By David Donath
President, Woodstock Foundation
The land that became the Billings Farm anchors the north side of the village of Woodstock – a village characterized by its surrounding bowl of verdant hills with a river running through it. The farm lies in the intervale meadow, separated from the village by the Ottauquechee River. Mount Tom rises to the west, and across the river to the south and east, Mount Peg, Blake Hill, and other hills in the distance frame the view. The land has been shaped and reshaped by successive generations, beginning with Native Americans, and through the past two centuries by the Marsh, Billings, French, and Rockefeller families.
Billings Farm occupies the best farmland that is close to the village of Woodstock. There, the Ottauquechee River collects Kedron Brook and makes a broad, sweeping turn before receiving Barnard Brook from the north. The lazy bend in the river has created fertile alluvial meadows of more than 200 acres. Before white settlement, the meadows were occupied periodically by generations of prehistoric people and later the Abenaki, who used it for a periodic campsite and for crops and gardens, and left behind a clearing to be discovered by the first white settlers.
In his 1889 History of Woodstock, Henry Swan Dana describes the location:
At the foot of Mount Tom was a swamp grown up chiefly with evergreen, but the white pine, a comparatively scarce [and sought after] tree in this part of the valley, grew with remarkable luxuriance on the lowlands at the confluence of North Branch [now Barnard Brook] and Quechee River. (Note. Nathan Howland, who, with the help of Major Hoisington, cleared this part of the flat about 1776, used to speak in strong terms of the tall and splendid pines he found here, especially one which measured at the butt four feet through.) On these same lowlands was a cleared space, occupied some time in the history of this valley as an Indian camping ground. This cleared space was a short distance below Mr. Billings’s present farm-house [the farm manager’s house built at Billings Farm in 1890].