Jamestown Historical Society News
The Jamestown Historical Society’s annual historic house tour is just two weeks away: Friday, Sept. 16, and Saturday, Sept. 17. This year, Fox Hill and Beaverhead, the farms on either side of Fort Getty Road, are on the tour. Both farms were part of Benedict Arnold’s original holdings on Jamestown, as recorded in Joshua Fisher’s 1658 map of Jamestown.
The weekend kicks off with a “members only” party from 5 to 7 p.m. at Beaverhead Farm on the south side of Fort Getty Road. The party will be held in the newest structure on the farm, a three-story, yellow clapboard, gambrel-roofed house – similar in design to the Fox Hill farmhouse – built in 1996 for Bill and Noni O’Farrell.
While the house is new, the farm is old – as other buildings that stand near it testify. The farm’s outbuildings include a single large barn complex made up of a series of connected barns that evolved over several decades, primarily when the farm operated as a dairy farm. The oldest and tallest barn in the complex is a traditional style dairy barn with milking stanchions on the first floor and a large hayloft overhead. The Jonathan Law farmhouse, close to Fort Getty Road, was built about the same time as the Fox Hill farmhouse across the street.
Just east of the main house in a stand of trees is the Arnold family burial ground. The graveyard, which is not part of the Beaverhead Farm although it is surrounded by it, was laid out by Captain Josiah Arnold (1647- 1724), a son of the original purchaser Benedict Arnold (1615-1678). The oldest grave is that of Josiah Arnold, “son of Josiah & Sarah Arnold, Aged 4 month 20 days, Decd September the 3d 1694.”
Tickets for the preview party are $40 and include entry to the Sept. 17 house tour. If you are not now a member, you can still attend the preview party by paying your dues at the door: $40 for a family membership or $25 for an individual membership. Or become a lifetime member for a contribution of $500 (single) or $1,000 (family). To make a reservation for the party, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423- 0784 and leave a message with your name and the number in your party.
On Saturday, we cross Fort Getty Road and tour Fox Hill Farm.
The original farmhouse on Fox Hill was built soon after Benedict Arnold, the ancestor of the American Revolutionary War traitor who bears his name, acquired all of Conanicut Island south of Sheffield Cove in 1657. What that farmhouse looked like and exactly where it stood is unknown. The current house at 994 Fort Getty Road almost certainly incorporates elements of a house mentioned in the will of Benedict’s grandson, Benedict (1691-1733). However, it is difficult to trace changes made to the building during the 18th and 19th century.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the external facade of the house was essentially what it is today. The gambrel roof and symmetrical windows on the south and east sides can be seen in early photographs in the JHS collection. On the north, exterior changes take advantage of the view across the open fields of the farm to the West Passage and north to the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge. Inside the house, changes over the years have made the home comfortable for a modern family while carefully preserving the historic nature of the structure.
To the east of the farmhouse, at 654 Fort Getty Road, is the second house on the tour. The western part of “The Crickets” is a Hodgson prefab sixroom bungalow built in 1929. Early in the 20th century, E.F. Hodgson Co. offered the first mail-order catalog of prefab portable factory-built housing – before Sears or Montgomery Ward. Hodgson’s houses came in a large number of designs, were fashioned from quality materials, and the construction used a simplified bolting system, rather than nails or screws, to fasten the pieces together.
“The Crickets” was built for John Scheepers (1878-1938), whose brother in-law, Benjamin Cottrell, owned Fox Hill Farm. A Dutch immigrant and an expert horticulturist, Scheepers became known as the “Tulip King,” both because of his achievement in popularizing the tulip as the symbol of spring and because of his success in developing new varieties of the flower. He named a spectacular yellow tulip after his wife, and a Cottrell descendant who spent part of youth at Fox Hill Farm is sending 100 of these bulbs to the JHS to plant near the museum.
Like Beaverhead Farm, Fox Hill has its own burial ground, which is carefully maintained by Pat Driscoll and Jemma Craig, the current owners of the property. The graves are not as old as those in the Arnold plot; the earliest is that of Coggeshall Green, who died in 1835 “in the 82nd year of his age.”
The houses and the farm, including the cemetery and grounds, will be open for visitors from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. The entrance fee is $20, payable at the door.
Virtual museum tour
Both the windmill and the museum will be open weekends from now through Oct. 10. But if you can’t get to the museum, you can get a virtual tour of this summer’s exhibit and the new ferry room on YouTube. Go to jamestownhistoricalsociety.org and scroll down to the link just below the details of the house tour. Or go directly to YouTube and search for “Jamestown Historical Society.”