Future unclear for Revive the Roots at Mowry house

Future unclear for Revive the Roots at Mowry house

Bradford Allard and Hannah Martin of Revive the Roots stand inside the upstairs living area inside the Mary Mowry House, a pre-revolutionary home being repaired by the nonprofit group in exchange for rent. (Breeze photos by Jacquelyn Moorehead)
Group wants to buy it, but no promises made

SMITHFIELD – The town is making no promises to nonprofit farming organization Revive the Roots that an option to purchase the Mary Mowry House on Farnum Pike will be on the table at the end of the group’s curatorship agreement.

The group, which is rehabilitating the home in exchange for free rent, participated in a five-year review on March 5.

The curatorship is the first and only of its kind in Smithfield. The money the group would otherwise pay in rent is reinvested into the home through repairs, equipment, renovations and maintenance completed by the curators.

Finishing up a five-year contract approved by the Town Council in December 2013, Revive the Roots sought the first of two possible extensions to the agreement that would bring the completion of the home and curatorship to the end of 2023. The first would be for two years, the second for three. Instead, the town granted the group a six-month extension through the end of June.

During the joint Town Council and Smithfield Land Trust meeting on March 5, Bradford Allard of Revive the Roots said the group is extremely interested in purchasing the property upon completion of the curatorship.

“I would like to see nothing more than to see us maintaining the property indefinitely as an organization,” he said.

Councilor Sean Kilduff, council liaison to the Land Trust, said he does not see the town in the position of being landlords for a property, saying the Mowry House is “off the beaten path of where we are right now.”

If the town decides to sell the property, Allard said Revive the Roots would like first right of refusal to purchase the home.

Over the five years since entering the agreement, Revive the Roots has completed several projects identified by Preserve Rhode Island as necessary to preserve the home and make the Mowry House habitable.

The group plastered interior walls, made upgrades to electric systems, plumbing and heating, managed moisture, completed attic framing, made repairs to roofing and flashing, renovated the second-floor kitchen and bathroom, repaired windows and more.

Victoria Talmage, of Preserve Rhode Island, estimated the value of the group’s rehabilitation and labor at $121,000. She said the group follows a quarterly calendar on repairs, overseen by Preserve Rhode Island, and is on schedule.

“Working with Revive the Roots has been a fabulous experience,” Talmage said. “They really do exemplary work.”

According to Allard, the group accumulated enough “rent sweat-equity” through maintenance, such as mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and combating moisture inside the buildings to pay rent in the home until 2020.

“We’ve already put in work past our current extension,” he said.

Allard, Hannah Martin and Scott Alves occupy the home, at 374 Farnum Pike near the Stillwater Reservoir, along with a farmhand. In addition to caring for the home, Revive the Roots also uses the land to educate and share the practice of permaculture, or sustainable farming.

“It’s a passion-driven volunteer organization that relies on available resources and this house is the most important one,” Allard said.

The group also shares portions of the Mowry property with the Artist Exchange, which houses sheep in a therapy program for people with special needs.

Though the curators were not all initially capable to do renovation work, Martin said they’ve learned a lot as they’ve gone. Many past curators moved on toward bigger projects.

“There’s a lot of opportunities here to gain leadership skills that can be taken on to the next goal,” Martin said.

The group is currently working on the front porch restoration, which will see the removal of storm windows and the return of a more historically appropriate structure.

Allard said he is excited to see the porch completed, and said Revive the Roots will invite the public to see the finished product in an open house when it is finished in the summer. He said rent will fund a new roof soon as well, but the group will need to contract the work out to roofing professionals.

Land Trust Chairwoman Barbara Rich said the group would like to see the property preserved, possibly through an easement, but agreed that the Land Trust is not in the business of dealing with homeownership.

“We’re the Land Trust, not the house trust,” she said.

Mary Mowry originally willed 16 acres of property, including the home, which housed five generations of the Mowry family, to the Land Trust in 2009. The Land Trust reached out to Preserve Rhode Island in 2012 seeking advice, deciding against selling the run-down home out of fear of demolition in a weak real estate market.

Instead, after more than a decade of being vacant, Revive the Roots began the curatorship by “camping out” inside the uninhabitable home.

Should Revive the Roots stay in the home, Martin said the group would like to eventually offer a one-year scholarship to interested parties, continuing on the curatorship within their program. The land would remain the property of the Land Trust, which allows Revive the Roots use through a separate agreement.

Walking trails at the Mary Mowry House are open to the public from dawn to dusk daily, and Revive the Roots holds various community events, such as baking bread in a Cobb oven and plant sales, throughout the year. For more information, visit www.revivetheroots.org .

Mary Mowry donated the colonial farmhouse to the Smithfield Land Trust in 2009. The house was in an unhabitable state after years of being vacant. Revive the Roots rehabilitates the home in exchange for rent.