A glimpse into colonial farm life in the Gloucester Forest
- Access: Take Route 44 West out of Chepachet and turn left on Pine Orchard Road. Drive 0.8 miles to the trailhead on the right.
- Parking: Available at the trailhead.
- Dogs: Allowed, under the control of the owner by voice or on a leash.
- Difficulty: Easy, with some hills.
GLOCESTER – Sprague Farm Town Forest covers 1,278 acres of dense forest, rolling hills, streams and ridges, all connected by farmer’s cart tracks and narrow trails through tunnels of mountain laurel trees.
There is also a lot of history there.
The ancestors of Colonel Anthony Sprague, a farmer and local militia officer, first migrated here in the 1600s. Over the centuries, the elders reserved plots of their land for their children and relatives to keep. close family members. The result has been a large farming community, and hikers can still see the remains of the many farms, outbuildings, animal routes, and stone walls along the trails.
The Glocester Land Trust acquired the last land owned by the Spragues in 1990 and combined plots and adjacent woods to create a huge public reserve that provides hikers with beautiful natural scenery and a lesson in how Rhode Islanders once lived.
The search for clues in the farm remains
I left from the trailhead off Pine Orchard Road and followed the blazing white Sprague Trail, an old farm road lined with well-built stone walls. About five miles of walls were built in the refuge between approximately 1775 and 1825 to define the property lines and form enclosures for the animals. The path passed a spring pool and crossed a sturdy stone slab bridge that once carried farm carts over a stream.
From there, the trail climbs gently, under stands of oaks, maples, white pines and birches. Some are secondary shoots on land cleared for logging in the mid-1900s. Old barbed wire fences that were once threaded around pastures are embedded in a few tree trunks.
At the top right are the remains of George and Sarah Sprague’s farmhouse, with a well-preserved cellar hole, stone steps and a huge fireplace base. Nearby are smaller foundations for tool sheds and possibly workers’ quarters. There is also a three-sided foundation which could have been a barn.
Continuing on the main trail covered with pine needles, I came to an intersection with the remains to the right of Smith and Adah Sprague farmlands and took a left onto a yellow trail through a swampy area, near Elbow Rock and on the white dotted Elbow Rock Road to the Joseph Sweet Homestead property.
Stonehenge in Gloucester?
Just off the road is a curious set of six stone pillars, erected in three rows about 4 feet from the ground. My first thought was that this was a local Stonehenge, but on closer inspection I think it was the roof supports of an attic, positioned to allow the wagons to pass through. through.
I retraced my steps to Smith Sprague Farm and took a left onto the Haystack Hill Trail, which passed through a stand of witch hazel and then narrowed through acres of mountain laurel bushes. They are spectacular in June.
Generations of Spragues at rest
Finally, the trail runs to the edge of an Atlantic white cedar swamp. I turned right onto the orange Colonel Anthony Trail – a trail that runs along a ridge, then descends to a stream and crosses what little remains of a stone and wood bridge. A sign said much of the bridge had been washed away by flooding, flooding from heavy rains or melting snow and ice.
I joined the Sprague trail that I had started on, but decided to do another loop on the cemetery trail through a grove of hemlock trees, near a small cattle pond and to a graveyard on the hillside. The tombstones mark the last home of several generations of Spragues, including Colonel Sprague.
In a loop, I passed the J. Moffitt farm and came back to my starting point.
In all, I did five miles in 2.5 hours.
Sprague Farm is an easy, well marked walk, often on gentle, pine needle covered trails, and good exercise for all ages. There are also plenty of opportunities to take a break and explore the remains of a large farming community and what life was like in Rhode Island in the past.
John Kostrzewa, former associate / business / corporate editor at Providence Journal, welcomes the email to [email protected].