Revive the Roots takes charge of Mary Mowry House

Revive the Roots takes charge of Mary Mowry House

SMITHFIELD - After exhibiting some initial skepticism over whether a group of young farmers has the means to assume curatorship of the historical Mary Mowry House, the Town Council on Dec. 3 approved the appointment, under a five-year agreement that provides options for extensions through 2023.

The decision allows three members of "Revive the Roots," a corporation of organic farmers, to live in the colonial-era structure at 10 Forge Road while the organization renovates it with its own labor and money under a specific schedule spelled out in the agreement.

Revive the Roots for the past few years has been developing organic agricultural gardens under a separate pact with the Municipal Land Trust involving 16 acres at the property, which Mowry, an educator and philanthropist, left to the town in 2009.

According to Trust Chairwoman Barbara Rich, progress under the curatorship will be closely monitored by Preserve Rhode Island, a nonprofit that advocates for historical sites and owns or manages several of them.

Before the council made its unanimous decision to approve Revive the Roots - the only applicant for the curatorship - rather than re-advertising for more candidates, Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. acknowledged some lingering concerns, given the youth of the 20-something farmers, several of whom are Smithfield natives.

But, he said, "While I'm still a little skeptical, I'm hopeful, and that hope comes from young people preserving a part of our history."

Valerie Talmage, executive director of Preserve Rhode Island, said the new curators understand the limits of their skills and will seek professional assistance when necessary.

She told the council that members of Revive the Roots are deeply committed and "have poured their hearts and souls into this project already."

Since 2011, the organization has been working toward developing "sustainable" agriculture on the property, eschewing the use of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, and looking toward plantings such as berry patches, orchards, and nut trees to provide increasing harvests with decreasing workloads.

The group has said from the beginning that it hoped to play a role in restoration of the Mowry House, part of which dates to the mid-18th Century.

Registered as a corporation with the secretary of state, Revive the Roots includes a board of directors comprising Zachary Murdock, Brian Ramos, and John DelSesto, who will move into the house shortly; and Christopher English, Gregory Sanskey Jr., and Scott Aldes.

As part of an agreement involving the house and five surrounding acres, the group over the first five years will provide no less than $95,750 in labor and material, and will also pay $375 monthly in lieu of rent, with Preserve Rhode Island holding the payments in an account earmarked for any necessary third-party work, and materials.

Under a two-year extension to 2020, Revive the Roots would underwrite no less than $35,000 in materials and "sweat equity," and under another, three-year extension, $58,200.

The group will also be required to supply $1 million in liability insurance.

Among mandated repairs for the first five years are interior and exterior painting, landscaping, and window replacement.

The first renewal period would include restoring the house's front porch, and the final phase would require roof replacement among other improvements.

Using money from financial assets Mowry also left it, the Land Trust has already spent nearly $100,000 to make the vacant, eight-bedroom house livable.

The house will not be open for public visits, except for one day a year, but the agreement gives the Trust authority to change that if it wishes.