2017-08-03 / Editorial

Preservation efforts led to picture-perfect results

ANOTHER VIEW
BY ROBERT SUTTON

I recently was asked by two friends from the Jamestown Historical Society if I would pick up a pile of hay that had been cut from the historical cemetery at Fox Head Farm on the corner of Beavertail Road and Fort Getty Road.

Since it was a relatively small amount of hay and we could compost it at the Jamestown Community Farm, I agreed. So, here I was on this summer day at this historic farm with my pitchfork, loading hay into my pickup truck.

The cemetery dates to the 1690s and contains the graves of the Arnold family, one of the very earliest Jamestown families that purchased Conanicut Island from the Native American Narragansetts in 1657. The cemetery is in a peaceful part of the farm near an early 1700s farm house.

All around the cemetery, human history and the natural environment share space in harmony. Stone walls dating back hundreds of years define the original farm operation and appear as a natural element of the land. The historic human interaction at Mackerel Cove, Sheffield Cove and north to West Ferry, the “Creek” and the farmland of the equally historic Hodgkiss and Watson farms converge with Narragansett Bay in a seamless uninterrupted motion.

The present owners of one of the farmhouses, a grandmother, her daughter, son-in-law, their two children and their dog came down to the fence where I was pitching the hay into the truck and we all introduced ourselves. We talked about their farmland and the vegetables at the community farm and this great summer day. It was a very natural human moment.

Later I told Rosemary Enright, one of the women who had asked me to pick up the hay, about my experience and how I felt I was part of a painting, momentarily transported back in time.

“Well” she said, “you were kind of part of a painting.”

In 1894, William Trost Richards, a quite famous Jamestown artist, had in fact, painted the very world that I had experienced this summer morning. His painting, “Mackerel Cove” is depicted above.

We are all fortunate to live in this place. We also are very fortunate that those who came before us recognized the beauty and quality of life of this island and took steps to protect those values in their absence.

In the late 1980s, Mrs. Catherine Wright, (mother of Anna Templeton-Cotill, the other woman who asked if I would pick up the hay) ensured the farmland on both sides of Fort Getty Road would be protected in perpetuity.

Tom Carr Watson and Elizabeth Beaumont took similar actions in the late 1970s and early 1980s to protect the Watson and Hodgkiss farms.

Marsh Meadows (the “Creek”) was protected by the Audubon Society, Sheffield Cove and Mackerel Cove protected by public action.

Not only our western shore but all across this island, local farmers, private citizens, public and private agencies and local taxpayers have acted to protect the history, farmland, open space and natural environment of Conanicut Island.

Today, this aesthetic and authentic backdrop to our daily lives is an incredible gift and serves to foster positive and understanding connections with the natural world and with each other.

Sutton, a former town administrator and council member, is the manager of the Jamestown Community Farm.

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