Kittymouse

View of Prescott House from Prescott Farm

As you pass by the Prescott House on the Portsmouth/Middletown border by West Main Road, you might think of it as the location of the famous raid of Colonel Barton to capture British General Prescott during the Revolutionary War.    There is a strong Portsmouth woman associated with that house as well.  Her name was Barbara Norman Cook, aka “Kitty Mouse” Cook.  Barbara was born in Newport and she was the granddaughter of George Norman who founded the Newport Water Works.  The Norman family was a major property owner in Portsmouth and owned land from the Middletown boarder to Redwood Farms.  Barbara’s father was Bradford Norman.  He owned Brook Farm and across the street the old Overing Property.  He willed his property on the east side of West Main Road to his daughter. In his will, he referred to this property as “Prescott Place.” By the time that Barbara Norman Cook came into the property in 1949, the farm included roughly 33 acres.

Barbara Norman married Daniel W. Jones in 1918 and the two moved to Portsmouth in 1930.  Both were co-administrators for the National Recovery Act under President Franklin Roosevelt and both were active in the Democratic Party.  Jones died in 1942, and Barbara married Benjamin Ladd Cook, Sr. in 1943.  She continued her wartime work, this time hosting a half-hour morning radio show telling listeners how to use their ration coupons.  She was active in civic organizations like the American Cancer Society, League of Women Voters, Birth Control League, Boys Club and the Newport Music Festival.  Barbara was one of the seven founders of the Portsmouth Historical Society and was awarded lifetime membership in the society.

Barbara bought the Lawton Valley Glen area from her grandfather’s estate in 1952.  She hoped to preserve the property for recreation.  It had long been a popular picnic spot and Boy Scout camping area.

Barbara Norman Cook lived in her Prescott Place house until 1969, when she sold it to Doris Duke for the sum of $475,000.  Doris Duke then deeded the property to the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1970. The home is a rental property now and not open to public view, but the Newport Restoration Foundation has established Prescott Farm on the Middletown side of the property.  Old Portsmouth buildings have been moved there as well as the Sherman Windmill.  This area is open to the public as well as lovely hiking trails in the back of the property.

In 1981 Barbara wrote a memoir “L’Histoire de Mme. Kitty Mouse.”  It relates tales of her youth in Newport.  Barbara died in 1985.