Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historic Park

Wednesday August 9, 2023                                   Most Recent Posts:
Moose River Campground Site 20                       Food and Fun in Early August
St Johnsbury, Vermont                                            The Turn Signal Saga

Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historic Park (hereafter known as MBR) in Woodstock Vermont is 77 miles south of St Johnsbury.   It’s the only National Park in Vermont in my opinion, though if you google the question they will tell you the Appalachian Trail is a National park.

Anyway, I wanted to see it and find out what the story was.  MBR is really two entities now,  the former Billings Farm and the MBR Estate all of which was donated to the National Park Service by Laurence and Mary  Rockefeller in  1992.  Lawrence is the son of John D Rockefeller Jr. famous to me for saving Acadia and the Grand Tetons though the legacy of the Rockefellers to the National Park Service is far more extensive.   Mary Rockefeller, the granddaughter of Frederick and Julia Billings, inherited the estate in 1954.

Laurence and Mary Rockefeller


The Rockefeller Estate is free, the Billings Farm has a fee and is a working farm particularly great for families.   They have many programs going on as their information sign shows.

To begin I went into the Billings Welcome Center and saw the excellent film explaining who these people were and why this place is important in the history of conservation.   It really is a wonderful story and I learned a great deal that I did not know.  

In as short a summary as I can relate, George Perkins Marsh is described as a polymath scholar and diplomat who in 1864 published Man and Nature the first book  to “challenge the general belief that human impact on nature was generally benign or negligible and charge that ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean had brought about their own collapse by their abuse of the environment”.  His book argued that deforestation was dangerous and that man must live in harmony with the natural environment.  He is considered the Father of Conservation.

Marsh’s writings greatly influenced Frederick Billings.  Though Billings had grown up in Woodstock seeing the Marsh Mansion and Mount Tom behind it, he went west to make his fortune as a lawyer for mining claims during the California gold rush.  When he returned home, he saw that Marsh’s warnings of deforestation had played out there.  He bought the former Marsh property and set about restoring the forest and implementing new forestry management and farming practices that would enrich rather than harm the land.   After Billings’ death his wife and 3 daughters managed and improved his conservation work at the estate.

Mary Billings French Rockefeller was the granddaughter of Frederick Billings and when she inherited the estate, she and her husband Laurence moved there.  Laurence was one of the country’s foremost philanthropists and conservationists and continued the ecological philosophy of Marsh and the practical conservationist approach of Billings.  They opened the Billings Farm and Museum in 1983 and donated the remainder of the estate including Mount Tom in 1992.

The film, “A Place in the Land” is simply excellent with amazing vintage footage.  I’ve now seen it twice and am sorry it did not win the academy award for which it was nominated. 

Click the map to enlarge it and see the size of the park and the location of its two separate sections and visitor centers.


I had booked two tour of the “mansion” on line  was glad I did as they only take 12 people at a time and if I hadn’t pre booked, I wouldn’t have had the tours.

I arrived at the park at 10am when the Farm Visitor Center Opened and saw the 32 minute film at 10:15.  I’ve learned not to visit first and do the VC  last.  You won’t have the information you need. 

The film greatly helped me on the 12:30 house tour.   But not knowing how many miles of trails the park had, I hadn’t arrived early enough to hike up to the Pogue and on to the high point over looking the town of Woodstock.  I was told 3-4 hours to the Pogue and back.  Further to the high point.   That was too bad.  I really wanted to do that. 

Click the map below to enlarge it.  The Pogue is the lake I was hoping to get to.  I had to turn back before reaching it.  The house at the far right.

In the time I had, I hiked up up up and enjoyed the wooded lands as did what appeared to be many local people running and walking dogs.   The trails reminded me of the carriage roads in Acadia National Park.




Although I had to turn around before reaching the Pogue, on the way back down, I took a different trail and later learned that this cute cottage was used by the Rockefellers as a guest house.  It’s not on any tour and I don’t know when it was built but it looks Victorian with all the decorative work.  The park ranger told me what they use it for now but of course I can’t remember 3 weeks later.


I arrived at the NPS Visitor Center and loved the sign on the door.

As I don’t travel with a dog, I don’t know what it has to do in order to be a Bark Ranger though I think that is an unfortunate title since I doubt they want to encourage barking.  I do understand it rhymes with Park Ranger so that’s cute.

Wish I had seen a dog “taking the pledge”   Sorry for the glare from the door glass.


I checked in at the desk and after introductions and some IMO unnecessary “theme” stuff.  We headed over to the mansion.



The ranger did a great job of the tour though I really thought too much of the time prior to entering the house was spent on “the theme”.  I don’t even remember what it was.  Something about what is a house what is a home.   I think.


We entered up the porch and through the front door.  This was the view from the porch which I’m sure was even more grand before the trees were so large.   I have that trouble at the farm.  My view of Humpback Rocks in the Blue Ridge Parkway and the ranges of mountains beyond it has gotten nearly obscured in the 45 years we’ve owned the property


I loved the golden oak woodwork throughout the house and on the stairs.  It is my favorite wood and we have it all through our farmhouse.

Though not a great picture, it does show the amazing wooden ceilings.


Notice the parquet floors in the dining room and the hallway in the following picture.

On the second floor were 4 bedrooms with either 3 or 4 more on the third floor.

The Billings had 7 children.  The furnishings date from the time of the Rockefellers though most of the paintings are from the Billings collection.

One of the indications of the age of the house is that every room has a fireplace.


I don’t remember if this room was called the study or the library but it appears to have been a gathering room for the family with many places to sit and book shelves lined two walls.


I was the last one to leave this room as I wanted to read the book titles.


Pretty sure I could fit right in that little chair and look through the books but sadly, not allowed.

When the tour was over inside, I wandered out to the gardens which were a nice stroll from the house.



By this time it was nearly 3:00 and I was getting hungry.  I’d brought my lunch and had noticed several people eating theirs on the wicker porch furniture when the tour had begun so I headed back to the house.

I happened to notice the unique dating of the house and took this quick poorly arranged shot of the 1806 date.

Apparently this is late in the day for eating lunch so I had the entire porch and its view to myself.


I had arranged for another tour at 3:30 which took me back through the house and talked in detail about the Billings Paintings.

Frederick and Julia Billings were avid collectors. They were particularly interested in  American artists and promoting an appreciation in the American landscape.  The house has one of the largest private collections of Hudson River School paintings in the United States.  Sadly for me though most of the ones I wanted to see by Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt were out for conservation or refurbishing or whatever it is called.  I was very disappointed to find they were not there.

Though the buildings close at 5:00, the 20 miles of trails and carriage roads are open from dawn to dusk but I was tiring and had an hour and 20 minute drive ahead of me.


I  highly recommend our National Parks which are becoming loved to death and seriously under funded.   This one is quite unique in honoring pioneers of conservation.   If you visit Vermont, don’t miss it.  Where else can you see a great film, take interesting tours (maybe see wonderful paintings),  hike to your heart’s content and all for free.
Not enough of my taxes at work.
Democracy at its very best.


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Food and Fun in Early August

August 2-6, 2023                                                              Most Recent Posts:
Moose River Campground                                           The Turn Signal Saga
St Johnsbury Vermont                                           End of July at Peacham Bog

My favorite things to do are kayaking, hiking and of course reading.  Vermont is perfect for all three.   I continue to be amazed that I am in my 3rd month here and have not run out of small ponds, without power boats, on which to kayak.  Granted rain has made some days a wash out but still, during these 5 days in early August I was able to get out to two ponds and a hike.


The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains more than 180 fishing access areas to small and large ponds and lakes.   I know they stock some and perhaps all ponds with fish.  They have a great website which lists all their pond access sites.  It has been my go to for ideas.

On Wednesday I visited Newark Pond.  It is 163 acres and 31 feet deep.  It is stocked with Bullhead, Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass, and Yellow Perch.



Not sure what these two were fishing for today.

I think I have seen loons on all of the ponds I have kayaked this summer.  It has been wonderful especially when there are chicks.

Both of the ponds I visited this week have small islands in them.  This is where the loons nest.  The islands are posted asking you not to disturb the nesting loons.


This fisherman was hanging out on top of a Beaver lodge.


I thought this was the same Great Blue Heron on the dock and walking around as I paddled by.  How amazing to have a Great Blue Heron in your yard.


He walked off the dock, around a tree in the yard.



Not sure if he was looking for something in the yard or my presence, though distant, caused his stroll but he returned to the dock and flew off.

As I followed him with my camera, he was joined by the Great Blue I’d seen earlier.  There were two, not one, as I’d assumed.

I was shocked when this loon brought the chick so close to my boat.   That is very unusual but perhaps I had floated too close to them with my eye in my wide angle lens camera.  Alone she might have flown but she would not leave her chick.


Another great day on the water.  SO glad I travel with a kayak.

On Thursday I drove to the Groton State Forest to visit one of several state parks there.  I had visited Seyon Lodge on my last trip in 2021 and had stopped at the Upper Valley Grill but found the lunch area closed.  Today I was returning to have breakfast there.


The Grill is about 30 miles from Moose River on the road to Seyon Lodge which is about 5 miles further on.   Being in the Northeast Kingdom means the population and the ponds are quite spread out.  Just the way I like it.  But everything is a bit of a drive.  I limit myself to a radius of less than an hour.


By the time I arrived it was 9:30 and the temperature was 68 degrees.  Pretty close to perfect in my mind.   So glad not to be anywhere further south, not even in southern Vermont.


The little Grille is on the far left.


I asked about the closed sign.  Since the store is open later than the grill they just keep the sign there.  I had seen it when I was here last time returning in the afternoon from Seyon Lodge.  Clearly this morning it was not closed.


You know you are in a great place when it has signs like these.



My breakfast of choice was made even more delicious by home made raspberry jam.


By the time I left, nearly every seat was taken.  I suspect this is a local favorite.


From there, I headed 5 miles on down the road to the State Park.


In the 1890’s J.R. Darling built the dam to create the pond and a sawmill on this location at the headwaters of the Wells River.  After several other owners, Harry K Noyes bought the property in 1939 and made it into his private hunting and fishing camp.

PXL_20230803_151248018.MPHe named it Seyon which is Noyes spelled backwards.   The state of Vermont bought the property in 1967 and developed the current facilities for public use.  The lodge is operated year round as a lodging and conference center.  The 8 room converted farm house will accommodate 16 people.   When I talked to the manager last time she told me it is very popular with clubs and family reunions.  Apparently there is a quilting club that comes twice a year and stays the week-end.   Meals can be provided.

It’s also a popular fly fishing spot for Brook Trout.  You can rent one of their rowboats but they do not allow you to launch your own canoe or kayak here.

It’s a wonderful quiet place to come and sit in the two Adirondack chairs and hopefully the loons will swim close to the shore as they did for me the last time I was here.


I was here today to hike the Noyes Pond Trail.



The bunchberries shone out along the trail.


There were views of the pond at many spots as I hiked along.


Bridges crossed the streams coming into the pond.


It was of course muddy because of the frequent rains.




I spotted this fellow along side the rocks of the trail section above.  I think he’s the first Vermont frog I’ve seen.  Bull frog I assume from his size.  Any herpetologists out there?



On Saturday the campground had it’s TWENTY SIXTH birthday under the ownership of Mary and Gary.  Cake and ice cream for all.  After all this time they are understandably ready to retire and sadly the campground is for sale.

Gary & Mary



On most Sunday’s I lay low but with the rainy days during the week I have to take advantage of any non rainy day whenever it falls.  This Sunday I went to kayak on Long Pond.    The pond is 103 acres and 74 feet deep with Brook and Lake Trout.  It is 26 miles from me but takes about 45 minutes to get there.

I arrived relatively early but found, unlike usually during the week, that I wasn’t the first person here.   A fisherman was putting his inflatable boat together and was willing to help me take my kayak out of its saddles and set it on the ground.  One nice thing about kayaking on a week-end.


I set out and paddled down one side of the pond, saw this pair of loons quite far away but zoomed in for a picture thinking I’d get better ones later.  Some time later, I saw 3 more loons and even later saw them “running” across the water to take to the air but I was never close enough or fast enough to get a picture.  From then on, I saw no more loons and got no more pictures.  Bummer.


I did see a little microcosm on a fallen log in the water.


Notice two things other than the serene setting.  The sailboat on the left and the dock on the right.

The dock and the house belong to Matt.  He was sitting on the dock with the cabin his grandfather had built in the 1930’s in the background.   This is his family’s “camp” now and he comes up from his home in Connecticut to stay with his family in August and returns in the fall “to close it up for the winter”.

He and his dog were just charming.  His sister came out a bit later to read and his nephew was sailing on the lake.


Here’s a short video of the sailing nephew
You can see that he is skimming right along.  It will give you a sense of the wind on this day.


As with Newark and several other ponds, Long has an island and nesting loons.   Based on the number I saw earlier, perhaps more than one pair.


This sign is posted on trees on the islands.  You can click it to enlarge it if you’d like to read what it says.


I was very surprised to see something I have never seen before during any of my pond paddling.  A woman was swimming the length of Long pond which as its name implies is a long skinny oval.  No idea how many miles swimming it down and back would be.   I took a video of her too.   Wish I could swim that well.  And in that cold Vermont water.


As I mentioned, there was only one other car in the small lot when I arrived this morning. This is what the put in area looked like when I returned around 11:30am


Folks were fishing on the left, swimming on the right and putting boats in the water.  I’m not always lucky enough to have help putting the kayak back on the saddles for the hydraulic lift, but I was today.   That’s one of the benefits of coming out on a week-end morning.


Next time I visit Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historic Park.
Have you ever even heard of it?