Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller—Quite the Trio
“Every middle-aged man who revisits his birthplace after a few years of absence looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theater of his youthful toils and pleasures,” said George Perkins Marsh in 1847 in a speech at the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. Growing up in Woodstock, Vermont, Marsh had seen three-quarters of Vermont’s forest cover destroyed for potash, lumber, crops, and pasture. 17 years later, Marsh would delve further into these egregious practices in his epic book on the American environment, Man and Nature. Reflecting on what he had seen, Marsh wrote about a concept of sound husbandry where men could mend nature.
A generation younger, Frederick Billings was deeply touched by Marsh’s writings and, in 1869, purchased Marsh’s childhood home in order to make the estate a model of progressive farming and forestry. Beginning in the 1870s, Billings designed a forest with numerous tree plantations and constructed a 20-mile network of carriage roads to showcase his work. On the lowlands, Billings developed a state-of-the-art dairy. In 1982, Billings granddaughter, Mary French Rockefeller and her husband, the conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, established the farmland as the Billings Farm & Museum. In June 1998, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion and the surrounding forest became the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller is the first unit of the National Park System to focus on the theme of conservation history and stewardship, the main concern of Marsh and Billings. With their emphasis on the careful cooperation of man and nature, they had the utmost desire to pass land on, undiminished, even enhanced, to the next generation and generations to come. The Park Service will continue a program of forest management on the site, offering workshops on how to use the forest most efficiently.
Tour the exhibits in the Carriage Barn, then hit the carriage path trails like my family did this past weekend through Billings’ dream 550-acre forest. 11 of Billings’ original plantings remain including groves of Norwegian spruce and Scottish Pine from the 1880s, mixed in with the an indigenous Vermont forest of white pine, red pine, and maples. The longest carriage path trail circles around The Pogue, a shimmering body of water backed by the foliage of Mt. Tom.