With a serendipity filled backstory that would make the late Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon smile, friends of the poetic couple are busy transforming their longtime home in Wilmot into a literary landmark.
Hall was both U.S. Poet Laureate and New Hampshire Poet Laureate. He died June 23, 2018, in his family’s ancestral homestead on Route 4, a short distance south of the Danbury town line. Kenyon, Hall’s second wife, was also named New Hampshire Poet Laureate; she passed away in 1995.
Beginning two weeks ago, the Hall estate, via two auctions and a sale at the homestead, sold off many of the things that Hall and Kenyon had acquired over the course of their lives.
Simultaneously, a group led by Mary Lyn Ray, a celebrated children’s author and a neighbor and friend of Kenyon and Hall, made plans to acquire the most meaningful items up for sale, among them the celebrated blue chair in which Hall did most of his writing and editing; his massive, formal writing desk; two stoves and a painted bed that were noted in his writings; and finally, the house that Hall and Kenyon called home beginning in 1979.
The final acquisition was made possible through the generosity of Lynne Monroe and her husband Frank Whittemore of Kensington, who plunked down $395,000 for the property, which also includes 160 acres of land, nearly all of it in a conservation easement, that to the east extends up Ragged Mountain and to Eagle Pond in the west.
Monroe, who owns the Preservation Company, which since its founding in 1983, has become what it self-describes as “New Hampshire’s leading preservation consulting firm,” closed on the purchase of the Hall homestead on May 14.
The long-term goal, said Monroe during an interview Saturday, is to create a nonprofit organization that will buy the homestead back from her and her husband and operate it as a museum of both farm life and of the lives of its two most famous residents.
Monroe wants to get the homestead buildings designated as a National Historic Landmark. Although subject to change and evolution, she and Ray see the homestead as a place where visitors can see and feel what it was like for Hall and Kenyon to live and work there and where poets can take up residence and draw similar inspiration.
All of those plans arose from a single phone call from Ray to Monroe that started with Ray informing her longtime friend that “We have an emergency” in that the Hall estate, rather than keeping the homestead in the family, had decided to put it on the market.
“Everything was going to be lost or dispersed,” said Ray on Saturday, but Monroe reassured her that “we won’t let that happen. I promise.”
Reaching into her voluminous Rolodex, Monroe started calling people she knew, among them Colin Cabot, the founder of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon, who was asked to attend an auction of Hall items at the W.A. Smith gallery in Plainfield on May 10.
Separately, Ray prepared to attend the estate sales later that week at the homestead.
In both cases, said Monroe and Ray, something wonderfully unexpected happened that they took as a sign that Hall and Kenyon were smiling down upon them and their plans.
During the auction, the bid board malfunctioned, leading the auctioneer to fill the time by calling upon Cabot to talk about what Ray and Monroe were attempting.
Meanwhile, at the estate sale, Ray, who anticipated a large turnout, created a flyer that she passed out to everyone that explained the goal of saving the Hall homestead and included “a considered list of things we wanted to keep together,” among them an ox cart.
In speaking to the estate-sale attendees, some of whom she figured were seasoned buyers who might not have known Hall or Kenyon, Ray said she was struck by the fact that just about every person “had a particularly moving connection” to the poets and/or their work.
As the estate sale progressed, many of those people approached Ray and her fellow volunteers, who were draped in green surveyor’s tape to distinguish each other in the crowd, to point out that an item of interest was available.
Even more people, Ray said, have contacted her and Monroe and the tentatively-named “Friends of Don and Jane Project” via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As someone who cherished the affection, friendship and generosity of Hall and Kenyon, Ray said the project, which has the blessing of Hall’s heirs, is a way for her and so many others whose lives were touched, to say thank you.
Hall and Kenyon filled their home with creativity and love and in turn were loved near and far, said Ray, noting that Kenyon was a fixture at the annual South Danbury Church summer fair where she helped serve dinner.
At the fair, Kenyon would wear one of the aprons she had purchased at the former J.J. Newberry’s store in Franklin, said Ray, “and she always brought peach pie.”