Canonchet Farm: The Past, Present And Future
What we now call the 174-acre Canonchet Farm was effectively utilized by the Narragansett Indians for seasonal cultivation, hunting and fishing since about 1000 A.D.
The Narragansetts' work was much admired by early European visitors, such as Verrazano in the 1520’s. As a result of the Pettaquamscutt Purchase of 1658, vast acres were transferred to the English settlers. By the early 1700’s, the present Canonchet Farm was a small part of the holdings of the Robinson family, which ran a very well developed and diversified farm on the land.
By about 1750, the Sylvester Robinson house was built on the farm area. Governor, and later Senator, William Sprague purchased the Robinson land in the 1850’s. Soon after he married Kate Chase in 1863, the couple began building their summer mansion “Canonchet,” which enclosed the Sylvester Robinson house in a 64-room, four-story Victorian mansion.
Sprague’s fortune and first marriage ended almost simultaneously. During the decline, Sprague was forced into leasing property along Boston Neck Road to various businesses during the mid 1800s to the early 1900 boom in Narragansett Pier. A right of way through the property was granted in about 1900 to the Sea View Trolley Railroad which went from Narragansett to Wickford.
Sprague’s second marriage to Inez Calvert resulted in the restoration of the mansion. In 1909 the mansion and property were sold to Sprague’s sister-in-law (and widow of his son William), Avis Calvert Sprague Wheaton Borda.
Before she could move in, the mansion burned to the ground in a spectacular fire. Avis maintained the property as a working farm for years thereafter.
The current Canonchet Farm is a 174-acre parcel that was acquired by the Town of Narragansett in 1973 to prevent a housing tract from being built. In 1985 the Town granted use of two acres to the South County Museum. Subsequent agreements have brought the Museum’s total use to approximately seven acres.In 2007 the Town of Narragansett traded 23 acres of the Farm to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in return for land to complete a bike path from Kingston Station to the Narragansett Elementary School on Mumford Road. In 2006 a proposal to develop a polo field and support facilities on Canonchet Farm led to the founding of Friends of Canonchet Farm and to the appointment of the Canonchet Farm Master Plan Review Committee by the Narragansett Town Council in 2007. A revised master plan is now being reviewed by the Narragansett Town Council.
"Study nature. Love nature. Stay close to nature. It will never fail you." -Frank Lloyd Wright.
Canonchet Farm 2010
Today Canonchet Farm is an underutilized public resource. South County Museum leases a small portion from the Town. The majority of the parcel, approximately 160 acres, is overgrown from its once glamorous existence overlooking the Narragansett Bay. The once manicured grounds are now dominated by invasive plants, literally choking the specimen tress.
"In wilderness is the preservation of the world." - Henry David Thoreau
The Future of the Canonchet Farm
Canonchet Farm has great potential for high-quality recreational and educational use. The Friends of Canonchet Farm plans to improve, manage and preserve Canonchet Farm in partnership with the public for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Canonchet Farm can become an Ocean State jewel. See Our Vision and Recommendations for Canonchet Farm.