Taylor family copy

Mrs. Taylor and four of her children

The obituary for Edith Taylor Nicolson is full of glowing praise. She was one of the country’s richest women, she was the owner of Portsmouth’s largest estate (Glen Farm) and she was a benefactor to many institutions. Her philanthropy to local charities was vast. She was a substantial donor to the Newport Community Chest, Newport Hospital, Trinity Church and the Mary Street YMCA among others. Edith was active in the Portsmouth Historical Society, the board of the Newport Casino, the Newport Preservation Society, the Portsmouth Free Public Library and she was one of the founders and early presidents of the Casino Theater. Her contributions to the community are too numerous to count.

How did a New York socialite come to be so involved in Portsmouth and Aquidneck Island life?

Edith was born in 1874 to the family of Heber Bishop, a New York philanthropist and entrepreneur. She married Moses Taylor, a banker and railroad executive, on August 19, 1896 at Trinity Church in Newport. Among the guests were prominent members of Newport society – Vanderbilts, Oelrichs, and Belmonts.

Mrs. Taylor comes to Glen Farm
Moses Taylor’s father, HAC Taylor, began buying land around the Glen in Portsmouth in the 1880s. The Taylor family had a home in Newport on Annandale Avenue, but the Taylor family preferred the countryside of Portsmouth to the high society of Newport. HAC Taylor hired John Russell Pope to design their new home. HAC died before the Manor House was finished.  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 Manor House was completed in 1923 when Moses and Edith began to come for the summer.

Mrs. Taylor and her Gardens
The architect had encouraged the Taylors to hire the Olmsted Firm to do the landscaping. The founder of the firm, Frederick Law Olmsted was one of the best known landscape designers and the company continued with his sons. The gardens were designed to be at their best in July and August when the Taylors would be in residence.
Fresh flowers were brought to the house every day.  The Taylors had a permanent Garden staff that took care of the gardens while the Farm staff took care of the farm. Edith Taylor was very concerned about the garden plans.  Her rose garden was planted in a circular shape on the lower lawn.  Among the trees listed in the Olmsted archives are lindens, elms, hemlocks, spruce, tulip trees, red and scarlet oaks, larch, purple beech and pines.   Some of the trees were grown in the Glen nursery or brought from Long Island, but some came from the local Vanicek nursery. Mrs. Taylor opened her gardens to public view on several occasions in order to raise money for charity.

Moses Taylor died in 1928 and Edith married G. J. Guthrie Nicholson (a railroad owner) in 1938. Edith became even more fond of the Glen. She continued to add property to Glen Farm and supported fifty families that lived and worked on the farm. Her kindness to these families is well documented. 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.  When Mrs. Taylor was elderly and no longer sailed, she had a painting of the view from the river along the ceiling of her bathroom.  The Taylors also had a yacht called the “Iolanda ” which they used for foreign travel.  She gave the yacht to the British for use in the war effort in World War II.

Mrs. Nicholson and the War Effort
During World War II the Portsmouth Civil Defense organization was looking for a place a field hospital could be set up and ready if was needed. Edith was chairman of the Portsmouth Chapter of the Red Cross. She converted an unused horse barn built in 1911 for that purpose. Funded by Mrs. Nicholson, an equine maternity hospital became a modern (for World War II standards) casualty center. The harness room became a supply room with the harness cabinets filled with blankets, sheets and other hospital equipment. The first stall had fluorescent lights over an operating table. There were cabinets filled with surgical tools. Across the room was an “ether room” where patients would “come to” after surgery. Each of the six remaining stalls held cots. A Portsmouth resident, Dr. Stanley Hart (a retired commander in the U.S. Navy Medical Corp) was on call 24 hours a day to swing into service if the field hospital were required during war or for the community. The hospital was never needed, but Red Cross workers were trained there and kept at ready. Portsmouth was ready for medical emergencies.

Mrs. Nicholson converted one of the cottages on the farm to be a center for the Red Cross. Local women met there to roll bandages and sew for soldiers. Potatoes and other crops were grown especially to feed soldiers.

After the war Mrs. Nicholson began to auction the Glen Farm herds and wind down activity on the farm. She died in 1959 and portions of the farm were sold by her son, Reginald. Fortunately the Town of Portsmouth was able to buy pieces of the farm and it is used for recreation in the town today.

Edith Bishop Taylor Nicholson can rightly be called a pillar of the Portsmouth (and Newport) community.