One of New England’s best-kept real estate secrets has always been the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (i.e., the three counties in the state’s northeast corner). For most, the area was always too far, too remote from the world, and, of course, prices reflected that perception.
Well, “remote from the world” has become attractive — particularly since 9/11 — and besides, thanks to one of the most beautiful interstates in America, I-91, you can now sail up the state in no time. So let’s just say the Northeast Kingdom has becomes less of a secret in recent years.
Nonetheless, this past summer, when one of our scouts tipped us off about a “gorgeous” (as it was described to us) 68-acre farm for sale outside the tiny Northeast Kingdom village of Albany (just north of Hardwick), we found ourselves moseying along up there the very next day. We were under no illusions, however, that we’d find an old Vermont farmer willing to part with his place for a bargain. The night before, we’d chatted on the telephone with owners Bill and Judy Bevans, who, although lovely people, are not exactly old farmer types.
Turns out they came up from New York 16 years ago (originally for the cross-country skiing at the nearby Craftsbury Outdoor Center), fell in love with and purchased this 1906 farm, expanded it, renovated it, and have been running it ever since as a conference center under the name CoachWorks Farm. They host retreats, seminars, etc., for various groups and also operate a fitness center for individual clients (such as the late chief justice William Rehnquist, who had a summer place nearby).
Their directions were perfect, and about midmorning we pulled off the dirt road next to what we correctly guessed was the new conference center building. Beyond professionally manicured rock gardens was the hundred-year-old main house, a covered porch extending along almost its entire front. Across the street was the large red barn.
The Bevanses had confirmed to us that, yes, they were selling — and asking about a million dollars. Pretty steep price, we’d thought. But now, as we drank in the entire scene, including the three major buildings, the rolling fields, the ancient maples, and the pond behind the house where the honking sounds of geese seemed to be growing louder, we wondered how many millions a property like this would sell for in southern New England. Maybe we’d discovered a bargain after all.
We hurried up the stairs onto the porch of the house just as several geese, necks extended, rounded the corner.
“They won’t hurt you,” said Bill, a trim, easygoing 70-year-old, as he opened the door. (We weren’t convinced.) After pleasantries and introductions to Imelda (a white cat) as well as dogs Tessa, Teddy Bear, and Jere, Bill escorted us through a modern kitchen, equipped with the best of appliances, and down a few steps into a spacious living area they built 12 years ago, with large glass windows overlooking the pond. Lots of glass in the cathedral ceiling, too. There we were joined by Judy, a small, attractive lady five years Bill’s junior who, as an expert fitness trainer, has been handling the exercise and food aspects of their CoachWorks Farm business.
At some point in our subsequent conversation over coffee and scones, Bill mentioned he enjoys playing the fife. “And she likes to sing along,” he added, pointing at Tessa, the terrier at his feet. A minute later, having produced his fife from somewhere, he was launched into a lively version of “Yankee Doodle.” Sure enough, Tessa raised her head and commenced to “sing” along. Then Imelda, who’d been lying on a nearby tabletop, rose to her feet, stretched her head out toward Bill, and began to contribute a loud, continuous one-note meow. When they finished, Bill indicated they could perform several other patriotic tunes, too. Of course, we’d have loved to hear more … but, well, it was time to tour the property.
We walked back out to the kitchen, through the dining room with a bathroom directly off it (what a good idea!), and then proceeded through another sitting area out to what Judy called “the deal-maker room,” a long screened-in porch that she said convinced her 16 years ago that this farm would be their next home.
Upstairs we saw four good-size bedrooms with wall-to-wall carpeting, several bathrooms, Bill’s office, and then, at the bottom of the back stairs, Judy’s office near the garage.
The highlights of the conference center building are a spectacular 50-foot indoor swimming pool and a large gym-like room filled with exercise equipment. There’s also a sauna, a hot tub, a nice meeting room (set up for a yoga class the morning we visited), and men’s and women’s dressing rooms and baths.
The last stop on our tour was the cement-floored barn with no fewer than 14 horse stalls. Only one of these was occupied, however — by a friendly horse named Rocky. A number of barn cats were skittering about.
As we prepared to leave, we wanted to know why Bill and Judy had decided to sell.
“At our age, it’s getting to be a bit much for us,” Bill explained. “Besides,” Judy added, “we’ve always changed our lives every 15 years — and we’re a year overdue.” They’ll stay in the Northeast Kingdom, just in a smaller place — and at a slower pace.
After saying our good-byes, we barely beat two of the geese to our car. (They surely were dedicated “guard birds.”) Fifteen minutes later we were enjoying a bowl of beef and bean soup at one of the two general stores in the picturesque village of Craftsbury, just south of Albany. The well-regarded Inn on the Common is actually located a bit beyond the common there and is where CoachWorks Farm clientele stay. We’ve been told it has an excellent restaurant (by reservation only, however).
Shortly thereafter we headed over to St. Johnsbury on Routes 15 and 2 and then south on the interstate. As we admired the glorious New England scenery whizzing by on both sides, we couldn’t seem to think of anything but a certain patriotic tune. And, you know, wonderful as it is, a little of “Yankee Doodle” goes a long way.