Dr. Solomon Drowne and Senator Theodore Foster (1752-1828), friends from their
student days at Brown, collaborated in a fascinating way to shape the early history of the town of Foster. Set off from Scituate in 1781 and named for Theodore Foster, this western Rhode Island community became the home of both men when physician Drowne returned to Rhode Island from his far-flung travels in 1801 and Foster left the United States Senate in 1803. Both men had long talked of establishing themselves in a setting conducive to contemplating and pursuing their respective professional interests in an idyllic rural retreat.
Drowne’s experiments in herbal medicine at his estate, called Mount Hygeia after the Greek goddess of health, were quite remarkable. Combining his physician’s belief that natural remedies were best with a botanist’s curiosity in discovering new kinds and qualities of plant life, Drowne cultivated extensive botanical gardens around his north Foster home, growing medicinal plants and herbs and ornamental plants, both native and imported. In addition, he planted many varieties of trees, including the mulberry, which could be used to host silkworms. While carrying on this work, Drowne also served for more than two decades as professor of medicine and botany at Brown University’s first medical school.
For many years after Drowne’s death in 1834, Mount Hygeia was carefully maintained by his descendants. From 1941 to 1963, however, with the death of Drowne’s last direct descendant and ownership disputes among absentee heirs, the estate became vacant and vandal-prone. Fortunately the ownership problem has been resolved and this historic house has now been rescued and restored. The memory of Dr. Drowne’s achievements is equally worthy of preservation.
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