Originally known as Surprise Valley Farm, this 45-acre property occupies two parcels and was designed in 1914 by architect Grosvenor Atterbury. Laid out for railroad magnate Arthur Curtiss James as part of the Neacon Hill estate to house his prize herd of Guernsey cattle, the farm’s several barns, workshops, service buildings, and two cottages were modeled on a village in the Italian region of Switzerland. Atterbury used dynamite to clear the rocky site, and the resultant stones to construct the village. Nestled in the hollow of an escarpment and hugging the contours of the landscape, the buildings are adorned with steam-bent shingles, hand-hewn beams, and leaded glass; the cottages have vaulted ceilings and open fireplaces. The curving roads, stacked rock walls, and—the centerpiece of Atterbury’s design—an arched dressed stone bridge, exude a sense of place in keeping with a self-sufficient, miniature village, which, in its heyday provided food for 100 workers.
James died in 1941, and Beacon Hill was eventually subdivided. After subsequent changes in ownership (including a period as an alcohol rehabilitation center), philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton purchased the property in 1998 and began repairs of the buildings, gutting many of their interiors and painstakingly reproducing the original architectural details. A silo and a spiral stone staircase were preserved, while acres of asphalt were removed from the grounds. In 1999 Hamilton founded the SVF (Swiss Village Farm) Foundation, which now occupies eleven acres that stretch over portions of Beacon Hill and the adjacent historic Hammersmith estate. Working in partnership with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the foundation specializes in the cryopreservation of rare breeds of livestock, and today includes a laboratory, infirmary, workshops and offices.