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Forest Farm

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1936. Stone Cabin Rd., 0.5 miles from Taylor Hill Rd.

Forest Farm is the one-and-a-half-story wood and stone house with deep eaves built by authors Helen and Scott Nearing with the help of carpenter Vernet Slason and other neighbors. The Nearings' 1954 book on building and living in this house, Living the Good Life, became popular in the 1970s, and their former home is significant as the progenitor of the many idiosyncratic, “environmental” owner-built houses constructed in much of Vermont and rural areas across the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Raised in suburban Maryland, Helen Knothe studied music, traveled widely, lived in a commune in Australia, and associated with J. Krishnamurti in Holland. Scott Nearing had strong socialist and pacifist leanings, which cost him an academic job and his first wife during World War I. Having found each other in New York City, the Nearings vowed to remove themselves from the capitalist economy. In the depths of the Great Depression they decided to homestead a worn-out hill farm in Winhall, one that had already been resettled by Finnish immigrants around 1900. In the antithesis of the Colonial Revival that attracted many others to Vermont, Scott recalled in his The Making of a Radical: A Political Autobiography (1972), “We will not waste time making over old buildings.”

In 1932, the Nearings purchased from a Finnish widow a sixty-five-acre farm at the foot of Stratton Mountain. However, they disliked living in the c. 1840 drafty farmhouse that came with the property. While cross-country skiing in 1935 they discovered a massive sheared boulder that they decided would be one wall of a new house. Scott, fond of making pronouncements, articulated in The Making of a Radical his four principles for their Vermont architecture: “One. Form and Function should unite in the structure. Two. Buildings should be adapted to their environment. Three. Local materials are better adapted than others to create the illusion that the building was a part of the environment. And Four. The style of a domestic structure should express the inmates and be an extension of themselves.” He also consulted Ernest Flagg's Small Houses (1922), and with the help of other workmen they built, in Scott's words, “a rambling, sturdy, balconied chalet with stone floors, hand hewn timbers and panelled walls.” It was completed in 1936. Scott did not anticipate the differential expansion of wood and stone in the eave joinery, making the Nearings' first winter very cold and drafty. They eventually tore down the old farmhouse, a barn, and a sauna, giving most of the material to Vernet Slason, who reused it in other building projects.

The Nearings soon attracted kindred spirits who came to visit and to settle nearby, including Pearl Buck and Edgar Walsh, who also built a stone home in Winhall before moving to Danby. Although they deplored the development associated with Fred Pabst Jr.'s nearby Bromley Mountain ski area, the Nearings subdivided two lots and developed them with speculative houses. In 1952 when plans were announced for the Stratton Mountain ski area on their very doorstep, and dissatisfied with the response to their proposals for cooperative projects with their Vermont neighbors, the Nearings decided to start over and move to Maine, where they wrote Living the Good Life.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson
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Data

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Citation

Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson, "Forest Farm", [Jamaica, Vermont], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VT-01-BE4.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Vermont

Buildings of Vermont, Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 35-35.

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