A master plan for Franklin Farm

A master plan for Franklin Farm

Built in 1857, the late-Greek revival Franklin farmhouse will be completely renovated to serve as an educational center and museum for the town, according a new master plan. Among the many changes: that enclosed porch will be opened up and restored to its original look. (Valley Breeze photos by Marcia Green)
Volunteers say: 'Invest emotionally and help the process'

CUMBERLAND - Renovating the town's antique Franklin Farm house on Abbott Run Valley Road still won't happen without grants, donations and fundraising, but a master plan to guide the work is now in hand.

Future use and preservation options were presented at last Wednesday's Town Council meeting, nearly 10 years to the date of the town's purchase of the rare, intact 19th-century farm that's typical of the many dozens that once dotted Cumberland's landscape.

This is a half-million-dollar project that brings together the town's planning office working with the Historic Metcalf-Franklin Farm Preservation Association.

The consulting architect was Haynes De Boer Architecture and Preservation, and taking the lead for the association are Denise Mudge and Pamela Thurlow.

The master plan has been a long time coming and Mudge and Thurlow are crediting the town's Planning and Community Development Department with moving it forward.

It was the town that won the $7,000 planning grant that was supplemented by $4,500 from the farm association.

"We love the relationship with the Planning Department. They appreciate it and see the value in preserving a piece of Cumberland history," says Mudge.

New applications to the Champlin Foundation and Rhode Island Preservation are in the works, she said.

This is Cumberland's only town-owned historic house, Mudge notes. "With the barn and land, this is an amazing showpiece for Cumberland," she says.

Forty-three acres of land surround the house, including the community garden that's planted annually to benefit community food banks.

Since 2007, volunteers have harvested 182,844 pounds of crops for community food banks. The farm has also hosted hundreds of school children in outdoor learning plant days that they describe as "no child left inside."

But because the house has no functioning water, sewer or electric, portable bathrooms are needed and limit some activities.

Contained on the site is a barn complex and cow stable dating as early as 1810, when the Metcalf family farmed here.

Residents saw cows on the property until 1994. The last owner was William "Rhodey" Franklin.

The report characterizes the farmhouse and garage as in "poor and degrading condition."

The seven-bedroom house is currently not heated. Surprisingly, perhaps, the house was built without fireplaces yet a hearth faced in pink granite and quartz was added to the dining room in the early 20th century.

Estimated improvement costs were provided by Stephen Tyson Jr., president of the well known Architectural Preservation Group of Warwick.

Interior work that won't be noticed such as electrical at $45,000, heating, plumbing and ventilation at $85,000, are early on the rehabilitation list.

While the decor isn't the immediate issue, Mudge and Thurlow say choosing an era will be a decision down the road.

Built around 1857 by William Franklin, the Greek revival style house seems to scream 1950s from the pink kitchen tile and fixtures to the dining room wallpaper and those hanging lights that seem straight out of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.

Central to the plan here is the Cumberland history museum that many have talked about over the years.

Suggested is a new handicapped-accessible back entry with deck, large bathroom facilities that replace the kitchen area, and a reception room in place of the current dining room.

There's no hallway currently and plans call for a series of linking exhibit and meeting rooms in the connected, first-floor bedrooms.

Outside, the front porch, enclosed in the early 20th-century, would be opened up and stone steps replaced.

Upstairs, an apartment would be created for a caretaker, along with a storage room and office space.

The mission statement for the property is to maintain and preserve the historic farm land, walls and buildings; grow fresh natural produce for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and local pantries; and provide educational programming for all ages.

"If I could say this to the town's people," said Thurlow, "invest emotionally in this farm and help the process. It's important - where the town came from and what its values and history are."

Said Mudge, "It's important for the town to own it, maintain it and say this is our own 65 acres of open space."

Long-time Franklin Farm volunteers Pam Thurlow, left, and Denise Mudge on the back steps of the antique farmhouse. The list of projects is long for the house, they say, but they are pleased to finally have a master plan to guide them.
Not much was changed inside the house after the 1950s, the various fixtures and design choices suggest. The kitchen may be turned into a bathroom facility under current plans.
"Tomatoes with a smile" boasts the Franklin Farm where 183,000 pounds of foods has been harvested since 2007.


Has the Association considered Crowdsource Funding as a method to gain additional funds for the farm? Tell people what the money will be used for and put up a funding goal.

Just a suggestion.