The Barns

Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead's "Mighty" Barns

In the October 1909 issue of American Homes and Gardens Poultney Bigelow wrote, “Ralph Whitehead is a mighty farmer in addition to his other many accomplishments.” While not a “mighty farmer” Whitehead did, however, have “mighty” barns as he intended that farming be apart of his utopian community from its inception. The double barn was designed by Whitehead and Bolton Brown and built by local carpenters, probably Fordyce Herrick, to include multiple levels and measure in at 6,200 square feet. According to architectural historian Cheryl Robertson barns such as these were “the most potent emblem of landed aristocracy” as photographs show Whitehead could gaze from the porch of White Pines to see his barns that were reminiscent of the farms of his English upbringing. Indeed, Whitehead was enamored with the medieval influences of the Arts and Crafts movement and equipped his barn with a dovecote, a sign of prestige for an English lord of the manor and a cupola, a sign of wealth and status for American aristocrats.

The farming was undertaken by Carl Eric Lindin and Hervey White took charge of the milk, butter, and cream allotment from the colony’s thirty cows. In the upper level of the barn, marked with the cupola, housed the hay making enterprise while the lower barn held the creamery. The complex largely supplied the community with milk, eggs, vegetables, and grain until Whitehead died in 1929.

Farmhands did not always appreciate the meddling of Byrdcliffe residents, especially Jane Whitehead. As local historian and keeper of tradition Anita Smith remarks: “Mrs. Whitehead had a vision of the picturesque life remote from reality. One can imagine the reaction of sweaty teamsters goading their oxen to the plow on a hot day when Mrs. Whitehead and Miss [Marie] Little—resembling figures in a Burne-Jones painting in their flowing gowns and veils—would swoop down on them carrying bowls of mead for their refreshment, especially as the mead was non-fermented honey!”