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British group saves 1802 Vermont home

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WHITINGHAM, Vt. — To the visitor who meanders along the nondescript dirt road, the Amos Brown House looks like so many others in southern Vermont: an old brick farmhouse with attached barns, surrounded by green fields.

But this one is different. Purchased by the nonprofit Britain-based Landmark Trust three years ago, the house, Whitingham's oldest, has been lovingly restored to something like the intentions of its original 1802 builders and is being rented out to visitors from all over the world.

The mission of the Landmark Trust is to save old buildings from alteration or destruction, and to educate people about the past. Both goals have been realized in the Amos Brown House, which has retained its original details — including a four-seater outhouse, with a little seat for the youngest in the family.

"The fate of this house would almost certainly have been collapse in the not-distant future, or conversion for a seasonal home, in all likelihood altered out of any recognition of the 19th century," said David Tansey, the executive director of the Landmark Trust USA Inc., based in Dummerston.

To educate, the Trust has stocked the three-bedroom house — as it does all its properties — with a library of books about the place and time when it was built.

"You can really see what it was like to live in the country," Tansey said. "It really sums up agriculture in Vermont."

The Landmark Trust, founded in 1965, owns 166 properties that it rents out, almost all of them in Great Britain, with four in Italy and two in the United States — both in Vermont. The properties include castles, mills, cottages, gatehouses, towers and more, and visitors can stay in all of them for up to three weeks.

The Trust rescues historic sites "too desperate or troublesome for anyone else," it says in its materials.

In the United States, the Trust now owns property in Royalston, Mass., and Connecticut that are not yet restored and ready to be rented out. And it's discussing possible projects in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, Tansey said. But for now, the Trust only has two restored properties for rent in the United States, and both are in Vermont — the Amos Brown House, and Naulakha, the Dummerston home that British writer Rudyard Kipling built in the 1890s.

Renting out the properties helps the Landmark Trust pay its bills — it costs about $150 a night to stay at the Amos Brown — and it makes history more available, Tansey said.

"We can rescue a building and move on to another one, and we don't have to continue fund-raising for it," he said.

The Amos Brown house was a rare find for Landmark because, unlike most old farmhouses, this one still had features such as its summer kitchen and pantry, barn, chicken house, and woodshed that hadn't been significantly changed.

The Landmark Trust hired a University of Vermont graduate student to research the farm. The student learned that the original Amos Brown had kept sheep at the property. The many wooden outbuildings were added in 1870, and at some point the owner turned to dairy farming.

After about 150 years, the farm became a monastic community, and then was rented out for many years before being abandoned and turned over to the Whitingham Historical Society. The historical society gave it to the Landmark Trust to restore.

The Trust states that its clear philosophy of conservation sets it apart from most similar organizations in the United States.

"Typically in the (United States), historic preservation is involved with making 'as new,' " the Trust says in its materials. "We aim to counter that approach in our projects."

With that in mind, the Trust saved whatever it could of the original Amos Brown house — including high quality alterations made along its 200 years of existence, or features that are aged but still functional.

"If the floor's not even, if it's not unsafe, we leave it that way," Tansey said. "If a brick, albeit somewhat eroded, still serves its purpose, it stays; it doesn't have to look new, in other words."

The Trust has also made some major concessions to modernity at the Amos Brown House, installing central heating, electricity, and modern plumbing.

But the barns and some other attached buildings have hardly been altered, and the house is furnished carefully with 19th-century antiques furniture and rugs.

Standing on the porch on a spring evening, far from the noise of traffic or the sight of lights, it's possible for visitors to imagine what it was like to live in southern Vermont 200 years ago.

"It enables people to experience history in a very intimate way," Tansey said.

The tranquility of the quiet house itself, and the fields outside the windows, show visitors from all over what it was that drew immigrants to try farming in the rugged, rocky terrain of New England.

"As difficult as farming is in Vermont, coming from Europe where land was hard to come by, it was quite wonderful to have a farm," he said.

On the Net: www.landmarktrust.co.uk