Group purchases Donald Hall’s farmhouse with preservation in mind

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/17/2019 10:00:37 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 10:00:23 PM

Across New England, the homes of famous writers, particularly poets, have been preserved. Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson are just the most notable examples.

In that vein, a pair of New Hampshire preservationists has purchased the home of former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall.

Eagle Pond Farm, on Route 4 in Wilmot, N.H., was sold Tuesday to Frank Whittemore and Lynne Monroe, of Kensington, for $395,000.

Monroe, who is principal at the New Hampshire consulting firm Preservation Company, said she hopes to protect the historic character of the farmhouse, which was purchased by Hall’s great-grandfather in 1865.

“It’s a national historic landmark in the making — which is exactly what we want,” Monroe said.

A group of friends and admirers of Hall that Monroe and Whittemore have been working with, including Hall’s neighbor, children’s book author Mary Lyn Ray, also purchased at recent auctions some of the home’s furnishings and other items that Hall and his wife, Jane Kenyon, herself a celebrated poet, used during their years together at the farm.

Hall and Kenyon, who were married in 1972, moved to Eagle Pond Farm in 1975. The home had belonged to Hall’s grandparents and he had spent time and written poems there as a boy.

Kenyon died of leukemia in 1995. Hall died last June at age 89.

The farmhouse was a place that inspired both writers, Ray said.

“I think they just found that they were home there,” she said. “They found a place that fed the soul and fed their poetry and prose.”

The preservation group’s goal, in addition to conserving the farmhouse, is to turn the items its members have purchased into a collection open to the public, Ray said. She is not sure whether that collection will be held in the house or in another location.

Monroe, Whittemore and other admirers and friends of Hall heard that the farmhouse was going to be put on the market a little over two weeks ago and worked quickly to contact the family’s real estate agent. Monroe said Hall’s family was excited at the prospect of it being sold to people who wanted to honor the family legacy.

Ray said she and other preservationists had purchased Hall’s blue writing chair, along with two leather satchels Hall had used to carry his writing. Additionally, they purchased Hall’s Glenwood kitchen and parlor stoves and painted bed — items that appeared in his poetry — as well as many other belongings of significance.

The blue chair was of particular importance to Ray. For 35 years, she had visited with Hall as he revised poems, watched baseball games and drank black coffee while seated in that chair.

“To anyone else, it looks like an ordinary furniture chair,” she said. “But for anyone who knew Don, it was such a telling focal object.”

She drove 2 miles down the road from her home in South Danbury at 6 last Friday night before the estate sale at Eagle Pond Farm. For 15 hours, she alternated between sitting on the porch of the historic farmhouse and sitting in her car, until the sale began at 9 a.m. Saturday. At one point, a neighbor stopped by to loan her a down comforter.

Preservationists also attended two auctions where Hall’s and Kenyon’s belongings were sold — one in Plainfield run by William A. Smith Inc., last Thursday and one in Boston last Friday. The sale in Wilmot last weekend dispersed the remainder of Hall’s belongings.

For Eagle Pond Farm, the next steps will include working with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to obtain a historic preservation easement, or a legal agreement that permanently protects a significant historic property from substantial changes, Monroe said.

The 160 acres surrounding the farm is already under a conversation easement, she said.

Monroe said she’s been touched by the many individuals who emerged in such a short time to help conserve the farm’s history and Hall’s and Kenyon’s legacy.

“The outpouring of love and caring and commitment to Don and Jane and the continuation for the farm has been absolutely astounding and heartwarming beyond any imagination,” she said.

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