Undermountain Farm in Lenox was on the brink of foreclosure. It’s been gifted to the neighboring nonprofit instead
LENOX — On the verge of possible foreclosure and subdivision, the historic Undermountain Farm and Equestrian Center has gotten a reprieve — although not a guarantee.
The Sprague Family Trust, owner of the 120-year-old farm with widely admired views overlooking Parsons Marsh, has transferred the property to the HomeFarm at Undermountain, a nonprofit formed in 2021.
The transaction for the site at 400 Undermountain Road was recorded last week at the Berkshire Middle District Registry of Deeds. It was a gift, not a sale, according to the document signed by Tjasa Sprague — thus, no payment was recorded.
Sprague told The Eagle that she hopes to remain involved in restoring the historic farm buildings, where 23 horses are stabled.
The 10-acre center of equestrian facilities and historic farming structures includes stables, a large, covered indoor arena, grazing pastures and riding trails. It’s surrounded by 150 acres of pasture, forest and hayfields.
“The town could have taken the farm from me, but somehow they didn’t,” she said. “The farm is kind of the keystone for all that protected land on Undermountain Road, hundreds of acres.”
Sprague said she is applying to put the farm on the National Register of Historic Places, with support from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
In its mission statement, HomeFarm at Undermountain, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, states that it teaches “recreational horsemanship and equine husbandry,” and provides therapeutic equine-assisted programs to children and adults. The equestrian center offers lessons, boarding and pony rides. It does not offer trail-riding to the public.
Although the entire property is 158 acres, the gift does not include 61 acres transferred to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in 2017. The BNRC has held a conservation restriction on that portion of the land since 2016, when it paid $450,000 to the Sprague Family Trust, owner of the site since 1974.
Because of delinquent property taxes and debt service, the farm was in imminent danger of foreclosure, HomeFarm interim Chair Gary Knisely confirmed.
Knisely said the property had been shown to potential developers and told The Eagle he’s hoping to raise about $1 million. That funding could come from preservation-minded community members and government programs in order to cover debt and unpaid taxes, and then lay the groundwork to catch up on deferred maintenance and pursue further restoration of the property. So far, the nonprofit has raised about $150,000, Knisely said, adding he is confident the community will rally behind the farm.
“What we need right now is to see 40 [percent] to 50 percent of the total raised in the next several months so we can start fixing the fences and stabilize the buildings,” Knisely said. “Money is needed to begin to show what this place can look like.”
Unpaid local property taxes covering the years 2019 through 2023 total nearly $120,000, according to town records, as well as close to $8,000 in unpaid sewer and water fees. The nonprofit also has a $150,000 mortgage to pay off.
Knisely pointed out that without the gift from the Sprague Family Trust and the formation of the nonprofit, “the likely result was fated to be a public auction and subsequent housing development on the property zoned for five new homes.”
“What scared us is that the property was already zoned for homes, and I don’t think there would have been any way to stop it,” he said.
Even with the gift, Knisely said, the property might be developed.
“It does, though, give us sufficient breathing room to totally protect this great asset, if we can pay off the debt and the taxes. Then, if we can raise the $1 million, we can stabilize and move on to restoration.”
A three-year payment plan for the real estate taxes is being worked out, HomeFarm Executive Director Lori Pestana stated in a letter to the Board of Assessors. The sewer and water fees would be paid off by the end of this month.
“It is the intention of HomeFarm at Undermountain to not only save this historic property from the threat of foreclosure and development but also to repair and restore the buildings and land from years of neglect,” Pestana wrote.
“This important source of pleasure to the neighbors, townspeople and visitors was very close to being history — only enjoyed by perusing photo books in the Lenox Library,” Knisely wrote in an email to some community members.
He credited “the generous gift” to the nonprofit from Tjasa Sprague, who is now stepping back from a leadership role to become one of the board directors for HomeFarm at Undermountain.
Pestana and Danica Keena will continue to manage and operate the farm and equestrian center, supervised by the board of directors, which will be expanded to nine members. Knisely wrote that he would remain as interim chair “until an established community leader assumes that role.”
Knisely said he is seeking recommendations to fill out the board. After names of potential members are gathered, recruitment and selection will follow. Then the board will appoint its chair.
The nonprofit is actively seeking donations.
“We look forward to the near future when HomeFarm will be a great community resource for community health, land conservation, historical preservation, and the arts,” Knisely said.
Nearby resident Jonas Dovydenas welcomed the nonprofit’s plans, saying he’s glad to see a scenic piece of Lenox protected along the byway to Tanglewood from Cliffwood Street through Undermountain Road.
“It’s all good, but it’s hard to raise money for all that,” he said, adding he has offered to join the board of directors for HomeFarm at Undermountain. “It’s an important piece of property that should be preserved properly, and I think a horse farm is the right way to go.”
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.