Tails from Beacon Hollow: A look back

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 6:30am
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We like to call it Beacon Hollow Farm, and although it’s in a hollow on Beacon Hill Road, it’s just a stone’s throw from the highest point on the island, Beacon Hill.

Going back in time, the area was called Mott’s Farm, a sprawling dairy farm comprising hundreds of acres. Today, we have but five acres after many subdivisions through the years. The original farmhouse — a mansard-roofed building built after the Civil War — remains a private home separate from the Beacon Hollow Farm as we know it today. “Dead Eye Dick” — Richard Dodge — and his wife Cecile owned the properties years back, as well as the Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant, which is still in business today. It was called Dead Eye’s not because Dick had a bad eye but because they collected “dead eyes,” which were present throughout the restaurant. A “dead eye” is an item of hard wood used in rigging sail lines. The Dodges never farmed the land but the remnants of the old barn and milk house were found in rubble and were mostly brush-covered until we purchased the property years ago. From most local accounts, the ‘38 hurricane destroyed the old barn. The farmhouse is no longer part of the farm, but the foundation of the barn was restored and a new barn was constructed on it.

Town officials allowed us to construct a barn on the existing foundation with code recommendations and the use of native Rhode Island timber. While excavating and digging the area, a 1,000 gallon cistern was uncovered with a chain-like apparatus with tin cups used as a water retrieving system for watering the animals. A shaving mug and an old straight razor and comb were also found in the foundation, meaning people lived wherever they could on Block Island even then. A deep hand-dug well still filled with water also was a water source. Farmers didn’t want ponds since they took up too much grassland. Our present ponds at the Hollow are artificial and considered livestock retention ponds. Some time ago, an FBI search party grappled the well looking for a missing person thought to have been buried in the area, which now makes me nervous whenever I use a shovel. Needless to say, we don’t drink the water. 

The farm has been transformed from years of overgrown vegetation into a working farm again. There are horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats now all calling this home. We produce farm fresh free-range eggs for the asking. There is no growth on the ancient stone walls, goats love poison ivy, and donkeys love blackberry brush. No ticks where chickens pluck, but don’t try to plant grass seed. A post and beam house is now the farmhouse far up in the corner of the property, but the old mansard still looms supreme on the yonder hill.

Excluding the new home and viewing just the farm, the renovated barn and the original mansard farm house up on the hill, a time warp exists unchanged for 130 years.