The exciting recent news that “Wicked Tulips” will be relocating their operation to a portion of the Schartner Farm on Route 2 here in our fair town got me to thinking about North Kingstown’s first flower farm which was located on Tower Hill Road just south of its intersection with Ten Rod Road. It was centered by the wonderful house at 376 Tower Hill Road which was constructed more than 140 years ago.
This house was built in 1878 for Robert and Mary (Kenyon) Sunderland on a parcel of land they purchased from Jeremiah S. Gardiner. Although it has not yet been confirmed, the house has all the “hallmarks” suggesting its construction by the Sherman Brothers of Wickford and it indeed resembles Alpheus Sherman’s own home on the Ten Rod Road in nearby East Lafayette. Sunderland was born in Exeter in 1815 and also lived in West Greenwich and Hopkinton before moving here around 1871 with his third wife Mary, having lost his first Julia (Hopkins) in 1853 and his second Lydia (Sheldon) in 1865. Mary herself was a widow, having lost her first husband J. Weeden Burdick as a casualty of the Civil War in 1864. Even though Dr. Sunderland was in his mid-fifties when he moved here, he continued on in the same vocation right up until his death in 1892. Mary, who was nearly two decades younger than her husband, stayed on in the house throughout the rest of her days, although in her later years she would spend each winter with her nephew Byron Kenyon who lived in Rockville, a small village in Hopkinton. She died there at her nephew’s house in the winter of 1920; she was 86 years old. She left the house to her brother Benjamin Kenyon along with her nephew Byron and his brothers Elmer and Emory. The Kenyons’ sold the house in 1921 to Wilkinson and Katherine Crossley.
Wilkinson Crossley left his job as the boss dyer at a textile mill in Stow Massachusetts to come here with his second wife Katherine to take a similar job here in North Kingstown. Crossley had grown up in Yonkers, New York where his father Robert was also a dyeroom foreman at a textile mill there. He worked here in the textile industry until the mid-1930s; at that time he, along with his stepson (this was also Katherine’s second marriage) Fred G. Gould, who also had a full time job as a design engraver in the textile industry, began a business as wholesale cut flower growers. Local residents and long time members of the adjacent St. Bernard’s Catholic Church all have vivid memories of the area around this house, and the newer one just to the south which was constructed as a home for Fred and his family, being engulfed in a blaze of color throughout the growing seasons. In the spring time it was daffodils, more than 200 different varieties grown in a profusion across the property. Summertime brought gladiolas in a blaze of pastel colors. Crossley and Gould tended to their crops at the “flower farm” as it was known by most locals, and sold the various flowers to wholesalers who then distributed them to retail shops across the region. Later on, after they purchased a three acre parcel in Scituate RI where they transferred much of their gladiolas operation, they added dahlias to their list of “crops” and a whole new palette of floral color delighted passerby’s on this section of Tower Hill Road. The flower farm operated for decades and ended in the early 1960’s around the time of Wilkinson Crossley’s death in April of 1964.
After Crossley’s death, the property was divided up between his stepson Fred Gould and Vera Champlin, another relation to his wife. This house became the property of Vera Champlin who held on to it as an investment rental property until 1986. Later owners were the Davis Family and its present owner Jonathan Seavey. If there is anyone out there who has photos of the “flower farm” in full bloom I sure would love to see them.