Founder’s Brook is one of those touchstones where we come in contact with Portsmouth’s past. As I walked by the brook yesterday morning, I was aware that this site might have been lost to us without the effort of local people to preserve it.

In the early days of the town this site served as the “Watering Place.” It was a center of activity for the small community of settlers who stayed in Portsmouth in 1639 instead of moving south to the Newport area. A spring here provided drinking water, a location for washing (both animals and clothing) and a central location around which the house lots of the town were laid out. As the townspeople abandoned the idea of house lots in a village and migrated to homes on their larger farm lots, the area lost importance. The small lots here were absorbed into bigger farms.

It took the celebration of Rhode Island’s tricentennial in 1936 and Portsmouth’s tricentennial in 1938 to bring this location back into focus. Sometime after 1910 the Town of Portsmouth acquired the strip of land along the brook. The tricentennial organizers recognized the importance of the location and bought a chunk of land adjacent to the brook to serve as a central location to honor the town founders. Celebrations were held, a plaque honoring the Portsmouth Compact was placed on the puddingstone rock, and members of founding families added stepping stone rocks leading to the area. Founders’ Brook was saved as a treasured spot.

Founders’ Brook needed to be saved once again. In 1960 the state planned to construct a cloverleaf for Route 24 which would have obliterated Founders’ Brook. This time it was the Portsmouth Historical Society and the Route 138 business association that pressured the State Department of Public Works to make the changes to preserve the site.

With the celebration of Portsmouth’s 350th Anniversary, new efforts came to preserve and highlight the site. Memorial stones were added, new signage and a parking lot made it easier for visitors, and special events were held.

Preserving this beautiful site took vigilance, effort and passion. Hopefully we have the vigilance, effort and passion to preserve other historic landscapes in our town. Preserving Butts Hill Fort is another effort that will take vigilance and passion. We are richer as a community when we have these historic landscapes to remind us of our past.