2010-09-09 / News

Don’t miss your chance to visit historic island homes

By Rosemary Enright

“Rossmere” as it exists today. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society “Rossmere” as it exists today. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society The Jamestown Historical Society will host its annual house tour on Saturday, Sept. 18. This year’s tour will feature three island properties.

According to local legend, Major Daniel Lyman – originally of Durham, Conn., but most recently of the Continental Army – brought his bride, Polly Wanton, to his newly rebuilt farmhouse at Rock Hill Farm shortly after their marriage in 1782. The farmhouse, now numbered 83 Hamilton Ave. and generally known as the Cottrell farm, is the oldest of the three houses on this year’s Jamestown Historical Society house tour.

The house, reached by a quarter mile-long private drive that seems almost to be a southern extension of Howland Avenue, was originally the focal point of a large farm. The driveway approaches the house from the north, while the front door faces south onto Stanton Road, an unimproved private right-of-way bordered by stonewalls on both sides.

The Lyman farm extended from the East Passage to Mackerel Cove, and from Hamilton Avenue south to about where Blueberry Lane crosses the Dumplings peninsula. Although Daniel and Polly Lyman returned to Newport after only about a year in Jamestown, the 200-acre farm remained in the Lyman family for 60 years, worked by tenant farmers.

In 1842, John Stanton Cottrell, whose father owned and operated the ferry across the West Passage, bought the 194-acre farm to the south of the Lyman property. Two years later, he purchased the 200- acre Lyman farm and moved into the farmhouse.

John Cottrell’s life revolved around the farm, but farming didn’t particularly interest his son, Frederick. In 1874, Frederick formed the Ocean Highlands Company with himself as president and began to sell the farm in the southern Dumplings as house lots. Soon after Frederick’s death, the Lyman farm was also platted for development.

Over the years, the farm was reduced to 32 acres surrounding the house, and these were progressively overgrown as farming became a less attractive way of life. A year ago, Vivi and Bill Hutchinson bought the farm with the intention of making it once again a working farm. They cleared the underbrush, renovated and restored the house, and found a compatible family to help them run the farm. Visitors to the house are invited to wander through the farm also.

The next oldest house on the tour, “Rossmere,” at 1093 East Shore Rd., is more than 100 years newer than the Cottrell farmhouse and was built by the first wave of “summer people” who – over the 50 years around the turn of the last century – changed the island from a farming to a resort community. In 1872, a group of off-islanders bought 480 acres at the northern tip of the island and divided it into more than 2,000 small housing lots for summer cottages. They called the new village Conanicut Park. The development boasted a pier at which the Providence-Newport ferry could dock and a hotel that housed more than 100 visitors.

While the Conanicut Park Hotel was very popular, only about 40 homes were built. Rossmere is one of the later houses, built after a typhoid scare in 1886, which was caused by a broken sewer line under the hotel laundry, leading to the temporary closing of the hotel.

Like other cottages in Conanicut Park, Rossmere exemplifies late Victorian architectural styles. Gables form the roofline on three of the four sides of the house, and a bay captures added light on the southern exposure. A veranda, entered by wide graceful stairs, wraps around half the house. The house shares the almost three-acre grounds with a guest cottage and a carriage house-style garage.

The newest house on the tour, “Gull’s Nest,” is a bungalow built in 1926 in the Lippincott-Biddle compound at 201 Beavertail Rd. After their marriage in 1885, J.B. Lippincott, son of the founder of the Philadelphia publishing firm of that name, and his wife, Joanna Wharton, daughter of the owner of “Horsehead,” bought property on the east side of Beavertail and built a large summer home there in 1892-93.

As the four Lippincott children grew up, married and had children of their own, the senior Lippincotts built summer houses for them on the property south of the family’s home. Gull’s Nest, built for Sarah Lippincott (Mrs. Nicholas) Biddle and her family, was once an eight-room house with separate quarters for the servants and a three-bedroom sleeping annex for guests. As the Biddle children grew up, parts of the original bungalow were incorporated into a larger, attached house (not on the tour), the annex was moved to an adjacent property and expanded, and the servants’ quarters were torn down.

The five-room bungalow that remains has the rustic charm of a true summer cottage little changed over the past 85 years.

The three homes will be open between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18, and may be visited in any order. Price of admission is $20, payable at the door. Children under 12 accompanied by an adult are admitted free. The proceeds benefit the Jamestown Historical Society, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving, collecting and sharing the island’s history.

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