Formerly located on the Poppasquash Peninsula in Bristol, Rhode Island, the William DeWolfe House, also known as Hey Bonnie Hall, was constructed in 1808 for William DeWolf (1762-1829) and his wife Charlotte Finney (1764-1829). William DeWolf was a member of the infamous DeWolf Family of Rhode Island, which is believed to have transported tens of thousands of enslaved people to the United States and Caribbean before the African slave trade was banned in Rhode Island. The Ocean State played a leading role in the transatlantic slave trade. Not only did Rhode Islanders have slaves—they had more per capita than any other New England state. The beauty of Hey Bonnie Hall, and its melodic name hid the dirty money with which it was built. With his extreme wealth, William hired Providence architect Russell Warren to construct the home in a high form of the Federal style. Eventually, the home was willed to Anna DeWolf, who married Nathaniel Russell Middleton, from a slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina (birds of a feather…). It was Anna Middleton who gave the house its curious name of “Hey Bonnie Hall”. When she was younger, she used to sing an old Scottish song called “Hey The Bonny Breast Knots” over and over again to delight her grandfather, William, the first owner of this home. After Anna’s death, the home was willed to her two unmarried daughters. The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 proved fatal for the grand estate, when the front portico was ripped off the home and flew away. The damage was deemed too expensive to repair and the home was demolished that year.
Samuel Pomeroy Colt (1855-1921), a Bristol industrialist, purchased three farms on Poppasquash Neck, in Bristol, Rhode Island in 1905. One of the farms he aquired, Coggeshall Farm, was featured in my last post. On the newly consolidated farmland, just outside the hustle-and-bustle of Bristol’s downtown core, Colt built a large summer dwelling called ‘The Casino’. He lived at his family estate in town a majority of the year, but used ‘The Casino’ as a gentleman’s farm and a space to raise his prize-winning Jersey cattle and Berkshire sows. Colt wished that the citizens of town share his enjoyment of the property and had an open invitation carved onto the marble piers at the estate entrance which reads, “Private Property, Public Welcome”; access was freely allowed at the farm and shoreline. The two marble piers at the entrance to the estate are topped with massive bronze bulls modeled after two of Colt’s bulls, and were cast in Paris by Val d’Onse Company. Colt died in 1921. His will specified that Colt Farm not be sold and that it remain accessible to the public. Though he left a sum to operate the farm, it ran a deficit. The Casino was demolished in the 1960s as it was consistently destroyed by vandals, and became a public safety concern. The lasting cow barn was built in 1917, from designs by architect Wallis E. Howe. The barn utilized field stone from existing stone walls on the property and is capped with a red tile roof. The barn is unlike anything I have ever seen, and now is park offices. In 1965, after approval by Bristol voters, the State of Rhode Island purchased 466 acres of the Colt estate and created the largest public park in the Bristol County, known as Colt State Park.
Located on the Poppasquash Peninsula, in my favorite Rhode Island town of Bristol, the Coggeshall Farmhouse showcases the historic rural farming character of the town, which saw much development by the 19th century. In 1723, Samuel Viall (1667-1749 purchased farmland from Nathaniel Byfield, who had acquired most of the north part of Poppasquash as one of the original “founders” of Bristol (though the Wampanoag people had been already living here for centuries). Viall or a descendent likely had this small Georgian farmhouse built on the land, along with outbuildings to farm the beautiful land here. In the early nineteenth-century Wilbour and Eliza Coggeshall were tenant farmers at the farm. The Coggeshall’s son, Chandler Coggeshall, later became a politician and helped to found the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1888, which became known as the University of Rhode Island. The farm eventually was acquired by industrialist Samuel P. Colt, nephew of firearms manufacturer Samuel Colt, who created a massive estate on the land. In 1965 the State of Rhode Island purchased the Colt Estate for use as a state park, and the Bristol Historical Society petitioned the state for permission to preserve the old Coggeshall farm house on the property as a museum. Coggeshall Farm Museum was established in 1973 to educate modern Americans about eighteenth century New England farm life.