Glen Farm's Fascinating History
The property known today as Glen Farm was first settled in 1638 ~ the same year that Portsmouth was founded and only 18 years after the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock! These early settlers were Protestant dissidents from Puritan Boston who followed Roger Williams to the newly formed state of Rhode Island seeking greater religious tolerance.
At that time the land belonged to a friendly tribe of Native Americans known as Narragansetts. The accessibility of fresh water running through the glen and the proximity of the sea made the site an attractive settlement. A ferry was established where the glen met the shore ~ the nearest point of crossing, providing passage to the mainland at Tiverton. Over the course of the next generation or two, the colonial settlers began to acquire the land in 20-30 acre parcels from the Narragansetts and establish permanent homes and self-sustaining farms, while six miles to their south, Newport blossomed into a leading colonial port.
In the following century, Newport's prominence would shift from a leading colonial port to a summer resort for well-heeled industrialists. One such businessman from New York named Henry A.C. Taylor joined the ranks of the Vanderbilts and other summer residents of Newport who sought to escape further into the countryside and create gentleman’s farms in the tradition of the English ‘country seat’, where horses, livestock and produce would be raised for show, and farming would be taken to the highest standards. 1882 Taylor started to buy up colonial farm parcels in Portsmouth and assembled Glen Farm, which would became a landmark of excellence and the pride of the community.
The name Taylor chose was derived from the property's most well known feature, the glen or valley, whose fresh water stream fueled a gristmill dating back to colonial times. Taylor‘s gentleman’s farm became nationally reputed for its blue-ribbon Clydesdale and Percheron horses, Jersey, Guernsey & Alderney cattle, fostered by state-of-the-art farming practices and innovating improvements in breeding and dairy production. The classic stone and wood farm buildings were designed by the leading architects of the era, and Taylor’s summer residence ~ a magnificent French chateau Manor House was designed by Alexander Pope and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead, in replica of the Petit Trianon at Versailles ~ while additional housing on the estate provided for employees, including the Leonard Brown House, the Gatehouse and the Gardeners House, all of which stand to this day as a testament to their superior construction & design. In all, its total acreage boasted in excess of 700 acres.
The farm was, by all measure, a self sustaining farm turning out its own produce, water supply, electricity from a generator supplied by the mill in the glen, providing its own fire engine and telephone system. Taylor commissioned the classic stone and wood frame barns & stable complex at the turn of the century with leading architects at the height of the Gilded Age. There was also a wagon shed, tool house, blacksmith shop, ice house, pottery shed, animal hospital and pump house. At its peak, it provided all the necessities for nearly fifty families that lived and worked on the property.
After his death, Glen Farm passed from Henry A.C. Taylor to his son Moses Taylor in 1921, then to Moses’ widow Edith Bishop in 1928, who later remarried. As Mrs. Guthrie Nicholson, she began selling off certain portions of the farm until her death in 1959. Her will, executed by her son Reginald Taylor, allowed for much of the farm’s assets to be sold, including some of its residences to the employees. The Manor House was narrowly saved from destruction by a referendum of town voters. Finally, in 1982 the last of the Taylor lineage, Reginald’s grandson Mason Phelps, acquired a controlling interest in the barn complex and surrounding 86 acres in the heart of Glen Farm two years before his Reginald’s death, when all of the remaining acreage would be put up for sale. Phelps ran the International Jumping Derby for several years at the farm before retiring to Florida. During those years, Glen Farm was poorly maintained and eventually abandoned. In 1989, Phelps’ trust offered Glen Farm to the Town of Portsmouth for a mere $3.6 million.
Just when it approached demise, Glen Farm’s rebirth began. In 1990, a 25-year old Boston renovator named Dan Keating signed a ten-year lease with the Town to rehabilitate Glen Farm and reincarnate the international polo tradition in its American birthplace ~ a tall order, given the condition of the farm after years of neglect and abandonment. The condition of the farm was such that not a pane of glass remained in place nor a door on its hinges. The severely derelict property needed entirely new mechanical systems including plumbing, electrical, heating and fire alarm systems. In addition, Keating made wholesale repairs to the barns themselves, while improving the grounds with the addition of the polo field, soil and water conservation projects and the paddock system. In the renovation process, Keating's attention to detail included solid brass hardware recast to match original pieces throughout the barns & stables. Over the course of his lease, Keating personally invested over $600,000 on top of regular maintenance expenses and rent, into restoring the farm into a thriving equestrian operation.
Under the direction of the Portsmouth Town Council, the stewardship of Glen Farm has changed hands a few more times since Keating's tenure, but the equestrian center he established carries on, and the Newport Polo Club (predecessor to America's first polo club ~ the Westchester Polo Club) and the Newport International Polo Series, which he founded on the premises, continue to make their home on the polo grounds of Glen Farm with a current lease in effect through their Silver Anniversaries, all the while attracting thousands of spectators and residents from surrounding communities to enjoy the summer pastime, and contributing in excess of $400,000 to charitable causes.