Don't forget your crampons!

Jerimoth Hill, 212 Hartford Pike, Foster

When Christopher first moved to Rhode Island, he was told by several people that the highest point in the state was a landfill. While intriguing and seemingly appropriate for a state known for its mob bosses and corrupt politicians, it turns out the landfill in Johnston, at about 550 feet, is actually the highest man-made plot of land in Rhode Island. The highest natural point in the state is 812-foot Jerimoth Hill in Foster.

The summit of Jerimoth Hill is only a short, unstrenuous walk from Route 101, but in the 1990s it was named "America's most inaccessible high point" by the Highpointers Club, a group of individuals dedicated to standing on the highest point in each of the fifty states.

Years of difficulty

So why was the summit of Jerimoth Hill deemed even more difficult to obtain than Alaska's 20,320-foot Mount McKinley? Because, although the summit was owned by Brown University, the easiest access was controlled by music teacher Henry P. Richardson, who made his feelings about strange visitors all too obvious with signs that read "Private Property," "Beware of Dog," and "Trespassing Is A Violation We Take Seriously." He was rumored to brandish a rifle, hurl verbal abuse, and report trespassers to the police. It's claimed he even once attempted to wrestle a camera out of one surprised Highpointer's hands. One hiker returned from the top of the hill to find two of his tires had been slashed.

His efforts to protect his privacy allegedly also included the installation of a "secret" security system and the enlistment of a neighbor who reported suspicious activity directly back to Richardson.

That sort of unpleasantness came to an end in July 1999 when an agreement was brokered by Richardson's companion, Ed Bouchard, allowing hikers to make the short trek to Rhode Island's roof a few times a year. Over the next six years more than 1000 people visited the crest of Jerimoth Hill legally.

Prior to July 1999 truly determined summit seekers had to find other ways to reach Rhode Island's high point. Hikers who had their picture taken next to a marker on the highway, which notes the high point, were considered by the Highpointers Club to have officially topped Rhode Island. (From '99 to 2005 this was still the recommended option for those who couldn't make it on a sanctioned date.

For the more intrepid, there was a sort of "back door." Several other properties abut the summit and a few of those property owners would grant permission to pass to the top of the hill. But even some of those who had gained permission had a difficult time since the back-door trails to the top were unmarked and little-used. With the inception of the open access dates in 1999, those back-door trails became even more faint and overgrown.

Sneaking in was not recommended, as two hikers found out one evening in September 2002. Alaskan Highpointers Robert Thompson and Melvin Strauch achieved the top of the hill without incident, but on returning to their car, they were confronted by a father and son, neighbors of Richardson, who forced the two at gunpoint to lie face down on the ground. There was yelling and, allegedly, Strauch was kicked and hit in the head with the butt of a gun, and a shot was fired into the air. The police were summoned and the overzealous neighbors, who claimed they thought the hikers were burglars, were arrested. The father and son ended up pleading no contest to charges of felony assault, use of a firearm while committing a violent crime, and simple assault, and each received suspended twelve year sentences plus twelve years' probation.

A safer access option, but one that was rather drastic, was to enroll at Brown University. The university received the five acres at the summit as a gift in 1953, along with permission to use the right-of-way, and Brown professors subsequently used the property as an outdoor classroom. Students gathered there on clear nights, surveying the heavens for stars, comets, quasars, satellites, and little green men.

More drastic still, if you climbed all the other forty-nine United States high points, David M. Targan, Director of the Brown Observatories, stated in a 1996 Providence Journal article that he would give you a personal escort to the top of Jerimoth Hill. As of May 2005, only 136 people had officially conquered all fifty United States high points, and only 250 had completed the forty-eight contiguous states. All of these, according to Targan, managed to top Rhode Island without his protection.

These are all interesting options, but for true out-of-the-box thinking, we have to refer to an October 2002 ProJo article that asserted a proposal had once been floated to add height to Rhode Island's second-highest point, Glocester's 805-foot Durfee Hill, thereby rendering the whole trespassing issue a moot point!

On March 22, 2001, at the age of 78, Henry Richardson died of undisclosed causes at Rhode Island Hospital. Because of his sometimes colorful defense of his privacy, Richardson's obituary was picked up by the Associated Press. At the time of his death, it was unknown if open access dates would continue, and the long-term status of legal access to Rhode Island's High Point remained up in the air. Brown University was reportedly angling to purchase the right-of-way from Ed Bouchard. If such a sale had gone through, it was speculated that Brown might decide to build a proper observatory on the high point, enclosed with a high fence to protect their investment.

If this had come to pass, Jerimoth Hill would once more have reigned supreme as the most inaccessible high point in all of the United States. We predicted at the time that it wouldn't be long before cynical and dark-hearted mountaineers were posing for photos atop Richardson's grave at Acotes Hill Cemetery in Chepachet. It should be noted, however, that Mr. Richardson's zeal in protecting his privacy while he was alive may have been exaggerated by the media. So if there are any mountaineers still bearing animosity toward Mr. Richardson, we hope they will at least try to avoid dancing during their photo ops.

A new era

So why all the past tense? Because persons wishing to visit Jerimoth Hill no longer need to worry about showing up on just the right weekend, bushwhacking, sucking on the end of a shotgun, or paying Brown University's hefty tuition. Beginning in July 2005, Jerimoth Hill was open every weekend of the year, from 8am to 3pm, and access was expanded to every day, 8am to 4pm in August 2007. This is thanks to the openness and generosity of the new owners of the right-of-way, Jeffrey and Deborah Mosley. All they ask is that visitors respect their privacy and follow these simple rules: keep your pets on a leash, pick up your trash (including pet poo), and refrain from picnicking or boozing it up.

Mr. Mosley has even gone to the trouble of clearing a trail along his eastern property line, eliminating the need for anyone to pass up his driveway.

It was reported in December 2011 that the State of Rhode Island purchased the 5.5 acres at the summit from Brown University, further guaranteeing future public access.

The summit

Once on the property, visitors may still find themselves at a loss. The flat top of the hill (most of which is essentially a dirt parking lot) is vaguely contoured and there's no official marker announcing the highest point. The generally agreed-upon summit, though, is a boulder just to the right of where the dirt track meets the clearing. The Highpointers Club has erected a cairn there, and that's the spot we recommend for a photo op. According to United States Geographical Survey maps, the true summit lies somewhere off to the left of the dirt track, hidden in the brush.


Pre-Richardson memories

Jerimoth Hill is named for Jerimoth Brown, a fellow who owned the hill and much of the surrounding land in the late 1800s. According to Foster historian Viola Ulm, most people pronounce the name incorrectly. "It's Jer-eye-moth," she told a Providence Journal reporter in 2002.

The summit was owned by a family named Turner in the early 1960s. "Viet Nam USN" (in alt.rhode_island, August 28, 1998) remembers: "We used to operate portable and mobile amateur radio equipment on Jerimoth Hill in the early 1960s. Mr. Turner was gracious enough to allow us access to his land."

"Jack" (alt.rhode_island, March 22, 2001) remembers the property owner being named Brown: "Across the street was a little greasy spoon restaurant [Goodies] in a house-like structure and behind that was an FM radio station tower. We used to set up a ham radio station on the actual summit every June in what is called an amateur radio Field Day. Mr. Brown was a graduate of Brown University... and told us he had given Brown University the land which contained the summit in his will, upon his death."

"Wildcat" (alt.rhode_island, September 7, 1998) notes that "star gazing turned into beer parties" and recalls that around 1983 "a friend and myself decided to take a bike ride to the Jerimoth Hill site during the daytime hours. We found beer cans and condoms everywhere. It wasn't a pretty picture."

Note: We strongly encourage you to visit Jerimoth Hill only during the prescribed times. When you go, please respect the land—don't litter, build campfires, spray-paint the landscape, or leave behind empty oxygen canisters. And if you happen to bump into Jeff and Debbie Mosley, the current owners of the right-of-way, please thank them for the opportunity to pass through their property on the way to the high point.

Jerimoth Hill Jumpers by Glutard

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow 20 minutes

Hours: daily, 8am-4pm

This is private property. Please be respectful.

Finding it: from Route 95 take Route 10 (either exit 16 or 22) to Route 6 west; when you reach the intersection with Route 116 (East Road), check your odometer and continue straight 10.7 miles to the Jerimoth Hill marker; park on the north side of the highway and carefully cross to the path entrance on the south side. A sign at the head of the trail explains where to go from there.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to roads or man-eating ghosts. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited October 1, 2012

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