Watson Farm: 1796 Beach-side Farm on Conanicut Island

This was a very different tour than any others I had been on – and it was awesome!! A friend & I took a drive down on a gorgeous, breezy, 80 degree summer day not really knowing what to expect. As we were getting back in the car on our way home, we looked at each other and said “How is no one here?! Why does no one know about this place?!”

Keep reading to find out why YOU should visit!

Historical Highlights

  • There is a lot of history hidden right in the soil of this 265 acre farm, and it starts long before any type of record keeping. The farm is situated on Conanicut Island, which if you’ve ever been to Newport or the Newport Mansions you’ve driven right through (it is the first island you hit on the first bridge).
  • This island was a favorite of the Narragansett tribe who lived and farmed on this land, and it was very valuable to them. And as we all know, the first settlers who came to America had their own ideas on what was “theirs” and in 1637 early settlers were given “the right” to farm crops on the island, and it wasn’t long after that in 1674 that a 256 acre parcel was “assigned” to William Benton, a wealthy merchant from Boston who was the colonial Governor of Rhode Island. Our ancestors were jerks.
  • The 256 acre farm stayed in the Benton family for many years, until one of Benton’s descendants, Mary Sanford & her husband Andrew Oliver, sold her share of the property to Thomas Hutchinson in 1737. Thomas Hutchinson started a tradition of having tenet farmers on the property (as did his other nearby farm that he already owned). One of these tenet farmers were actually shot & killed in their own doorway by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War when British troops took over Newport. (A similar story about the British also took place at the neighboring historic farm that you can easily spot across the bay, the Casey Farm!)
  • After the war was over, farmers settled back into their routine, living completely off the land. “The farm seemed to provide everything except boots & shoes”.
  • In 1796, Job Watson purchased the farm and it is believed at that same time he built the farmhouse that you see on the property today. As this is a current day working farm, and the tenet farmers live in the home, you cannot go inside. Tenet farmers remained at the property, under the Watson families ownership, up until 1938, which was a very busy time in nearby Newport. The popularity of the town was ever-growing, with the Newport Mansions and the building of the Newport & Jamestown Bridges which allowed for a huge influx of residents. With this, many of the farmlands started to disappear as the land value shot up, but the Watson’s held onto their land.
  • In 1977, Thomas Carr Watson Jr. left the 265 acre property to Historic New England with the stipulation that it remained a working farm, and it does today! It took over four years of renovations to add some necessities to the farm and its buildings, but they did and the beautiful self-guided tour today showcases their hard work!

Favorite Spots

Beach

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If there was one thing I was not expecting while touring a farm, it was the BEACH. Again, this should teach me to maybe research the homes a bit more before I go – but it was the best surprise ever considering it was a beautiful August day. It’s a typical rocky Rhode Island shore, but was so peaceful and serene. Definitely my favorite spot on this tour!

Windmill

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The cool thing about this windmill is that it’s functional – it still pumps water! It delivers water to the livestock, as each cow drinks an average of 10 gallons a day (wild!!) during the hot summer months, and with a strong wind it will take over 6 hours to fill the tank from the well below. Keep spinning, little windmill!

Barnyard

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Who doesn’t like farm animals? The sheep were cute. But really the entire area around the home & barn were so very pretty!

Eye-Spy

  • This is the perfect combination of a little bit of history and a lot of nature – there is truly so much to look at!
  • It was a warm day when we went, so make sure to keep a close eye out for the cows & sheep, they were hiding in the shade on us!
  • The flower gardens around the home are beautiful – not only do the current residents work hard to keep the farm going, it’s obvious that they take a lot of pride in where they live and the tradition they’re keeping alive!

Visiting Tips

  • The farm is only open to visitors on select days & times, so plan ahead – and honestly I would plan to be there the entire time it’s open (I believe 1pm – 5 pm)! I wish I had done so – I totally would have packed a picnic lunch and grabbed my beach chairs and hunkered down on the gorgeous, serene shoreline for an hour or more.
  • The self guided tour can likely take as long or as short as you want – but why wouldn’t you take your time in such a pretty place? We were there for about an hour and forty-five minutes or so – and easily could have taken more time to relax and enjoy the beach!
  • Dogs are not allowed – otherwise I’m sure the farm would be mobbed. The entire time my friend & I were walking around we were thinking to ourselves “Where is everyone?! How does no one know about this place?!”. It’s truly a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon, especially with fall around the corner!
  • Kids would love this place – tons of room for them to run around (even on the paths) and tons of them to explore & look at
  • I highly suggest a stop at Federal Hill on the way home for an aperol spritz & some delicious cheesy apps!

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of Watson Farm but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Hennedy says:

    Gorgeous photos, and thanks for reviewing all four Historic New England properties in RI! –Jane (site manager)

    Like

    1. Candice says:

      Hi Jane! Thanks for the kind words – I had so much fun visiting all the homes – what a fun job you have!

      Like

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