STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY THE LANDMARK TRUST
Rudyard Kipling’s legendary Naulakha estate in Dummerston, Vermont, is a tranquil and charming mountainside retreat with a rich and compelling history. A perfectly restored monument to the years that Kipling spent in Vermont, the house is now available to the public as a vacation rental. It took incredible attention to detail, hard work, and loving dedication to restore the property, but under the stewardship of Landmark Trust USA, the stately home has been reborn as a breathtaking and inspiring oasis that artfully preserves the legacy of one of history’s most beloved writers.
We asked our staff writer, Benjamin Lerner, to spend the day there—and reflect on why Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont getaway inspires.
“As I drive up the winding road towards Rudyard Kipling’s historic Naulakha estate, the air is heavy with mystic suspense. The elegant façade of the house suddenly appears through the trees lining the road. Nestled in the pristine woods of Dummerston, Naulakha appears mysterious, its green shingles and stone foundation blending with the colors and tones of the surrounding mountains and forest. The property stands on a mountainside above an expansive clearing, and has the appearance of a noble and seaworthy ship sailing through a sea of green grass and rolling hills.”
I write these first few sentences sitting at Kipling’s original writing desk in the museum room on the third floor of Naulakha. The dark wood of the desk emanates an aura of nurturing creativity and the atmosphere in the room is both liberating and peaceful. It brings to mind memories from my past when my father would read me his favorite Kipling poems on summer afternoons in the house that he built in the mountains of Southern Vermont. I feel a sense of kinship with Kipling in that we are both writers who came to the Green Mountain State to rediscover a sense of creative purpose and who both found the serenity and clarity we sought in the peaceful Vermont woods.
Kipling was in awe of Vermont’s natural beauty and made no secret of the fact that it was one of his favorite places in the world. He was known to frequent local taverns during his time in Vermont, where he delighted in hearing the stories and colloquialisms of the townspeople. His four-year stint at Naulakha from 1892 to 1896 might have been relatively short, but it had a profound and long-lasting impact on his life and literary career. While staying at Naulakha, he wrote the classics The Jungle Book and Just So Stories, as well as notable parts of Kim. Kipling was arguably the most famous writer in the world during the time he spent in Vermont, and he found restful refuge and sanctuary in the woods at Dummerston at the time he needed it the most. Thanks to Landmark Trust USA, the celebrated estate has been brought back to life, and those who seek the same inspiring peace that Kipling found in the beautiful countryside can now experience it for themselves.
Landmark Trust USA is a national non-profit focused on historic preservation. It was founded as an extension of LandmarkTrust UK when they expanded to the U.S. in 1991 with the express desire to purchase and restore Naulakha. In 1999, Landmark Trust USA became an independent organization from Landmark Trust UK, and solely focuses on sustainable stewardship of historical properties in the United States. The organization has since added four more historic properties in Vermont to their roster of available rental properties (and a sixth in Tiverton, Rhode Island).
One of the things that distinguishes Landmark Trust from other historical preservation organizations is their novel approach to long term stewardship: by renting out historically significant houses and estates, they are able to use the money from the short term rentals to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the heritage landmark properties. The result is a remarkably symbiotic partnership with their clientele; vacationers can stay in exquisitely maintained and historically significant locations for a reasonable price, knowing that the time they spend there is helping to preserve and sustain the properties for future generations.
Making my way through Naulakha, the impeccably decorated rooms more than live up to the name that Kipling chose for the property. The word “Naulakha” was used in the Hindi parlance of Kipling’s time to describe a jewel precious beyond the grasp of people of ordinary means. The Naulakha – A Story of East and West is also the name of a book that Kipling wrote in collaboration with his good friend and brother-in-law, Wolcott Baleister, about the fictional state of Rahore, India.
Stylistic influences from Kipling’s time as a child in India are notably present in the decorative elements of Naulakha.
The dining room on the first floor boasts a dark-toned wooden table, a luxuriously ornate sideboard made by 19th-century artisan craftsman Lockwood B. Forest, and a beautifully-paired tapestry and rug, which bring color and warmth to the floor and walls.
The back of the house hides a cozy study where rows of classic books line the walls and comfortable chairs and couches surround a fireplace. It’s no wonder Kipling chose this room as his writing space during the time he spent at Naulakha. It’s the perfect place to reflect and recharge, read a good book, or gather with friends to enjoy a conversation.
There are a number of bedrooms on the second floor, and Naulakha can comfortably sleep up to eight guests at a time.
The third floor houses a game room complete with Kipling’s original pool table and a museum room featuring artifacts from the time Kipling spent in Vermont. One fascinating item from the collection is a set of antique golf clubs. During a visit from fellow author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who was a close friend), Kipling is credited with coming up with the game of “snow golf,” in which red-painted golf balls are driven down the hills surrounding Naulakha. If you’re lucky, you might even find one of the red golf balls hidden in the surrounding woods while hiking the historic grounds!
Events are often held at Naulakha, which focus on keeping Kipling’s literary legacy alive. For example, local school children may hear dramatic interpretations of the Just So Stories in the same room where Kipling read them to his daughter, Josephine. There is an annual writing competition where young authors submit their own short stories to a distinguished panel of judges from the Vermont literary community. Past judges include Vermont Poet Laureate Chard deNiord and award-winning author Karen Hesse.
As the tour comes to a close, I pack up my bag and walk out the front door of the Naulakha estate as whispers of lines from Kipling poems such as “If” and “Gunga Din” echo in my mind. Before I get back in my car, I take a moment to walk through the lush Rhododendron tunnel behind the estate, which opens up to a concealed stone observation deck with a spectacular view of the hills and valley below. I reflect on the events that brought me to this beautiful place and feel a sense of connection with the land around me. I am content. Calm. Euphoric. At that moment, I envision Kipling enjoying similar feelings when he spent afternoons out in his garden overlooking the meadows, and I feel privileged to have been able to spend an afternoon here at Naulakha, where one of the greatest literary minds of history found creative inspiration in the beautiful Vermont countryside.
ALL THE DETAILS
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