Portsmouth Women: Edith Taylor Nicholson – Pillar of the Community

Posted March 12, 2018 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Uncategorized


Mrs. Taylor and three of her children

The obituary for Edith Taylor Nicolson is full of glowing praise. She was one of the country’s richest women, she was the owner of Portsmouth’s largest estate (Glen Farm) and she was a benefactor to many institutions. Her philanthropy to local charities was vast. She was a substantial donor to the Newport Community Chest, Newport Hospital, Trinity Church and the Mary Street YMCA among others. Edith was active in the Portsmouth Historical Society, the board of the Newport Casino, the Newport Preservation Society, the Portsmouth Free Public Library and she was one of the founders and early presidents of the Casino Theater. Her contributions to the community are too numerous to count.

How did a New York socialite come to be so involved in Portsmouth and Aquidneck Island life?

Edith was born in 1874 to the family of Heber Bishop, a New York…

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The Glen: A history of the land

Posted February 13, 2018 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Uncategorized

The Glen area of Portsmouth is a uniquely beautiful and historic landscape.  Walking through the area is like taking a walk through the farming history of Portsmouth.

It was:

  • a Wampanoag and Narragansett summer camp ground,
  • the home of colonial farmers from the Thomas Cooke family,
  • a ferry landing for the Fogland Ferry to Tiverton,
  • a Hessian campground during the Revolutionary War,
  • a site of water powered mills, and factories,
  • a popular picnic site during the 1800’s,
  • a home to Yankee farmers like Leonard Brown,
  • the heart of gentleman farmer’s HAC Taylor’s Glen Farm,
  • the school grounds for Elmhurst Academy of the Sacred Heart and Elmhurst School,
  • and now the recreational center for the town of Portsmouth.

A Brief Glen Land History

1649:  Thomas Cooke Senior buys land from William Brenton who had the original land grant.  The Cooke family held land in this area until 1804. The Cookes gradually sold the land to the south to Giles Slocum

1720:  John Cooke sells part of his land to James Sisson.

1745: Joseph Cundall purchases the land (46 acres) around the brook. Many of the Cundall lands transfer to Judge Samuel Clarke.

1882: HAC Taylor begins to buy the land around the Glen.

1960: Manor house and 43 acres to Elmhurst Academy of the Sacred Heart. Classrooms, chapel and dining hall are added.

1972: Elmhurst Academy closes.

1972:   Town of Portsmouth purchases Manor House, Elmhurst Academy and 43 acres for $1,350,000.

1989:   Town of Portsmouth purchases 95 additional acres of Glen Farm.  Much of the rest of the original Glen Farm land is in private hands.

Elmhurst Academy

Posted February 3, 2018 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Elmhurst, The Glen

Incarnation window elmhurst

John Hopf photo of Incarnation window in Chapel of the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Elmhurst.

I came across a postcard of a window at the now demolished Elmhurst School.  I thought I would post it along with re-posting a blog I originally wrote before the building was torn down.  Having taught at Elmhurst School for almost twenty years, I have a sentimental attachment to all things Elmhurst and I thought our Elmhurst community might appreciate seeing the window again.  My hope is that the windows were saved when they demolished the building.

By 1960 Reginald Taylor had inherited Glen Farm and he was looking for ways to sell the property.  The Sisters of the Sacred Heart had a school in Providence called the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Elmhurst.  The buildings were in tough shape and they made the decision to buy this waterfront area of  Glen Farm to make a new home for their school.  Reginald Taylor sold the Manor house and 43 acres to Elmhurst Academy of the Sacred Heart during a meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City.  The Manor House served as a dormitory for boarding students.  Added to the house were classrooms, a chapel, a convent and a dining hall.

Education at Elmhurst began with First grade and went through high school. Most of the 22 children in the primary grades had older sisters in the school.   In 1963 there were 23 nuns and a lay staff of 15 people.  Ninety-five percent of the students went on to college.  A 1963 Providence Journal feature article quoted Reverend Mother Husson as saying that at Elmhurst “Our ideal is to educate girls to be wives and mothers, women who can fulfill their first responsibility and who, nowadays, can take their place in the world if necessary.”

Two graduates of Elmhurst Academy, Suzanne Santa and Mary O’Connell Cummings, shared their memories of Elmhurst as a Catholic girls school. Suzanne was a boarding student and she remembers the day starting at 6 AM. They dressed in their day uniform of plaid skirt, dark blazer and big ugly shoes. There were actually four uniforms for boarding students – one for school, one for gym, one for dinner and a white uniform for special occasions. Their rooms at the Manor House varied through the year. Half the time they roomed with three others in one of the Taylor bedrooms and the other half year they shared a room that was in the servant’s quarters. After mass in the chapel they would go to study hall (where our kindergarten is now) and quietly studied. School began at 8 AM and ended at 3:30 PM, but there were sports after school. Elmhurst offered field hockey and sailing lessons. Most boarders went home on weekends, but some stayed almost year round at Elmhurst. On weekends they would study, play tennis and practice for chorus. Food poisoning (they called it the Green Death) was sometimes a problem, but a nurse or doctor was on hand to help.

Day student Mary Cummings started high school at Elmhurst the year it opened in Portsmouth (1961). Mary’s report card shows that they were graded on personal appearance, courtesy and cooperation in school discipline as well as traditional subjects such as French, English and science. Classes were about 50 minutes long and there were bells that signaled the change in classes. They practiced curtseying and had to curtsey whenever they passed a nun.

In 1995 an Elmhurst Elementary student interviewed Mother General Whalen.  She gave us an idea of what life was like for the sisters who lived in the convent. They were “cloistered” and lived apart in their own community. Their small sleeping quarters are located around the chapel.  They awoke at 5 AM for a one hour meditation in the chapel. Meditation was followed by singing prayers in Latin. They then went to breakfast and started their teaching day. Their teaching day ended at 4:30 PM, but in the evening they graded papers or quietly prayed for hours.

In 1972 Elmhurst Academy closed its doors.  The Town of Portsmouth bought the property for $1,350,000.  The town used the school as Elmhurst Elementary School until that school was closed in 2010.  It is my understanding that when the town demolished the building, they did preserve the windows in some way.

Providence Journal photo

Buses loading at the end of a day at Elmhurst Academy.

Manufacturing Days: Samuel Clarke and his Glen woolen factories

Posted January 18, 2018 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: The Glen

Mill runs in the Glen

If you walk the trails along the brook in the Glen, you can still see the the stonework of the mill runs that would have been part of Samuel Clarke’s woolen works.   The mill runs are about the only trace of the woolen manufactory owned by Samuel Clarke in the first half of the 19th century. Can you imagine factories down in the Glen?  Articles and ads in the Newport Mercury give us clues to just what manufacturing was done down in the Glen.

The Glen had been a site of mills since colonial times.  A mill pond with a water powered mill created a good location for the Sisson grist mill. Later, many generations of the Cundall family used the waterpower for a carding and fulling mill.  Carding was pulling apart the wool fibers so they can be spun and the fulling process washed and tightened the fibers.  Joseph Cundall and his father and grandfather before him would card, dye and “dress” woolen cloth.

When Joseph Cundall died tragically in a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1811, the Glen land, and Cook farms were left to his sister Barbary Cundall.  A year later Barbary married Samuel Clarke and she brought the mill and lands with her into her marriage as her dowry.

Samuel Clarke was originally from Westerly, but he soon became a very prominent citizen of Portsmouth.  He formed a number of partnerships to expand the Cundall’s Mills into a prominent manufacturing site.  An 1812 Newport Mercury ad describing the Portsmouth Woolen Manufactory.  Clarke and his partner D.P. Lawton assured the public that they have procured a superior workman as a clothier (“who has derived much information from practice with an European manufacturer”).  Clarke and Lawton tell their customers that there will be punctual performance of all orders.  They manufacture flannels, blanketing, coatings, satinets and plains of various colors.  Like the Cundall’s before them, Clarke and his later partner Lewis Grinnell, would prepare wool for yarn and dye the wool with “real Indigo Blue” and all other colors.  Clarke had agents in Newport, Tiverton and Little Compton to receive the wool and deliver goods to customers.

In 1823 ads note a auction of Clarke’s buildings.  At that time the mill site included a grist mill, a clothier’s works with looms and spinning machinery.  The factories at the Glen continued under other owners and Clarke is still listed as owning a stone woolen mill in the 1840s.  In 1858 Clarke successfully petitioned the state to authorize a release of Barbary Cundall Clarke’s dowery holdings.  Perhaps all the mill property was sold at that time.

Clarke went on to become a judge and he held other offices in the town.  Samuel died in 1869.

A Glen Mill



Joseph Cundall: Lost in a Snowstorm

Posted November 13, 2017 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Uncategorized


Many vintage guides to Aquidneck Island call the Glen “Cundall’s Mills.”  The old history books tell the sad sorry of Joseph Cundall who was “engaged in the woolen manufacture, in the pursuit and improvement, of which he was uncommonly skillful, ingenious and enterprising” (Newport Mercury, December 1811).  This is the story of the Cundall family in Portsmouth and of the tragic ending to a life well spent.

Cundall Family Mills

The Glen had been associated with mills since colonial times.  The Cundall family had strong roots in the area.  The stream through the Glen was originally settled by Thomas Cook and his family.  As the Cooks moved on to Tiverton, this land was bought by James Sisson who sold his grist mill and 46 acres around the brook to a Joseph Cundall.  In 1706 Joseph Cundall had left his native Yorkshire, England to become an indentured servant in America. Becoming…

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Sold at Auction: Glen Farm Herd

Posted October 21, 2017 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Uncategorized


Photo from auction catalog.

A  Newport Mercury  account in 1949 provides the story of the end of the renown Glen Farm herds. The entire herd of 89 cows were dispersed in one auction for over $36,000. The herd, one of the oldest in Rhode Island, had been established in 1889 by H.A.C. Taylor and had been continued by his son Moses. Moses Taylor’s wife, Edith Taylor Nicholson had continued the herd, but she made the decision to sell in 1949.

Glen Farm Guernseys were known for high quality breeding and an outstanding record for being disease free. The original stock came from the Island of Guernsey, but the Taylors continued to selectively breed and improve their herds.

Among the buyers at the auction were Francis Taylor, the grandson of Glen Farm’s founder.  Francis, who is listed as being from Seekonk, bought a cow (Frolic of the Glen) and a calf…

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Houses in the Glen: Mill Gatehouse

Posted October 11, 2017 by portsmouthhistorynotes
Categories: Glen Farm, The Glen

Mill Gatehouse in the Glen

The Glen/Glen Road area of Portsmouth has a long history. Glen Road was the way to one of the Fogland Ferry landings and mills existed in the Glen from the earliest days of settlement. One of the oldest homes in this area is the Mill Gatehouse (96 Glen Farm Road).  The house is on land that was purchased by Joseph Cundall in 1745.    There was no mention of the house on the property transfer so it was probably built after 1745.  The Glen became known as Cundall’s Mills at that time. Joseph Cundall established carding and fulling mills in an area that had been a grist mill.  A later Joseph Cundall died in a snowstorm in the Glen on Christmas Eve of 1811.   When his property was divided in 1825, this house was listed as the “Gatehouse” to the mill area.

Stone bridge to former sheep grazing area.

The mill area was transformed into a factory in the days when Judge Samuel Clarke owned the property.  This house was on the first farm bought by Henry A.C. Taylor in 1882.  It was known to be used as a home for the herdsmen on the property because it is not far from the sheep barn that still exists on Glen Park.  Mr. Taylor made use of the houses on his property to  provide homes for the families of his workers.  There is a stone bridge on the property that crosses Mint Brook Stream.  This was on the road that formerly lead to the sheep grazing area of the farm.

The house has had additions and alterations over the years.  but many of the original details have been preserved. The cobblestone gate posts next to the property probably date from the Glen Farm era.



Seasholes, Nancy S.
1992 Architectural Survey of Two Historic Districts and Four Properties for the Route 138

Reconstruction Project in Portsmouth and Middletown, Rhode Island. OPA Report No. 104.

This source is available at the Portsmouth Free Public Library Local History collection is has an excellent guide to the homes and buildings in the Glen.