About Swiss Village

About Swiss Village

Swiss Village History

In 1909, Arthur Curtiss James purchased Beacon Hill, the former Glover estate, in Newport. He gradually acquired surrounding property until the estate consisted of 125 acres, including the old manor house formally known as Edgehill.

In 1914, James commenced construction of Surprise Valley Farm to house a prize herd of Guernsey cattle he had inherited from his father. Grosvenor Atterbury, a well-known architect, was hired to design the extravagant re-creation of a Swiss village. The farm consisted of over a dozen buildings, including a cow and horse barn, a carpenter’s shop, a dairy, two henhouses, a slaughter and smokehouse, a bull and calving barn, a piggery, two cottages and various service buildings dug into the hillside for machinery, coal, beetroot, ice, etc. The architecture included certain buildings with steam-bent shingle roofs cut on a wave pattern and the balance of the buildings roofed with Ludowici tiles. The stone was quarried on site. There were no details left to the imagination. Leaded glass and vaulted ceilings adorn the cottages, pecky cypress was used in the construction of the exterior doors and trim, and hand-hewn beams were used throughout.

In its heyday after World War I, the Village employed more than 100 people to maintain the cattle, poultry, sheep, goats and vegetable gardens. The farm fed the staffs at two James households (at Gordon King House and at a townhouse in New York City), 100 farmhands and the crew of James’ yacht Aloha. During World War II, the Jameses entertained servicemen at the Village, as well as the king and queen of Sweden.

Arthur Curtiss James and his wife, Harriet Parsons James, both died in 1941. At that time Mrs. William Manice inherited Edgehill and purchased the Swiss Village with the surrounding acreage. In 1975, the property was purchased by developers who built the Edgehill Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center, which housed over 100 patients. The facility operated until 1993, when it was purchased by the Independence Square Foundation and used for training and programming for the greater disabled community.

In 1998 the property was auctioned and purchased by Mrs. Dorrance Hill Hamilton and a partner. With the intention of creating a farm for the conservation of heritage breeds, the property was subdivided so that the Village could become the primary campus for the Foundation. Following an extensive two-year restoration, SVF Foundation collaborated with Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and began its mission of cryopreservation.