Day 50, Monday, September 3, 2018
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Woodstock, Vermont
Besides a section of the Appalachian Trail, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is the only national park unit within the state of Vermont. So it makes sense that it would be an interesting one!
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is named for the three families that owned this property, and each impacted the farm and the nearby community of Woodstock, Vermont in important ways.
The son of the first family who lived at the farm on Mount Tom, George Perkins Marsh, grew up seeing the environmental destruction that had been caused by deforestation in Vermont, both for sheep grazing and for industry, as wood was still a primary means of making the fires that were used to process glass, soap, and wool. It was estimated that by the time Marsh was born in 1801, over 95% of Vermont’s forestland had been logged. He saw the erosion and loss of fish habitat that occurred on his own property and began to understand the future impacts if people didn’t change their ways.
Frederick Billings grew up reading George Marsh’s writings, including his book, Man and Nature, and was impacted by the call to action of saving America’s forestland. He became an attorney and purchased the farm in 1869, planted trees and set about creating a sustainable dairy farm, along with carriage paths throughout the property with scenic vistas through the forest.
One of Frederick Billings’ granddaughters married a Rockefeller, and inherited the farm in the 1950s, thus giving Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park its third name. The Rockefeller family had long had a tradition of conservation and contributing to the idea of setting aside public land that would not be developed. Laurance and Mary Rockefeller continued that tradition on the Billings farm. They set about to remodel and modernize the mansion and farm, and opened the Billings Farm to the public in 1983.
The Rockefellers donated their residential property to the National Park Service in 1992, a donation that included this fabulous Victorian mansion with all its incredible furnishings, as well as 555 acres of forested land on Mount Tom, where the mansion is located.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is now a unit dedicated to conservation and operated closely with a private foundation that operates the Billings dairy farm next door.
When I visited, I did the tour of the mansion, which was truly one of the most spectacular historic mansions I’ve seen so far. I was fascinated. The fact that the Rockefellers donated all their furnishings made it a place that could be enjoyed for its ornate architectural beauty, its incredible artwork collected by the family, and the remaining evidence of the family’s life there. So often we see mansions that are decorated with period pieces and we aren’t able to see that people – families – actually lived here. They lived here with their hobbies, and collections and favorite books. And they lived here with their letters to friends, family snapshots, their favorite comfy chair, and the hideous plaid carpet. You can see the life lived in this mansion, and honestly, beyond the expensive art collections, it isn’t that much different than yours and mine.
I definitely want to return, and see more of the mansion and the property surrounding it. It has several miles of hiking trails and carriage paths, and it would look spectacular during the fall colors! Of course, I also wanted to see the village of Woodstock, Vermont, so I went there next!