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Dr. Solomon Drown House (Mount Hygeia)

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Mount Hygeia
1807–1808, c. 1845. 83 Mt. Hygeia Rd. (1.3 miles north of East Killingly Rd.) (distantly visible in winter)

This fine Federal house, shingled on three sides and clapboarded in front, shows a conventional two-and-one-half-story, five-bay format, with paired chimneys centered in the lateral interior walls of the principal rooms. It boasts a door with broken pediment and fanlight and is grand for its locale at the time. Its special interest is the man who commissioned it and the use he made of its grounds (though his landscaped garden no longer exists). After an active practice in several states and extensive travel to study medicine in Europe, Solomon Drown settled in Foster in 1801 to a life of scholarship and reflection in literature, botany, and medicine, calling his house Mt. Hygeia for the Greek goddess of health. He surrounded it with an elaborate botanical garden which featured plants with medicinal properties. He served Brown University as its first professor of botany and materia medica from 1811 until 1827, and, with his son William, published a treatise on progressive agriculture, Compendium of Agriculture, or the Farmer's Guide, in 1824.

After Drown's death in 1834, his heirs opened the house and gardens part time as a museum, making this perhaps the first museum house in the state. The museum led an increasingly languishing existence until around 1950. Thereafter the house fell vacant and rapidly deteriorated until new owners began its restoration. Little remains of the garden, except for the continued growth of some of its specimens and a circular stone mound, the base for a projected study which Drown referred to as a “Rotunda of Worthies.” Like English garden prototypes, it was doubtless intended to contain busts or portraits of admired predecessors in the various professions which Dr. Drown pursued. Joseph B. Gay, who married into the family, designed a combined gazebo and waiting shelter near the road in the late nineteenth century. The shingled barn was built in the twentieth century.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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