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Portsmouth Women: Alice Brayton and Green Animals

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Vintage image of Green Animals from the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society

Alice Brayton

Alice Brayton was born in Fall River in 1878, but she was a constant summer resident of Portsmouth.  She made her permanent residence here in 1938.  Her father, Thomas Brayton (treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company),  bought property on Cory’s Lane in Portsmouth in 1877 to be a summer home for his family. Alice’s father hired a Portuguese mill worker, Jose Carriero, to develop and manage the grounds of his Portsmouth estate in 1905. Carreiro was superintendent of the property from 1905 to 1945, and his son-in-law, George Mendonca continued as superintendent until 1985.  They were responsible for creating the topiaries. There are more than 80 pieces of topiary throughout the gardens, including animals and birds, geometric figures and ornamental designs, sculpted from California privet, yew, and English boxwood.

When Thomas Brayton died in 1939 at age 96, he left this estate to his son and daughter – Edward and Alice.    Alice Brayton had re-opened the main house on the Portsmouth estate in 1936 to begin renovations to make it her permanent residence. She moved to the estate in the spring of 1939 naming it “Green Animals” for the topiary animals in the garden.

Alice Brayton was a woman of many interests.  During the Depression she helped to found a relief program in Fall River to bring milk, food and clothing to the needy.  She founded a nursing association in Fall River.  In Portsmouth she was active with the Red Cross and even opened her home for “home nursing” lessons.   She published many books and contributed  to “Gardens of America”  – a major work on historical gardens.  She wrote  a scholarly work on Bishop Berkeley who was a colonial resident of Middletown.  She encouraged excavations around the Old Stone Mill in Newport and wrote a paper on this.  She was a force in the early days of the Preservation Society of Newport Country.  Miss Brayton left Green Animals to the Preservation Society of Newport County at her death in 1972.  Newspaper accounts list her as a speaker for a number of local societies.  She spoke to the Portsmouth Historical Society in 1966 about “More Recollections of a Portsmouth Native.”  Obviously she considered herself a Portsmouth native.

Alice Brayton loved to garden and she loved to entertain  She hosted Jacqueline Bouvier’s (Kennedy) debutante party.  When President Eisenhower visited the area, she opened her gardens to the First Family and the White House press corps.  Alice’s topiary gardens survived the hurricanes in 1938 and 1944, but the 1954 hurricane badly damaged a double row of spruces and a large hemlock.  The famed topiaries were coated with salt spray.  Although some experts thought many could not be saved, George Mendonca and his helpers rewired and trimmed the sculptures.  Alice herself would putter around the gardens. She said she had a habit of mowing around the base of a topiary policemen “so that he wouldn’t hurt his feet standing all day on the grass.”  Alice Brayton was known for her wit.  One of her last public events was a $1,000 a plate dinner for the election of Nixon in 1968.  Alice took a sip of sherry and headed home without dinner “because it was past her bedtime.”

During her lifetime, Alice enjoyed letting the public enjoy her gardens.  Today “Green Animals” attracts thousands of visitors to Alice Brayton’s beautiful gardens.

 

 

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 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

Whose Home? Green Animals

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P1060542Green Animals: Brayton House c. 1859 Cory’s Lane

In 1877 Thomas Brayton treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company (more like principal operating officer today), bought property in Portsmouth to be a summer home for his family. Thomas Brayton hired a Portuguese mill worker, Jose Carriero, to develop and manage the grounds of his Portsmouth estate in 1905. Gardener Joseph Carreiro, superintendent of the property from 1905 to 1945, and his son-in-law, George Mendonca, superintendent until 1985, were responsible for creating the topiaries. There are more than 80 pieces of topiary throughout the gardens, including animals and birds, geometric figures and ornamental designs, sculpted from California privet, yew, and English boxwood.
When Thomas Brayton died at age 96 on May 10, 1939, he this estate to his daughter Alice, age 61 and his son Edward, age 51.  Alice Brayton had re-opened the main house on the Portsmouth estate in 1936 to begin renovations to make it her permanent residence. She moved to the estate in the spring of 1939 naming it Green Animals for the topiary animals in the garden. Miss Brayton left Green Animals to The Preservation Society of Newport County at her death in 1972.

Alice Brayton

  1. During Depression she helped to found a relief program in Fall River to bring milk, food and clothing to the needy.
  2. Founded a nursing association in Fall River.
  3. Published books including contributing to “Gardens of America”
  4. Loved to garden.
  5. Loved to entertain – hosted Jacqueline Bourvier’s coming out party.

Whose Home Is It?

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Living in a School House?

Southermost School

Southermost School

Can you imagine a family living in the basement of a school? Two families did live in the “cellar” of the old Southermost School because they fell on hard times. We learn about these families from Portsmouth historian Edward West’s writings. In his 1932 article for the Rhode Island Historical Society on the “Lands of Portsmouth,” West gives a virtual tour of early Portsmouth. “..we come to the site of the Southern School House, where the widow Sarah Strange took up her residence after the death of her husband; for at 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.”

Sarah’s situation is indeed “strange” because her family forced the move of another family to the cellar of the same school. Schoolmaster James Preston was reported as being sick and helpless in 1727. In the early days it was the families of the school children that were responsible for the room and board of the schoolmaster and his family. In an article on “Relief Problems of Old New England,” West reports on Portsmouth Town Council decisions. “James Strange (Sarah’s husband) refuses to entertain James Preston and his family any longer in his dwelling house it is agreed by this council that said Preston and his family be settled in the Southermost School house in the town for the present, that is in the cellar part thereof…” The Town Council agreed to pay Preston’s wife money weekly to provide for the family. Now the building at that time was twenty-two feet by fourteen feet – not large at all to house a family and the school children.

In 1730 it was ordered “that James Preston and his family be removed out of the School house wherein they now dwell and that Rebecca his wife pay the charges of their removal and house rent out of the weekly allowance.” Rebecca was forced to “bind out her two eldest children otherwise the said council will put out the said Children in order for the lessening the Towns Charges therein.” Soon afterwards James Preston died and the town paid his funeral charges. There is no further mention of the family in town records.

This schoolhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Willow Brook

Connors Funeral Home today

Willow Brook - owned by Sarah Eddy.

Willow Brook – owned by Sarah Eddy.

This home has had some colorful owners and uses through the years. Researching the homes and dating them is always difficult. We think the house may date to around 1850 and it was built for David Anthony. Asa Anthony owned it when he served as Portsmouth Coroner in the 1880’s. Newspaper articles mention that sometimes bodies were brought to Asa’s home before burial. In 1898 after Asa’s death, the home and farm was sold at auction to the Ballou family of Providence who had a home down the road on Bristol Ferry. Newspaper articles state that they probably would not be living there. Perhaps they bought it for artist Sarah Eddy who used it as a place her friends and other artists could come and stay while visiting Portsmouth. 1907 maps show it as her property at that time. The image above was scanned from a glass plate and we suspect that Sarah Eddy – a noted photographer – may have taken this photograph. In 1900 the Rev. Dennis and his sister seemed to run the guest house. Newspaper articles show that Rev. Dennis ran a Sunday School there for children who weren’t members of any particular church. Grand parties were held for the community during the 1920’s including a Christmas party for 164 guests. The house became a “tourist lodge and trailer park” in the 1930’s after it was bought by a Mrs. Hollis. By 1958 we see ads for “Willow Brook Manor Nursing Home” In the 1970’s it seemed to by run by Leo MacAloon. For a while it was a nursery school. Memorial Funeral Home bought it in 1983 and has run it since then as a funeral home. It seems to be appropriate as the home of a former town coroner.

George Manchester House

102 Glen Road

George Manchester House

George Manchester House

George Manchester of Portsmouth, RI was born 1822, the son of John and Lydia (Albro) Manchester of 1105 East Main Rd. His brothers were John Henry Manchester and Daniel Manchester, both of Slate Hill, and his sisters were Susan and Rebecca (Mrs. William H. Gifford). George was a carpenter who helped construct many homes in Newport County. He was a devoted member of the Union Church at the location of today’s Portsmouth Historical Society, and taught Sunday School there. He was a public servant who represented Portsmouth in the RI General Assembly for several terms, as had his father 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. An avid reader and book collector, 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. He lived at 102 Glen Rd., and was married to Phebe Taber Coggeshall. They had three children, Alfred (grew up to be a minister in Salem, MA), Charles (owned a store in Newport), and Leonora (wife of George Brawley, a Middletown farmer). George’s wife Phebe died in 1861. 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.

Cundall House – Maybe

Glen Farm Road

Cundall House- on land the Cundall's owned

Cundall House- on land the Cundall’s owned

There are no definite dates for this house. 1798 is one date given. If so, than it would have been the home of Joseph Cundall, a notable miller in the area. Other sources note that this was the land of Joseph Cundall, but that the house was built later. This house, however, is known as the “Cundall House” in newspaper articles.

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 sold a portion of his land to James Sisson. By 1745 Sisson had a water powered grist mill on the brook in the Glen to grind corn. Revolutionary War era maps show the location of that mill as just east of Glen Farm Road and the barn complex.

James Sisson then sold his mill and 46 acres around the brook to Joseph Cundall. What we call “the Glen” became commonly known as Cundall’s Mills. In 1706 Joseph Cundall had left his native England to become an indentured servant in America. Becoming an indentured servant was a way for a young person to learn a trade and get an education in exchange for working for seven years or more. Cundall seems to have learned his trade well and was in a good position to buy land as an adult. Water from the stream powered the carding and fulling mills to wash and pull woolen fibers. Joseph Cundall added almost a hundred more acres to his land around the Glen before he died in 1760. Newspaper accounts tell the tragic story of his son Joseph who got lost in a Christmas Eve snowstorm and died on his way home from the mill. Near the Glen barns there is a little burial ground with Slocum and Cundall family headstones. His gravestone is easily read in the old cemetery with a death date of December 24, 1811. If the 1790 date is accurate, this little house would have been home to this Joseph Cundall.

Taylor residence - Glen Manor House

Taylor residence – Glen Manor House

Mrs. Taylor’s Manor House

Frank Coelho Drive
Mrs. Taylor’s Manor House
Even though the Taylor family started Glen Farm in 1882, construction did not begin on their home until around 1920. The Taylors had a Newport summer home, but that preferred the Portsmouth countryside. They hired famed architect John Russell Pope to design their home in the Glen area. During World War I the Taylors lost their son in France. Family stories relate that the French chateau style of the home was designed to remember the place where their son died. The house was completed in 1923.

Architect Pope encouraged the Taylors to hire the Olmsted Brothers Firm to design the landscaping. The gardens were designed to be at their best in July and August when the family would be in residence. Mrs Taylor opened the grounds and gardens to special events. Moses Taylor died in 1928 but Edith continued to spend more time at the Glen. She remarried many years later 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 its doors in 1972, the Town of Portsmouth bought the house and the newly built school buildings that were attached to it.

Portsmouth citizens still own the house and the Glen Manor Authority and the Friends of Glen Manor House constantly strive to restore the house and gardens.

Leonard Brown House

Linden Lane

Leonard Brown House in 1920

Leonard Brown House in 1920

If you are familiar with the Glen, you may know that the Leonard Brown House sits at the end of a drive lined by majestic linden trees. Who’s was Leonard Brown and what does he represent in Portsmouth history. Brown was born in Middletown in 1815. His wife Sarah was the daughter of Revolutionary War militia leader Cook Wilcox. What would become the Brown farm had been part of Wilcox’s land. By the 1880s Brown was considered one of the best farmers in Portsmouth. He raised poultry and pigs and brought them to market in New Bedford. Along with farming, Brown served as a wheelwright and a blacksmith. Leonard Brown represents the Yankee farmers, the descendants of the original English settlers. Brown and the farmers like him were the backbone of Portsmouth. They served in political offices, farmed and were the skilled craftsmen of the town.

Dating the Brown House has been difficult. The diary of George Manchester shows that Brown was on the land in 1851 because a barn was built for him by Albert Coggeshall. 1860 maps show Leonard Brown on the property.

When Leonard Brown died in 1896, the Brown farm was sold to H.A.C. Taylor and became part of the Glen Farm. A 1904 gardening magazine shows that Taylor had the row of linden trees planted as a entryway to the house. The house served as a home for many Glen Farm families over the years. When the Town of Portsmouth bought the land in 1989, the Brown House was in disrepair. Fires, hurricanes and vandalism had damaged the house, but efforts are being made to restore and the use the house once more.

Mrs. Durfee’s Tea House

82 Glen Road

DURFEE Tea House

A 1893 Harper’s Monthly Magazine called Mrs. Durfee the “Goddess of the Glen.” No trip out to the romanic Glen was complete without stopping at the Durfee house for refreshments. Many of the Newport society greats would host dinners and events at the Durfee Tea House. One guest describes a visit in the 1870 timeframe: Miss Durfee, very lame but most hospitable, received her guests and soon the famous tea-house cakes were served. These were meal cakes, made as thin as a wafer, slightly sweetened with a suspicion of nutmeg flavor. Baked on a griddle that covered the whole top of the stove, they were compounded of a milk mixture consisting of ten eggs to a quart of milk, the finest Rhode Island meal, butter, sugar and spice….After supper, the frolic terminated in a Virginia Reel, in which all, young or old took part, and then the resellers returned home by the light of the moon.” (Newport Historical Society Bulletin, April 1926).

This house has had several owners and at least two locations through the years. There are two Mrs. (or Miss) Durfees. Samuel Clerk who took over the Cundall Mills property sold the original lot without a house to Mrs. Mary G. Durfee. in 1836. The house must have been built shortly after the sale. Mary Durfee must have originated the tea house because when the property was sold to Ruth Durfee in 1857 it was already known as “Mrs. Durfee’s Tea House.” Durfee Tea House was a cultural center for Portsmouth. Many activities were held there including the original Sunday School for the Union Meetinghouse which was organized by social reformer Dorothea Dix.
In 1909 the house was moved to the current Glen Road location because H.A.C. Taylor purchased the lot and wanted the house moved off of his farm. Manton Chase bought the house at auction and moved it.

Oak Glen - Julia Ward Howe home today

Oak Glen – Julia Ward Howe home today

Julia Ward Howe’s Oak Glen

745 Union St.
In 1850, Dr. Samuel Howe bought a small cottage on the land around what is now Oak Glen. Howe’s wife, Julia Ward Howe, had Rhode Island roots and this cottage became their summer refuge from Boston. Howe was a pioneer in education of the handicapped and he and Julia were part of the effort to abolish slavery. Julia may be best known for writing the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but she also wrote songs, poetry, plays and essays. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oscar Wilde and other literary giants came to visit her at Oak Glen.

The Howes enlarged the home in the 1870’s, but the home was still centered around their growing family of six children. The additions to the home helped it become a gathering spot for local and national literary figures. When Samuel died in 1876, Julia continued to live at Oak Glen until her death there in 1910. Julia was occasionally ask to “supply the pulpit” at the Christian Union Church down the road. She was a noted speaker, writer and advocate for such causes as Women’s Suffrage and the International Peace Association.

Some of her furniture from Oak Glen was donated to the Portsmouth Historical Society and is featured in the Julia Ward Howe Room of the museum.

This home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greenvale – Barstow House

Barstow House at Greenvale

Barstow House at Greenvale

In 1863 J.S. Barstow, a China trade merchant, purchased land in Portsmouth to establish a “gentleman’s farm.” Barstow followed a formula for the how much of the land would be in gardens, orchards, livestock, etc. He was inspired by a book called Country Life by Copeland that describes the type of person (like Barstow) who would establish such a farm as a man who craves occupation as well as recreation. “Owners of country seats in America are generally men who have retired from active business… and have something to do and to think about those avoid the evil of mental inactivity.”

Barstow’s “Stick Style” home was designed by Boston architect Sturgess who also designed a stable and barn. At Barstow’s death the house and land passed to relatives and finally to niece Charlotte Parker and her husband Major General James Parker. When the Parkers retired in 1918, the came back to a property that had been neglected and revived the farm. The property is owned by members of the Parker family today and has been re-purposed as a Greenvale Vineyard. Although you can’t tour the Barstow house itself, you can visit the stables that have been restored and redesigned as a Wine Tasting House.

Nichols – Overing House – Prescott Farm

Overing House

Overing House

This house is known not for the importance of its owners, but for a daring deed in the Revolutionary War. It was probably built by Jonathan Nichols before 1750. The Nichols family owned it until 1765 when John Nichol’s widow sold to Peleg Thurston. A “mansion” is listed on the property as part of the land transfer. Both John and Jonathan Nichols served as Deputy Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island. Thurston was merchant who might have been involved in privateering. After Thurston’s death in 1770, his widow sold the property to Henry John Overing. Overing was a “sugar baker” who refined raw sugar into loaves. Overing was loyal to England and when the British invaded Aquidneck Island in 1776, Overing’s farm was a headquarters for General Richard Prescott. In July of 1777, American Col. Barton and his men silently rowed across to Portsmouth from Warwick. They overcame the sentry without a shot and captured General Prescott. Prescott later came back to the island. He was exchanged for a Col Lee – an American held by the British. The whole “caper” raised the spirits of the Americans.

Overing seems to have sailed for England in 1783. Overing’s wife kept the house until 1796. The house was sold to her son-in-law, Thomas Handy. He sold the house to the Briggs family in 1797, but Thomas and Mary Handy lived as tenants on the farm. The Briggs sold to Asher Robbins, and in 1803 it was sold to Benjamin Pages. There were other owners along the way. Bradford Norman picked up the property in 1927 and his daughter, Barbara Norman Cook (aka Kitty Mouse) owned the house until she sold it to the Doris Duke’s Newport Restoration Foundation in 1970.