth life.  Preserving this spot was not easy. The Tercentenary Committee in the 1930’s purchased the adjacent land and gave it to the town to preserve the brook area. In 1960 efforts were made to “save Founder’s Brook” when highway cloverleafs for Route 24 threatened to obliterate the Founders Brook Memorial Grove and the Mello Farm.  The Portsmouth Historical Society, the business community and the State Department of Public Works combined to protect the memorial area.  Improvements to the memorial area were made during Portsmouth’s 375th celebration.

Portsmouth Landmarks: Glen Barns

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The Glen

Aerial diagram of Glen Farm Barns

1. Pump House: This was home to the equipment that pumped water from the stream to supply the farm with water.

2. Stone Horse Barn: Built in 1911. During World War II the stalls were removed and it was outfitted as a field hospital.

3. Silo: This stone silo is attached to the stone barn with a stone passageway. It was probably built before 1926. There was a wooden silo, too, but it has been removed.

4. Stone Cow Barn: Built in 1907, this barn was for dairy cows. This is where the Glen dairy was located.

5. Stone Bull Barn with Bull Pen: This barn is dated 1910. There was a fire in this barn in 1926, but no animals were injured.

The barns are arranged to provide courtyards of shelter from bad weather.

6. Frame Cow Barn: The is one of the…

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