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LENOX — After a prolonged close call with foreclosure and potential subdivision development, the once debt-ridden Undermountain Farm property has been saved.

The scenic Gilded Age landmark — given as a gift from the Sprague Family Trust to the nonprofit HomeFarm at Undermountain Inc. — is now debt free and ready to look to the future thanks to $455,000 in donations since April.

The nonprofit is seeking to raise $1 million by the end of 2024 in a capital campaign to reimagine the 95-acre property overlooking the bucolic Parsons Marsh.

Oct 30, 2023
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Gary and Jeanie Knisely are leading the preservation effort at Undermountain Farm in Lenox, where a nonprofit formed in April is seeking community support to rejuvenate the scenic 1902 Gilded Age landmark.BEN GARVER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

“HomeFarm has paid off all debts, which it assumed from previous ownership,” HomeFarm Board Chairman Gary Knisely said during a visit to the farm last Thursday. “We have raised significant funds privately, putting the organization on stable and predictable financial footing in a very short period of time.”

While the fundraising campaign continues, HomeFarm at Undermountain also is seeking $189,750 in support from the town’s Community Preservation Committee. In a detailed application, the nonprofit cited the need for restoration of the three-level, 14,000 square foot Stables and the Dairy Barn built in 1902.

It’s the first phase of a roughly $1.5 million project to preserve the farm complex at 400 Undermountain Road as a historical, cultural and recreational asset for the town.

Knisely described the nonprofit’s mission as “providing Lenox residents and visitors with the healthful benefits of interaction with animals and the land.” The estate-farm was built for Henry and Eustace Jaques 120 years ago and expanded in the 1950s with a large horse barn, riding arena and tenant cottage.

“Programming at the farm will include equine therapy, said Danica Keenan. “The donkeys are going to be stars, and we hope to develop a trail system for treks with them.” Photo – BEN GARVER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

The property has operated as an equestrian facility since 1975. Today, it has added five miniature donkeys as well as a flock of sheep and goats to the 26 horses stabled there. The donkeys had been residents of the New Marlborough farm owned by the late film director and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull.

Restoration of the oldest, most visible features of the farm will give it new life as a center of public educational and cultural programming and as studio space for local artists and writers, Knisely said.

“We want to make this a place where people can come with their kids, get close to and involved with animals and understand agriculture,” he said. “It’s a really healthy thing.”

The gift of the property from the Spragues came with strings attached — HomeFarm had to pay off $125,000 taxes and fees owed to the town and half of a $315,000 family debt owed to Peter Sprague’s niece, Karen Pessione, who grew up at the farm.

Knisely credited photographer and former Lenox resident Kevin Sprague for ironing out the legal entanglements so the deal could be completed. “Now, it’s a clear slate moving forward,” he said.

Although the day-to-day operations of the farm are now self-sustaining, the capital campaign is needed for preservation and restoration of the structures and pastures, Gary and his wife Jeanie Knisely emphasized. Meanwhile, there’s new fencing installed by 28 volunteers for the outdoor arena and for a large pasture, as well as field-clearing for expanded haying.

“We’d still be in business if we didn’t raise money, but the buildings might fall down,” he said, referring to the rising cost of deferred restoration. If the Community Preservation Committee approves the application for town support, all the proceeds would be directed to restoration of the Dairy Barn.

The nonprofit is in the first phases of a roughly $1.5 million project to preserve the farm complex at 400 Undermountain Road as a historical, cultural and recreational asset for the town. Photo –  BEN GARVER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

Programming will include “equine therapy for people to realize the sense of well-being, connecting with the land and the animals,” said Danica Keenan of Lee, co-founder and program manager. “The donkeys are going to be stars, and we hope to develop a trail system for treks with them.”

As venturesome explorers, the five donkeys unlatched a farm gate on Oct. 17, said Lori Pestana, executive director and a HomeFarm co-founder. The animals roamed along nearby Reservoir Road and made it nearly to downtown along Cliffwood Street during a self-guided, midday tour before they were chased on foot, rounded up and herded back to the farm.

Lenox committee likes latest deal to preserve Undermountain Farm

Looking ahead, Pestana suggested the possibility of farm-experience tourism, using some of the existing six apartments on the property to accommodate visitors for short stays.

Meanwhile, she emphasized that while the working farm is privately owned, the public is welcome if advance arrangements are made on the website, or during weekday business hours by phone at 413-637-3365.