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  • Mikah Meyer

Vermont's Spirit of Conservationism

Unit #43 / 413 - Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Can a house have a spirit? One that transcends families, centuries, and cultures? If it's possible, it exists in Woodstock, Vermont, and it's spirit is conservationism.

The foundation of that spirit began with its first owner, George Perkins Marsh, whose family farm the house sits on. After a wave of settlers came to Vermont in the 1800s, following the American Revolution, Marsh's tree-filled state was leveled for profits. With a lack of roots and trunks to stabilize the land, this desolation led to severe erosion and flooding. Marsh took note of the way man changed his native land, then further observed the rape of the earth while serving as a foreign diplomat in Turkey. There he'd see how millennia of human activity "brought the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon."

Marsh compiled his observations into the book "Man and Nature," published in 1864, and pleaded for greater stewardship of the earth. His treatise would come to serve as one of the founding texts of the environmental movement.

Five years after that book was published, a wealthy Vermonter named Frederick Billings purchased Marsh's house upon returning from California's Gold Rush. During his business travels he'd seen a number of the world's natural wonders, and also noted the changes in Vermont's landscape. Combining his interest in conservation with his wealth, he developed one of the first scientific forest management programs, utilizing the knowledge on his own Vermont farm.

That farm sustained for three generations, managed first by his wife, then their three daughters, and eventually his granddaughter Mary French.

Adding to the farm's illustrious history, Mary French married Laurance Rockefeller, whose wealthy and powerful family had helped establish or sustain more than 20 national parks. Laurance's work in conservation, such as purchasing and later donating the land that is now Virgin Islands National Park, was recognized in September 1991 with the Congressional Medal of Honor; the first given to honor a conservationist.

Soon after, on December 31, 1992, the land and view that inspired Marsh, Billings, and Rockefeller was gifted to the National Park Service with a mission of teaching, studying, and exploring conservation.

That house and grounds is now accessible to park visitors coming to tour this conservation estate. Allowing the view and spirit of this house to inspire more generations of Americans to care for the land we fought so hard to secure.

3 Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Highlights (You Can Do)!

1. Tour the House and Gardens

With a structure dating to 1895, you can walk through the home of American royalty--most recently owned by a Rockefeller, experiencing both antique beauty and unique installations such as a panic button which created a safe-room for the wealthy residents prone to crime based on their fame.

2. Hike the Precipice Trail

Want an even more expansive view than the front porch? This 1-hour roundtrip hike takes you to a peak where you not only get a bird's eye view of Woodstock, VT, (not where the Woodstock festival was held, FYI), but also the ability to see New Hampshire to the east, on a clear day.

3. Take the Billings Women Tour

While the men adorn the name of this national park, it's the women who really kept it running. Reserve your spot for this ticket-required tour (see NPS prices/timing here) and discover how women influenced the development of this estate.

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

New Hampshire to Maine to Massachusetts

-Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

-Appalachian National Scenic Trail

-Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument *New NPS site added 1 week ago*

-Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

-Acadia National Park

-Adams National Historical Park

-Boston African American National Historic Site

-Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

-Boston National Historical Park

-Cape Cod National Seashore

-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site

-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site

-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

-Lowell National Historical Park Minute Man National Historical Park

-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

-Salem Maritime National Historic Site

-Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

-Springfield Armory National Historic Site

The journey thus far:

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