FERTILE GROUND: The nonprofit Mount Hope Farm has been a working farm since the 17th century, but is currently beginning a new life. Above, Mount Hope Trust administrative assitant Jean Coelho and Marketing Director John Paul Smith in the farm's Governor Bradford Inn.
Mount Hope Farm, 127 sprawling acres along the waterfront in Bristol, has been in existence as a working farm since at least the 1680s, when England’s King Charles II issued a land grant for it. But a number of changes over the past year have one of Rhode Island’s last great country estates beginning life afresh in the 21st century.
The nonprofit trust that operates the farm, which includes the Governor Bradford Inn, elected a new board of directors and board president, businessman Joe Brito Jr., last year. Brito is president and CEO of C.B. Utility Company Inc. in Bristol. Since December, a new executive director, Janet Zwolinski, and marketing director, John Paul Smith, have come on board.
Plus, guest-room interiors were refreshed in August, with new bedding and wallpaper, in three historic buildings that function as inns.
And plans are in the works, Smith said, for a winter farmers market to begin sometime this month.
Owned for about a century by the well-known Haffenreffer family, which ran local businesses brewing beer and making yachts, the farm became a nonprofit business in 1999. Today, the farm specializes in hosting events, corporate and social, and welcoming individual guests to the three historic inns on-site, the Bradford Inn (the main farmhouse, built in 1745), the Pool House and the North Pasture House. Each has three or four bedrooms and, together, the three can accommodate a total of 24 overnight guests, Smith said.
In addition, two other buildings offer extra meeting space: a Civil War-era barn with modern amenities, including heating and air-conditioning, that can accommodate 140 people with plenty of room, Smith said, for workshops and break-out groups; and Cove Cabin near the waterfront, about a mile down the road from the Bradford Inn, that can hold up to 65 people. The farm is handicapped accessible.
The Mount Hope Trust’s mission is to preserve the open space and historic structures on the farm and provide access to everyone at virtually all times. The farm is open to the general public, Smith said, seven days a week for 364 days a year (closed Christmas) from “dawn to dusk.” The farm is so secluded, with pristine farmland and spectacular water views, Smith said, that when you’re there, “you feel like you’re in Maine. You feel as if you are in a different place than Rhode Island.”