Sunday, November 25, 2018


Our travels to central and upstate New York and Vermont was interesting at every turn on every road, mostly by the old barn architecture and scenic rolling farmlands.

An estimated 30,000 barns once stood in the vast Genesee which, at the time of settlement, stretched from Seneca Lake west to the Niagara River.  Genesee is an old Seneca word meaning "pleasant valley".  In the 1830s and 1840s this part of America was known as "the breadbasket to the nation."  A book was written by author Daniel Fink, Barns of the Genesee Country, 1790-1915, which describes the farm structures that were a part of this important agricultural region.

Interestingly enough, there has been a nationwide effort to preserve historic farm structures called "BARN AGAIN!" introduced to encourage the preservation of agricultural buildings which is sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Successful Farming magazine.  Visit their website at BARN-AGAIN.

To qualify for the programs the barns must be at least 50 years old.  The objective is not only to repair and return the barns to agricultural use, but also preserve the heritage of working farms for residents as well as tourists.

The barn rehabilitation program offers guidelines which state that the rehab work must not "materially alter historic appearance".  Many owners who fail to win grants from the Barn Restoration program may still quality for a tax break which may be as much as a 25% tax credit for rehabilitation of historic structures.

After traveling through much of the agricultural areas of the central and northern New York areas as well as throughout much of Vermont, we can't imagine what hardships the farmers must have endured.  There is a saying, "The only person who works harder than a farmer is the farmer's wife", and we believe this may be true!

Monday, November 5, 2018


Studio, Retail Shop and Offices
Mackenzie-Childs - Aurora, NY

Mackenzie-Childs Farmhouse Tour begins in
The Retail Store - 7 BR, 4 1/2 B Farmhouse

We planned a day trip to drive down the scenic Cayuga Lake Wine Trail to the 43 acre Mackenzie-Childs estate in Aurora, New York.  Let me say there was quite a bit of historical information we did not know until after we toured the estate.  The estate and spectacular farmhouse consists of 7 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, which also included a studio, carriage house and a retail shop.... just as we imagined it would be - whimsical and magical.  The tour was amazing and we were allowed to go all throughout the farmhouse to see the beautiful home decor.

Retail Shop Courtyard
Mackenzie Childs - Aurora, NY

Lake around Studio, Retail Shops and Offices
Mackenzie Childs Farm - Aurora, NY

Walking Trails around back of Farmhouse
Mackenzie Childs Farmhouse - Aurora, NY 
Walking Trails and Flower Gardens
Mackenzie Childs Farmhouse - Aurora, NY

I had heard an interesting story of the couple who came to New York from England with their 9 year old daughter in 1980.  Richard and Victoria Mackenzie Childs purchased an old boarded up farmhouse for $20,000.  Over the years, they invested over $1.6 million on renovations and additions. Unfortunately, in 2001 Mackenzie Childs went through bankruptcy, and was sold to Pleasant Rowland (the founder of American Girl) and their dream was lost, along with their brand name, Mackenzie Childs, which was sadly packaged with all the other professional copyright and trademarks, and then in 2008 was sold to a private equity fund, Twin Lakes Capital, owned by Lee Feldman and Howard Cohen.  So, in essence, the founders of Mackenzie Childs have not been involved in the company since 2002.

I was naive to think these bigger than life personalities and their 300 employee creative staff were still walking around the beautiful estate doing their creative things.  I later learned that they had moved on since the bankruptcy settlement in 2002.  As they say, "from rags to riches".   I remember reading magazine articles in the 1980's and seeing Mackenzie Childs beautiful hand painted decorative creations.  There were so many new ideas and through many years I remembered seeing and recognizing some of their designs and unmistakable product branding.

This original piece has been in several magazines.
The first time I saw it was in the 1980's

Hand painted panel door

The murals actually portray local landscapes.

Besides private shops all around the country,
Mackenzie Childs pottery and hand painted furniture
is in demand and featured in Nordstroms
and many higher end department stores.

My understanding is there is a new Victoria and Richard company, also known as VandR Emprise.  It will be interesting to see another designer branding and creative entity as they emerge after having learned many costly life lessons.  In closing, Aurora,  New York,  and Lake Cayuga impart tons of interesting early American history,  and we also enjoyed our visit to Aurora's beautiful Wells College and The Aurora Inn.