When Jennifer Bristol arrived at Mount Hope Farm as its executive director one year ago, she walked into a nonprofit long sustained by the good will of generations of Rhode Islanders who have called it among their favorite local spots.
She also walked into an organization that was struggling to define itself.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of people and they all have in their mind this picture of what the farm is to them,” Bristol said. “It’s like this place where they went that was magical to them. Without being corny, it’s that for so many people but different in every case. Marrying the visions of all those people to allow them to maintain the experience and support the future and health of [the farm] is what has to happen on our end.”
Bristol is charged with developing a five-year plan for the farm, the challenge of which was one thing that attracted her to this position.
“It’s an amazingly beautiful place. Just walking onto it the first time, I was already engaged,” Bristol said. “It doesn’t fall into any one category.”
Mount Hope Farm overlooks Mount Hope and Narragansett bays in Bristol and has existed since Isaac Royall, a wealthy Massachusetts man, built the Gov. Bradford House on the land, which was purchased in 1680 by a group of merchants with permission from Charles II of England.
During its history, the farm has been under a dozen different ownerships, including Nathan Miller, after the state, having confiscated the farm from the original royalist owners, sold him the farm to pay for gun powder during the American Revolution.
The Mount Hope Trust acquired the farm in 1999 from the Haffenreffer family for $3.3 million.
The trust’s mission is to preserve and protect the integrity of the farm’s natural assets and historical structures. Mount Hope Farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 4, 1976.
“It has value in the history of the United States,” Bristol said.
Among other things, the farm is the site of King Philip’s headquarters for the Wampanoags during the 17th-century King Philip’s War.
The onetime dairy farm today has many functions. There are more than 127 acres of fields, woods, streams and ponds for walking, hiking and exploring.