Our Mission

Norman Bird Sanctuary was established in 1949 through a bequest made by Mabel Norman Cerio. Our mission is to spark people's curiosity to explore, steward, and find peace and joy in nature.

Discover
Preserve
Teach
Inspire

Providing Open Space

As stewards of the largest contiguous open space on Aquidneck Island, Norman Bird Sanctuary protects 300 acres of diverse habitat and 7 miles of hiking trails.

Conserving Wildlife Habitat

Since our establishment in 1949, conservation has remained at the heart of our mission. Whether it be our annual installation of 300+ bird boxes, or our restoration of 40 acres of grassland habitat, we provide a sanctuary to the wildlife in our care.

Mabel Norman Cerio

Mabel Norman Cerio founded the Norman Bird Sanctuary. In 1908, Mabel purchased the property from the estate of her brother after her father died. A lifelong lover of art and nature, Mabel spent several decades living on the property, caring for animals, birdwatching, and painting in her studio. Upon her death in 1949, Mabel's trust gifted the property to the community. It was named Norman Bird Sanctuary after her beloved father and late brother, George H. Norman Jr.



It is an inspiration that one gift, from one person, can have such a lasting impact. Today we honor her gift by remaining true to her vision of preserving and protecting the 300-acre property with integrity and purpose.

Our History

250 Million Years Ago

The Purgatory Formation, or pudding stone, forms through erosion of ancient sedimentation. Formations like Hanging Rock are stretched and fractured by geologic forces.

18,000 Years Ago

As the last great continental glaciers scrape and extend over North America, layers of soil are removed to expose Hanging Rock Ridge.

8,500 Years Ago

Long before the European colonists arrived at Aquidneck Island, the site of today's Paradise Farm was home to Native peoples, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, as evidenced by the shell midden on the Quarry Trail.

1620

Pilgrims arrive in New England.

1714

Edward Smith and others, purchase a large coastal area of Middletown, which included the Norman Bird Sanctuary, then called "Sachuest Farm”.

Circa 1750

The farmhouse is built, possibly by Thomas Weaver. For the next century, most of the property is a “saltwater” farm. Sheep graze on the ridge slopes, salt marsh hay is harvested in the marshes, and mixed crops are grown.

1782

Benjamin Gardiner acquires the property from Philip Smith. Sheep grazing shifts toward dairy, grain, barley, and Indian corn production. Upon his death, Gardiner is interred at his family burial plot—one of three cemeteries at NBS.

1820

Samuel Allen purchases the farm from Benjamin Gardiner’s heirs, and converts it from an owner-worked farm, to a tenant farm.

Circa 1860

The barn is built.

May 30, 1876

Mabel Norman is born in Newport, the last of nine children to Abbie and George Norman.

Late 1800s-Early 1900s

Mabel spends her childhood at the Norman family home, Belair Cottage in Newport, before leaving to attend high school in New York City and later to study art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

1878

George Norman purchases Paradise Farm primarily to secure the water rights for the Newport Water Works, significantly altering the topography of Paradise Valley. The family continues to lease land for farming.

1880

Paradise Farm comprises “125 tilled acres, 101 permanent pastures and meadows, vineyards, and orchards. 60 mown acres yielded 70 tons of hay.” The farm produces barley, oats, potatoes, and maintains 70 fruit trees.

1881

George Norman sells Newport Waterworks to the City of Newport.

Late 1800s

John La Farge and other artists paint extensively throughout Paradise Valley. Hanging Rock is celebrated in paintings and verse, and Paradise becomes a prolific site for early Impressionist and American landscape painters.

1900

George Norman dies.

1908

Mabel Norman purchases Paradise Farm from the estate of her brother George H. Norman Jr. for $16,800. A small barn relocated to the property is used as her painting studio, and she spends her summers living at the farm.

1914

Spurred by a lifelong passion for wildlife and now the sole owner of Paradise Farm, Mabel begins researching how to establish a bird sanctuary.

January 1917

Mabel marries Dr. George Cerio, an Italian doctor whom she met in Italy while working and traveling as an artist.

Mid 1900s-Late 1930s

Mabel and George are year-round residents on the Isle of Capri, hosting friends and family at their residence, "Saracen Tower," until the start of World War II.

1940s

Following the start of the war, Mabel and George begin to divide their time between Italy and Paradise Farm in Middletown, RI.

November 1943

George Cerio dies.

November 11, 1949

Mabel Norman Cerio dies. NBS is established at her bequest, to maintain the land "for the propagation, preservation, and protection of birds, and where birds and bird life may be observed, studied, taught and enjoyed by lovers of nature..."

June 1953

A Sanctuary Committee is formed of “interested sanctuary neighbors…with a common concern for the land and the preservation of its natural values," to help manage the property and its future.

1955

NBS welcomes its first Executive Director (and first employee), James Baird, a revered ornithologist and conservation advocate.

1970

The inaugural NBS
summer camp delivers environmental education programming to 180 students.

1971

NBS introduces its membership program.

1974

First Annual Harvest Fair

1981

Nearly 200 years after its construction, the barn is renovated by architect George Warren.

1983

First Annual Birds & Breakfast

1990

NBS acquires land along the Sanctuary’s western border, "Gray Craig," to help protect the ecological integrity of Sanctuary, its surrounding landscape, and the
municipal water supply for Middletown and Newport.

1999

NBS celebrates its 50th anniversary.

2000-2014

The campus and existing buildings including the administrative building, barn, classrooms, pump house, garages, and tool shed are extensively renovated.

2003

NBS purchases 23 acres of Third Beach, completing the original package owned by the Norman family. The acreage links NBS to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge and ensures public road and beach access.

2008

Smith-Gardiner-Norman Farm (Paradise Farm) is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2013

Paradise Farmhouse, Mabel Norman Cerio's summer home, is extensively renovated and becomes available to the public as a rental.

2024

NBS celebrates its 75th anniversary, as well as the 50th anniversary of Harvest Fair.