Whether it is a doe and her fawn gently stepping through rhododendron bushes, or a flock of wild turkeys strutting across the lawn, you know you’re in Van Houten Fields within West Nyack, NY. Stone homes surrounded with blue and white hyacinths tapped by fluttering butterflies further help create a unique setting in the heart of a hemlock and white pine forest.
This circle of homes, mostly stone, some of cedar wood, others with Tudor-beamed stucco, most all with tall chimneys that curl with pinewood smoke in the winter, were originally constructed in 1937 as part of an agrarian community of folks seeking utopian refuge from the devastation of the Great Depression where city living proved to be extremely difficult at best. But not so here with fresh garden vegetables, chickens, and cows for eggs and milk not to mention cold, fresh well water!
Many of the early settlers first lived in the three-story-tall Dutch farmhouse (no longer standing) converted into a multi-unit townhouse at the bottom of the forested hill. The founder of Van Houten Fields, Ralph Borsodi, author and economist, had procured sufficient funds to have frames of homes built on 106 acres of leased land from the Van Houten farm. Both men and women helped complete their homes. Each parcel of land later reverted to private ownership.
Some of the community members were agrarian, others were musicians, painters, and writers. They included Joseph Cunneen, editor of Cross Currents and senior editor at Henry Holt Publishers. Others included Irene Guido, portrait artist, and Marian Olin, a landscape painter of considerable reputation. But all became adept farmers.
One morning in early August during our stay with our daughter Michelle and her husband Robert in their stone home, Maura, Michelle, and I took a delightful walk around the one-mile loop of homes and forest. In minutes, we arrived at the edge of fern-packed woods of maple, oak, and pines filled with screeching blue jays, song sparrows, and robins. Nearby, stood an old artist’s studio building with north-facing windows providing the proper kind of lighting for artistic creation.
As we turned the curve of the loop, we passed a more modern white-framed home designated as a natural habitat for wild birds hopping about including a bright red cardinal. Just a little farther on, we passed by patches of witch hazel bushes, some of which had bloomed in early spring with yellow blossoms and others waiting to bloom half a year later with blue blossoms in the upcoming autumn chill. High above, in the branches of a tall New England white pine, dozens of crows cackled away.
We crossed over a bridge above a trickling stream fed by natural springs deep in the forest. On the other side of the stream, we stopped to admire a French-Canadian-style flat-stoned home perched on a grassy hill. At the top of the loop, we rested on wooded benches where we enjoyed the scent of fresh pine woods.
Within minutes, we arrived back at our daughter’s home nestled among tall hemlocks and leafy oak trees to sit down in the cathedral-glassed family room to enjoy a nice family chat (one of many) over coffee and blueberry streusel with Michelle, Robert, and their children, Ross and Holly. As we chatted, I couldn’t help but see through the windows the comfort of the surrounding woods.