Monday, June 08, 2009

SVF Foundation Open House Pt. 1 - The Buildings

The SVF Foundation preserves endangered heritage breed livestock and poultry breeds. They operate on the 35 acres of the Swiss Village Farm as well as on 11 acres on the adjacent Hammersmith Farm. Normally visitors aren't allowed onto the grounds of the farms in order to protect the endangered breeds from the danger of disease or invasions of "outside" species that could cause problems. But every year on the first Saturday in June the SVF Foundation opens the Swiss Village Farm, the centerpiece of the properties, to the public.

From the SVF website: "In 1909 Arthur Curtis James, purchased 'Beacon Hill' the former Glover estate, in Newport, Rhode Island. He gradually acquired surrounding property until the estate consisted of 125 acres and the old Manor House formally known as 'Edgehill'.

"In 1914, James started building 'Surprise Valley Farm'- known as 'Swiss Village' to the locals - to house a prize herd of Guernsey cattle he had inherited from his father. He then hired Grosvenor Atterbury and Stowe Phelps as architects to design a village patterned after those in the Italian region of Switzerland. The loose stone resulting from blasting out the 'valley' was used in the farm buildings."

Yes, you read that right; James had the top of Beacon Hill blasted out to create his little "Surprise Valley". It was named "Swiss Village" first by the locals who worked for the James family; everybody swore it looked like a little Swiss village in the Alps. And it's those buildings we're going to look at in this first part of a three-part series on Saturday's visit.

Just up the road from the welcome sign above and across from the poultry coops (not in today's article because they're modern buildings) is the slaughterhouse with its attached smokehouse. This is such an "English country cottage" look, with rolled eaves in imitation of a thatched roof. The smokehouse is the little round attached building in the background left.

Past the slaughterhouse the road comes the the blasted out "valley" and its buildings. This is the view from in front of the carpentry shop, looking across at the barn complex, service buildings, and the bridge. These roofs are tiles rather than shingled. You can see why the workers called this a "village".

This is another view of the barn complex, this time from the top end of the valley, taken from an area to the right of the above picture.

This is a view of the bridge taken from in front of the barn, and the building next to the bridge is the carpentry shop. The bridge served as an aesthetic closing of the circle created by the blasted-out valley and the buildings circling it. The bridge also served as the focus of a daily evening ritual - marching the cattle in from the fields over the bridge to the barns.

Opposite the bridge on the upside of the valley is the creamery. Milk from the Guernseys owned by the Jameses was turned into butter and cheese here.

Outside the circle on the other side of the bridge and bordering the fields is the piggery. I guess the name is self-explanatory. Even though it has nothing to do with the building, that millstone certainly adds to the bucolic ambiance of the structure.

Back inside the circle of the valley and up a grassy lawn next to the creamery is this wisteria arbor. It was here that Mr. and Mrs. James would watch the parade of the Guernseys over the bridge at sunset and toast the "milk toast", clinking their mugs of fresh milk together. I guess the urban wealthy had some odd ideas about country life!

The next in the series will take a look at the livestock - lots of sheep, some cattle, goats, and a very smart Border Collie. The last will be dedicated to the exotic poultry, mostly chickens, on the farm. Until then!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. OK, those are some cool buildings. There's something about building with stone.

  2. This place is gorgeous. I love all the stone buildings. I don't normally think of a barn as made of stone...built to last. Love all the info as well...