CUMBERLAND – All the way up winding Tower Hill Road, near the highest point in town, is a property most residents have likely never seen, but that bears special significance in both local and national history.
Town Council members last week unanimously agreed to contribute $175,000 in open space funds toward the purchase of the 84-acre property off Tower Hill Road, which is thought to have at one time seen George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and Thomas Jefferson pass through it, according to members of the Cumberland Land Trust.
At the edge of the property, but not quite on it, is Beacon Pole Hill and what Land Trust members say is the remnants of one of four colonial-era beacons in Rhode Island, placed 556 feet above sea level, that were at one time intended by Washington to allow flaming signals to be sent from Narragansett to Boston in case the British attacked from that route.
The property was also the site of a historic roadside one-room schoolhouse, and Brown University staff have stated that it has one of the largest glacial rock outcrops in the state.
Open Space Committee member Joe Luca told the Town Council at its March 15 meeting that the property is valuable both as real estate for homes and as open space, and the committee found it worthy of preserving as open space for residents to enjoy, and recommended approving $175,000 toward its purchase.
Land Trust members say the eventual goal of this effort, now nearly a decade in the making, is to establish more hiking trails with parking for four or five vehicles, but that outcome is still a way off. This Land Trust property will be christened Catamint Brook Preserve, named for the state’s second-highest elevation, Catamint Hill.
According to Joe Pailthorpe of the Land Trust, Thomas Jefferson was said to have once visited one of the houses on the property in a horse and buggy.
Luca said “it’s a beautiful piece of land,” with the largest amount of frontage on Tower Hill Road of any property, and bearing historic value as well.
To secure the property below market value in perpetuity for the benefit of the town is really quite an achievement, added Luca.
Town Councilor Lisa Beaulieu jokingly asked Luca if the property is haunted, hinting at local thinking about Tower Hill Road.
I can’t comment on that,” responded Luca.
Land Trust President Randy Tuomisto thanked town officials for being such great partners with the group in the past on preserving properties, and council members returned the thanks, hailing the merits of the property. The Pawtucket Water Supply Board, which is also contributing to the purchase, has also been a great partner, Tuomisto said.
He emphasized the importance of maintaining hundreds of acres of continuous forest for the preservation of some 450 species of greatest conservation need in the state, noting the likelihood of the property being developed into homes if this purchase doesn’t take place. The greatest contributor to the loss of critical habitat is development of residential, commercial and industrial properties, he said, and this purchase also protects water resources and promotes recreational opportunities.
Land Trust members said they continue to value their relationship with town officials, who understand the importance of investing in open space properties, both for the environment, and for recreation and quality of life purposes.
The property was assessed at $880,000 in 2021, and the property owners, Joe and Amy Cracco, discounted the price by $50,000, to $830,000.
The Land Trust secured a maximum $400,000 open space grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management toward the property a year ago, and the Pawtucket Water Supply Board also submitted a grant of $180,000, adding to $75,000 from the Land Trust’s Land Legacy Fund reserve.
The Cracco family purchased 90 acres in April of 2010, and later sold six acres of it to abutting neighbors. Outside of one housing development to the east, housing is limited to large house lots surrounded by 700 acres of conservation land owned by the town and state. The state owns hundreds of acres to the north side of Tower Hill Road, while the town owns hundreds of acres to the south. A considerable amount of the conservation area is prime watershed property for the Cumberland reservoir, while the third-largest landowner to the north of the property is the Catholic Church at Resurrection Cemetery.
The property being purchased is dominated by wetlands, steep slopes, and old apple orchards. Existing trails connect to miles of trail on abutting state properties, offering potential for planned further trail expansion, said Land Trust members.
Tom, like you, I camped atop that hill with my dad in the late 60's early 70's. If I recall correctly, we had to move from the spot we could see the buildings in Boston. We used binoculars. To see Providence's skyline, we had to venture around the hill to another spot. I'm sure back in the day the signals were used the hilltop was clear of trees. Today, 50 years later, I wonder if the trees have blocked those sight lines? Might be worth a discussion about clearing a little to re-create what it was like when they were awaiting the British.
Congratulations to the Cumberland Land Trust for their years of efforts finally come to fruition. I'm not sure who visited there in the long-ago past, but I camped atop Beacon Pole hill (the high spot) as a kid. And yes indeed, you can see Boston's Prudential Center to the northeast, and the Superman building to the south. It's a very high point!
You are absolutely right Tom, It "WAS" a beautiful spot. Isn't there a house on the property now?
Trails not Profit - Keep R.I. Green (nature)
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