Spring cleaning for Founder's Grove in Portsmouth

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PORTSMOUTH — Three hundred and seventy-five years later, the family of Anne Hutchinson is still touting the benefits of medicinal herbs.

"This is an old-fashioned pharmacy," said Michael Ford, pointing to an herb garden at the Anne M. Hutchinson Memorial Park at Founder's Grove, which was cleaned up Saturday by members of the Portsmouth Garden Club and Girl Scout troops 715, 725 and 727. The event was part of the Portsmouth 375th celebration.

Mr. Ford, a direct descendant of both the Puritan spiritual adviser who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as well as Mary Dyer, another religious dissident who was hanged on Boston Common in 1660, cares for the park and the herb garden as a member of Friends of Anne Hutchinson.

"I planted the gardens to honor her because it's something she would have done herself," said Mr. Ford. "I feel it's ironic that 375 years later, I'm here as an herbalist — the very same thing that she did."

Being a midwife, Anne Hutchinson used herbs that helped with things such as birthing, postpartum sickness and nursing, he said.

"The plants I put in here for the most part were plants used by Colonial families to keep their families alive and healthy," he said, adding that plants in the mint family had many antiseptic qualities.

Medicinal herbs have always been a big part of pharmacology, he pointed out. "Thirty percent of what's on the market today still comes from plants," said Mr. Ford, who thanked volunteers for keeping the park looking good.

"This being the 375th anniversary of Portsmouth, it's important that it look nice," said Mr. Ford, who called Anne Hutchinson "the first feminist in our country," someone who "refused to be oppressed by the men who were very oppressive at that time. Three hundred years of mud was slung at her for being a woman who stood up to others. That's my family's legacy."

He wants to see more done to honor the woman whose followers signed the Portsmouth Compact in 1638.

"It's a shame that the state doesn't do more to celebrate her," he said, noting that the former Anne Hutchinson School — now the Portsmouth Multi-Purpose Senior Center — was not sanctioned by the state. Admirers of Anne Hutchinson point out that the Massachusetts Statehouse has a statue of her likeness, while New York has the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Valerie Debrule, another member of the Friends of Anne Hutchinson, said she hopes there will be some improvements made to the Portsmouth park, such as benches and a sign off Boyd's Lane. (Many people don't know where the park is due to a lack of signs; see related story.)

Roberta Stevens, a member of both the Portsmouth Garden Club and the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee, said a former Garden Club member is credited with making sure Route 24 didn't go directly through Founder's Grove. A club president from the 1950s, Loretta Nannery, protested the R.I. Department of Transportation's (DOT) plans for the highway. (She died in 2009 at the age of 94.)

"The plans for Route 24 were to go right through here," Ms. Stevens said, adding that Ms. Nannery persuaded DOT to move the highway slightly to the east.

She, too, also hopes that more attention is given to the park at Founder's Grove.

"There is a hope that this 375th observation will prompt a sign and a bigger parking area," she said.

How to get there

If you've never been to Founder's Grove, you're a typical Portsmouth resident. But if you'd like to see the place where the town was first founded 375 years ago, here's how to get there.

Park at Mello’s Farm Stand, located off Boyd’s Lane, Portsmouth. The farm stand is located across from the intersection of Anthony Road, just east of Mello’s Farm & Flower Center.

Walk about 100 yards along the dead-end road in front of the farm stand. It may look like you’re heading toward private property, but just keep going. As the road veers to the left, you’ll see a green sign inscribed with the park’s name: Anne M. Hutchinson Memorial Park. Go around the wooden fence and you’re there.

Follow the babbling brook on your right and you’ll come to a large, pastoral area with a tiny grove of pine trees and a small waterfall. A plaque commemorating the Portsmouth Compact, dedicated in 1936, is embedded in one large rock.

Next to it is the medicinal herb garden, established in 1996, that contains plaques for both Anne Hutchinson and her friend, Mary Dyer, both of whom were midwives and herbalists.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.