Spring Brook Farm, Scrabbletown (1937—1975)
During the winter of 1936-37, the Museum was moved to a large dairy barn on Scrabbletown Rd., a short distance from Stony Lane in North Kingstown. The 87 acre property was known as Spring Brook Farm at that time, built in the mid-nineteenth century and originally known as the Gardiner-Arnold Farm. The barn consisted of a two story main building and a large ell. The location and buildings were donated rent-free by the owner, Clinton Prescott Knight, Jr. (1891-1970), one of the Museum’s founders. C. P. Knight Jr. was Director of the National Bank of Commerce, People’s Savings Bank, and the Union Mutual Fire Insurance Company, all in Providence, RI
J. Earle Bacon continued as curator. At moving time, the collection numbered greater than 4000 items. Objects not on display were stored in various outbuildings located on the farm. As the collection continued to grow, a substantial wing needed to be added to the original dairy barn to house the ever-expanding assortment of artifacts. The planners still had their original grand idea — to construct a “colonial village” containing a number of small shops rather than a single museum. The shops were to be: metalworking (blacksmith), leatherworking (cobbler, harness maker), woodworking (carpenter), cooper, turner, wheelwright, general store, textile mill, fire-engine house, printer’s shop, one-room schoolhouse, cider mill, and “near the waterfront,” the latter being comprised of boat yard, ship’s chandler, and possibly a rope walk. By 1939, new walking paths had been constructed on the property, one leading to a model sawmill, the other to a picnic spot by a wading pool.
In 1940, the Museum held a very successful open house featuring old-time life reenacted with “colonial” costumed interpreters using the Museum’s artifacts.
The tenure of the museum was to be interrupted by World War II, and the Museum was closed to the public shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Essential activities to preserve the collection continued during this period. Fragile articles were packed away and other artifacts were covered and made as safe as possible for the duration. Membership dues were not collected during this time, although some very loyal members continued to donate anyway to keep the Museum afloat.
The collection continued to grow throughout WWII, although acquisitions were limited by rubber and gasoline rationing (motor cars were needed to get to the museum) and museum personnel were needed on farms and in factories to support the war effort. Artifacts were still loaned to other museums during this time; however, and an exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art containing a number of South County Museum’s artifacts was written up in Life Magazine (Jan. 15, 1945, pp. 8-10).
The Museum reopened in the spring of 1946 under a new supervisor/curator, Harold J. Friend. The collection was estimated at 15,000 separate items at this time. There was an urgent need for increased storage capacity to accommodate the large number of items not on display but of academic interest.
By 1947, the Museum was receiving visitors both nationally and internationally. The administration realized that the Museum’s wooden buildings were highly susceptible to fire and that the collection was, therefore, being stored in a very risky location. This perilous situation remained until the Museum moved to its Quaker Lane location in the winter of 1974-1975.
In 1970, C.P. Knight died leaving the 87-acre Spring Brook Farm to his wife. In 1971, a year after C.P. Knight’s passing, Mrs. Knight also passed away, generously bequeathing the entire Spring Brook Farm property to the South County Museum. After much discussion, it was decided to sell 67 acres of the property and with the proceeds build a new building on the remaining 18 acres near the corner of Route 2 (Quaker Lane) and Stony Lane, in North Kingstown. An additional two acres including the original Knight Barn Museum building were also retained by the Museum. John Ward was appointed President of the museum and the innovative and energetic Peter Crolius was appointed the Museum’s first official director in 1973. The Trustees wanted something more than a tourist attraction. They wanted an educational institution with classes available for both children and adults.