The story goes that some 60 years ago, when Floyd Jenne Sr. traveled from Reading, Vermont, to New York City–a distance that can’t be measured merely in miles–he arrived at Grand Central Terminal, looked up, and saw a massive photo of his farm spread across the walls.
His surprise can’t have been greater than the awe that a first-time viewer experiences standing on the rising hillside above Jenne Farm. Except that few who venture out here are completely unprepared. Most come with a purpose. Most know exactly why they’ve come, and some even know precisely where they’re going to stand.
Jenne Farm is the most photographed farm in New England, possibly in all of North America. And maybe even, as Rebecca Gibbs in Thorton Wilder’s Our Town might say, in the Western Hemisphere. Chances are, you’ve seen it, too–been there, in a sense.
In winter, spring, summer, and fall–the last most of all–photographers descend like cows coming down from pasture to set up their equipment in the well-worn tripod marks at the top of the knoll. Cameras click, documenting the rise and fall of light on the idyllic scene. But despite the hundreds, maybe thousands, of calendars and postcards and bits of advertising and star turns in films like Forrest Gump and Funny Farm, nothing prepares you for the downward sweep of land and the tidy cluster of tumbledown red buildings burrowed into pillows of hills. In a landscape brimming with farms, Jenne Farm rises to the top, like cream on fresh milk.
Floyd Jr. was the last Jenne to live here; other members of the extended family live here now. Floyd Jr.’s sister, Linda Kidder, has been trustee of the 460-acre spread since 2003. She grew up here, until she was 18, and remembers when the photographers began to descend, in the mid-1950s, after students at a local photography school started snapping shots of the 1813 farm, built by her forebears. The photogenic setting soon caught the eye of Life magazine, Vermont Life, and, of course, Yankee. “It was pretty overwhelming,” she recalls, standing beside an enclosure of Herefords wading in mud. An attractive woman on the verge of retirement, her eyes linger over a landscape that lives in her blood; Jennes have been on this land since 1790. “[People] would come by the busload and mill around,” she recalls. “We always had beagle puppies, and they’d ask me to hold one of the puppies, take my picture, and give me nickels, dimes, and quarters.”
In her late teens, when all the postcards began appearing, Linda realized what a special place it was. “It’s not as pretty as it was 20 years ago,” she sighs. In fact, the outhouse collapsed a few years ago, and another small barn is decidedly swaybacked. In the face of entreaties from developers, she keeps the farm going with a herd of beef cattle and a maple-sugaring operation. “I’m glad we can keep it,” she muses, “but it needs a lot of work. It’s still a beautiful place.” Hundreds of photographers click their cameras in agreement each year, as the sugar maples burst with color.
And somewhere out there, tucked into a photo album, hanging on a wall, or hidden away in an old shoebox, are photos of a 10-year-old Linda Jenne, holding a beagle pup, against this backdrop of unparalleled beauty. The world’s moved on since then, but there’s still a little corner of peace and tranquility at the top of Jenne Road that feels as though you’ve just drifted back in time, to a piece of heaven on earth. You can even take a picture of it.
From Woodstock, drive south on Vermont Route 106, through South Woodstock; then follow the road up Reading Hill. There will be a small sign on the right-hand side and a sign for Jenne Road.