The farmhouse is truly a farmhouse, in that it has evolved continually and haphazardly since its core was built as a single-gabled Greek Revival house around 150 years ago. Greek Revival architecture was the dominant vernacular style in this region in the decades before the Civil War. The house was expanded twice, somewhat awkwardly, the last extension being added before 1935. At some point, Victorian Italianate decoration was applied to the porch, a feature that was added, removed in pieces to the barn in the 1960s, then put back in the 1980s. The siding was originally wood clapboard, which has covered with many layers of tar shingles before finally being sheathed in white vinyl faux clapboard in the ’80s. Walls and doors and windows and rooms have been altered and moved around repeatedly. No effort has ever been made to unify the design or materials of the house and there is evidence on or just beneath the surface of many eras and owners, each with their own idea of how it should look and function. In other words, although many aspects of the building are relatively old, there is nothing antique about it, no quaint original to restore. The major changes we, the current owners, have made were to remove most of the attic spaces, add a dormer to the kitchen roof and expand the kitchen.
The house has six bedrooms with eight beds that can accommodate 15 people if completely shared. There is a great stone fireplace in the living room and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. There are two tables capable of seating 10 and 14 people. The house has three full bathrooms.
On the lawn between the house and the barn is a stone patio with a crude but very effective wood/charcoal burning oven in which pizza baking, roasting, and hot smoking can proceed with wonderful results…
The barn is a typical 19th-century dairy barn in its design but larger than average for this region. Almost all older dairy barns in Delaware County were built into slopes that allowed for hay wagons to be driven onto an upper bridgeway where hay bales could be dropped into two vast haylofts and then lowered again to ground level stalls where milk cows lived their entire lives. The cows have been gone for 50 years. The posts and beams of the barn are hand-sawed hemlocks.
Today the haylofts are entirely open, well-lit by fixtures above and by windows that we have cut out on all sides. There is a full-sized movie screen on a wall in one of the lofts, along with digital projection equipment and decent quality speakers. The lofts also have equipment for amplifying and mixing live music. The acoustics of the barn is very interesting; the space holds sound well but the porous quality of the rough wood siding dampens reverberation. Underneath the bridgeway, between the two lofts, is an area where two former grain bins have been made into small rooms. The ground floor of the barn is used for vehicles, tools, building supplies, and a workbench area.
The shed is just a few yards from the farmhouse. It is insulated and can accommodate a small herd of sleepers on mattresses and pads and carpets upstairs. The shed has electricity but no water. It is heated by a wood-burning stove and has a serious foosball table next to a seating area on the first floor. There is a large, exterior wood-fired hot tub on a deck under a roof extending from the shed.
The cabin is a 700 square foot dwelling with two bedrooms, a bathroom with shower and hot water, solar-powered electricity, a propane-powered stove and refrigerator in the kitchen, and a wonderful Danish wood-burning stove for heat and fire watching. It is sided, paneled, and floored with white pine, an abundant local product. The design takes the form of two intersecting squares, each with flat roofs of different heights. The roofs have very wide eaves that shelter a boardwalk and deck the wraps around every side of the structure. The cabin is roughly at the center of the main property, at the edge of a wood that borders a field connecting the two main ponds. The cabin has a good measure of separation from the activity at the farmhouse and barn, and from traffic between them and other common destinations. The cabin can be rented for stays of any length.
The hut is a mirrored room with a stone floor and a large view of hills and valleys. Its back is against the woods. In front of the hut is a line of very active springs with massive bluestone blocks arranged as stepping stones around them. Inside the hut is an iron fireplace capable of heating the room to 135 degrees F. The hut was once the site of a lengthy purification ritual performed by chanting Tibetan monks, but it is more often used for watching shadows, storytelling, and passing time.
Near the upper pond is a large, rectangular wall tent on a cedar deck platform. Its interior is sometimes decorated in a reminiscent of the Arabian Nights.
The kiosk was probably the first permanent non-farm structure ever built on this land. It was designed as a base for spending time outside generally, at the only swimming pond on the property, at a site with a well-framed prospect of hills and valleys to the south. The kiosk is a pavilion that is higher and wider in the “front”, which is open to the pond and the view and the sky, than in the back, a bit similar in shape to a bandshell. Its form and materials (wide eaves, projecting beams) are intended to evoke the early 1900’s “bungalow” movement of Stickley and Greene & Greene, the finest ever architectural expression of American values.
The upper pond has a boardwalk that wraps around half of its periphery and ends with an open pavilion built in an arts-and-crafts style. The materials used for the kiosk are redwood and Douglas fir. The pond is spring-fed and ringed with a fieldstone wall. A large pinwheel-shaped raft with an open center is the platform for a game called “Watermelon Scrum”, in which players dive underneath the raft and wrestle for control of a watermelon. The upper pond was made in the 60’s with a government subsidy provided to encourage creating water sources for fighting fires. We altered the pond in one significant way, creating an outflow channel and an adjustable spillway that connected this formerly isolated, entirely spring-fed pond to our watershed. A formerly muddy area became a defined extension of the pond that contributes running water to the stream (then Handsome Brook, then the Susquehanna River flowing to Chesapeake Bay). Both ponds are stocked with largemouth bass.
The lower pond is spanned by a zipline wire that allows zipping people to plunge into the water from a height of perhaps six feet. The most common zipline competition involves judging dives by the size of the splashes they make; smaller splashes earn higher scores. The pond has a long, floating dock and tiny island supporting one boulder. The pond was built in the late 80’s on the central stream of the property in a spring-sodden sump.
The garden is a 2500 square foot area with full southern exposure enclosed by a deer fence. It is irrigated by gravity from a small spring-fed pond. The garden has stone pathways around 12 raised planting beds. Vegetables grown here have included tomatoes of many varieties, cucumbers, string beans, pole beans of many varieties, lettuce, basil and chard.
The Old Maze is a plantation of Norway spruce between the cabin and the upper pond. When we arrived here in the 80’s, it had a maze-like quality, with many enclosed clearings and passageways among and between the trees. We used it as the site of nocturnal games of hide and seek, “Manhunt” [more about that here] with the hunters armed with flashlights.
We sought to enhance the experience of mild disorientation found in the grove by superimposing an unusual kind of map among the clearings and passageways, a map of the northern constellations of the sky, with the constellations represented by around 30 molded, cement triangles and the pathways between constellations marked by around 65 molded, cement squares. The idea was to invent games that would draw players through complicated, befuddling courses, creating an experience of pleasant frustration, being lost in an entertaining way. The game that eventually evolved from this process was the “Flag Maze Game” [more about that here], which is a traditional event of Weekend Games.
Over time, as the trees in the maze grew larger and decreased the amount of sunlight reaching their bases, more and more lower branches of the spruces here began to die off. When this happens, the branches become less opaque visually and they become a real menace to people’s face and eyes as they run around playing games. As we gradually removed the dead branches, the clearing enclosures began to disappear and the site became unsuitable for the playing of Manhunt. [It eventually became clearly apparent that the trees of this plantation had been planted in rows, something that we had not previously noticed.]
Another aspect of the Old Maze is its population of Boletus Edulis mushrooms, porcini, one of the most luscious wild mushrooms in the world. Occasionally, large crops of porcini pop up here, though it seems impossible to predict when they will appear. If we get to them before they rot or are attacked by mites and slugs, a really exceptional foraging experience is to be had.
Fortunately, just as the Old Maze began to lose its maze-like quality, another plantation of Norway spruce that we established in the mid-80’s matured into a very similar maze-like state. Here the trees are generally a bit more widely spaced than in the Old Maze, and densely-needled lower branches descend thickly to the ground. Manhunt is now played in the New Maze. The New Maze is also the site of another game. “Vortex” [more here], a war-like team game designed to be an improvement on Capture-the-Flag.
Franklin Chthonics occupies most of two former dairy farms. Almost everything we describe here is on the main property, including all the structures and ponds, but the adjoining property is actually the larger of the two and has a longer system of roads and trails. That figure-8-configured system wends its way to the top of a mountain where an abandoned bluestone quarry abides. The trail system on the main property, however, is much more developed, with a number of subsidiary paths and various sorts of features along the way. These features include an old farm garbage dump with many rusting artifacts, a rope line for traversing a steep ravine, a bullet-riddled 40’s car with an oak tree growing through it, (possibly) two crude graves marked with rusted scythes, a massive moss “entity”, a yellow platform for viewing sunsets.
A new site for 2015 currently under development is a sports pitch, a playing field for team sports that require large, flat, mowed grass courts. This site is set in a hay field in bottomland near the creek, the only reasonably large and flat acre-sized area on the entire property. The pitch was scraped of existing vegetation and graded, and then seeded with grass and clover in the fall of 2014. With further seeding and grooming, the pitch will make an excellent playing field for nearly regulation matches of football, soccer, baseball, ultimate Frisbee, and other non-chthonic games. The paradox before FC is how to devise chthonic games for this site—a space designed as a universal, Platonic playing field.