CUMBERLAND — The town's Monastery property will be on display with all its history when the sixth Annual Cumberland Arts and Crafts Festival is held there this weekend. More than 50 artists and crafters will be setting up booths near the Cumberland Senior Center building at the Monastery on Saturday for what organizers are hoping will be a nice day outdoors for the festival's visitors.
Lee Drury, Senior Center Director, said the festival is something the event's sponsors have been trying to grow each year as a rival to other popular arts and crafts events later in the season.
“There is nothing nicer that the Monastery grounds to have one of these events,” Drury said. The town-owned property, home to its library and senior center, also features more than 400 acres of rustic fields and woods marked by walking and running trails throughout.
“We're just hoping the weather will allow it to happen,” Drury said while noting Saturday's forecast is for good weather through the afternoon.
The event, which is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., could be held on Sunday in the event of inclement weather.
The festival will again include a Pet Walk sponsored by the Cumberland Rotary Club and benefiting the animal shelters in Cumberland and Lincoln. Volunteers from the Senior Center, many of them art aficionados, will also be on hand to help run the festival.
“They support this event each year because the arts and crafts is their thing,” he said. Long before the Monastery existed at the Diamond Hill Road, the area played a role in New England's colonial history and visitors to Festival could explore that aspect of the property with a short walk up a wooded trail. At its end they will find a monument commemorating the deaths of nine colonial troops in a skirmish with Native Americans during King Philip's War in 1676.
David Balfour, chairman of the Cumberland Historic District Commission, said the fight on March 26, 1676, began after small group of Colonial troops led by Capt. Michael Pierce of Scituate, Mass., encountered a band of Native Americans near what is today the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls. Some of Pierce's troops escaped their to village of Ring of the Green in Rehoboth, an area of Rumford today, according to Balfour, but Pierce and eight other Colonial soldiers were chased by the band into the woods of the Monastery and killed there.
The remains of the victims were initially interred at the site and a stone cairn constructed at the location would become one of the first monuments to soldiers in the country, according to Balfour. The remains of the colonials are believed to have been removed from the location leaving just the stone cairn to mark their fate, Balfour explained.
The skirmish site became known as Nine Men's Misery and was preserved when the property was included in the large Waterman Farm in the area. The Diocese of Providence acquired the farm and in 1900 allowed a group of Cistercian monks from the Society of Petit Clairvaux in Nova Scotia to move there.
Balfour said just nine monks started building their “Our Lady of the Valley” abbey on the large farm property and with the help of their growing numbers completed a complex of locally-quarried stone buildings that included a Porter's Lodge where visitors were greeted, a large guest house, an administration building, a hospital, a ornate chapel that drew many to its Catholic services, and the monks' dormitory and several farm buildings, according to Balfour.
The monks practiced a vow of silence during their daily life at the Monastery but worked hard in its dairy farm operations, chicken farm and orchards. They also operated an enterprise manufacturing religious vestments for a number of faiths and served as a location for religious retreats.
A fire breaking out during the night of March 20, 1950, in one of the residential buildings destroyed most of the complex and was followed by the order's move to an already acquired new abbey in Spencer, Mass., where its members would be less affected by the bustle of a growing suburban Cumberland. The order continues to make vestments in Spencer and also operates a world-known Trappist jam and preserves enterprise from that location.
The town took control of the vacated Diamond Hill Road abbey after the fire and under Town Administrator Edward J. Hayden, moved its town library there in 1975. Much of the property has been maintained by the town for recreation purposes such as its walking trails and use for school cross country races, but additions and renovations have also been completed to surviving Monastery structures allowing for the Senior Center's operation there and education and counseling programs as well.
Balfour said the recreational opportunities at Monastery make it well worth visiting, whether for a somber journey to the Nine Men's Misery Monument, updated and properly dedicated by the state in 1928, or a view of the southern lands and waters of East Bay from a high point deeper in the woods.
“It is a real resource for the town,” Balfour said while visiting the library this week. “You can come in here and find a book or go outside and read in the sunshine,” he said.
The Nine Men's Misery Monument does draw visitors just to see it but they sometimes find it to be less than they expected, Balfour said, while describing their reactions as similar to those who seek out Plymouth Rock on the Massachusetts coast.
“They say “is that all there is?,” Balfour said. “But it is still an important part of the country's history,” he added.
The story of Nine Men's Misery, the Our Lady of the Valley abbey, and many other local historical facts can be found in the town history “Cumberland by the Blackstone, 250 Years of Heritage,” written by David Balfour and Joyce Hindle Koutsogiane and available at the library and through local organizations such as the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.
For more information about the Cumberland Arts and Crafts Festival contact Leon Drury at the Senior Center at 334-2555.