The high cost of the simple life

The First Family will be vacationing on a 'sprawling gentleman's farm' on Martha's Vineyard in August. 

Unlike the Clintons, who were often the guests of those who owned estates there things are different with President Obama.  According to Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune 

This is strictly business, for both renter and owner: Mollie Van Devender contributed money to Republican Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Her husband, a timber magnate, "maxed out'' in contributions to both Thompson and Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee

The Vineyard Gazette reports that it is probably a lucrative business, too.  

While the mechanics of renting the property were still ongoing at press time, the Gazette has learned that a rental agreement for the farm will comprise three leases, one to be held by the Obamas, another by the Secret Service and a third by a White House entourage.

The amount of the rental has not been disclosed, but up-Island properties similar to Blue Heron Farm rent for between $35,000 to $50,000 per week.

At those rates. it sounds like the Van Devenders may be hearing from more Republican candidates in the future.

The Vineyard Gazette has this description of Blue Heron Farm:

Situated overlooking a remote finger of the Great Pond, it is quiet and private, with an apple orchard, flower and vegetable gardens, stone walls, a swimming pool, golf practice tee and small basketball court for the basketball-loving president.

Blue Heron Farm sounds like quite the place. When the approximately 33 acre property was sold from the estate of the prior owners for $20.35 million in 2005  it was reportedly the second highest price ever paid for a residential property on Martha's Vineyard.  While several news stories note the "white Victorian farmhouse' on the estate, the Boston Globe reported at the time of the 2005 sale that the house was 10,134 square feet.  Victorian era farm families were large, but usually not that large. It sounds as if there my have been additions to the original farmhouse. The Globe also noted the stable was heated and the acreage included 1,800 square feet of frontage on Tisbury Great Pond,  Nor is this the first presidential visit to Blue Heron Farm.  In 1998, President Clinton and Hillary were the guests of the prior owners, Tony and Anne Fisher.  A party in their honor was held in the hay barn, a 150 year old structure transported from Pennsylvania and rebuilt on the Vineyard.

To complete that properly quaint rural look of their gentleman's farm, the Fishers also had a shed from the 1800s transported from Vermont.  The Fishers were respected members of the Martha Vineyards community, widely mourned after their deaths in a 2003 airplane crash.  That said, one suspects that their pricey modifications to Blue Heron Farm may have been what some critics had in mind when people wrote of the "Hamptonization" of Martha's Vineyard in the 1990s. 

There is something fin de siecle about spending a large fortune to make a property seem pastoral. Though in this case I am not sure whether the excess in question has more in common with Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid at her ersatz farm that helped enrage Frenchmen on the eve of the revolution than any excesses of the late 19th Century.  In The Everlasting Man, C. K. Chesterton writes of the "sophistry of simplicity" and suggests that at exaggerated longing for simpler times may mark a civilization about to undergo a revolutionary change. 

It was in a social decline that Watteau shepherds and shepherdesses lounged about the gardens of Versailles. It was also in a social decline that shepherds and shepherdesses continued to pipe and dance through the most faded imitations of Virgil.

When I read about relocating whole barns from Pennsylvania to Martha's Vineyard I wonder. Maybe I can raise some cash selling old farm buildings.  I have a nice chicken coop and an old smokehouse decorated with a dozen or so rusting North Carolina license plates for anyone seeking hillbilly chic.  I also have the apple trees, flower and vegetable gardens and plenty of room in which to knock a golf ball around.  There's a private hiking trail and access to a pristine trout stream less then 200 feet from my front door. My barn isn't heated but it is solid.  Made of wormy chestnut, it may be worth more than my 850 square foot farm house. As for the all important quaint factor, the house was built by the family that had owned the land for more than 100 years and, while rock solid, there isn't a true corner in the place. My hobby farm and improvements cost much less than 5% of  what was paid for Blue Heron Farm.  On the other hand, I am 35 mile from the closest golf course, art gallery or gourmet restaurant. There are a couple of places on the state scenic highway three miles across Caldwell mountain that do serve good country cooking and you can buy beer and jug wine in a town only 13 miles away.

As one who lives well off the beaten path, I suspect that some of the media's love affair with the flamboyant Obamas comes from their disdain for his predecessors' preference for Crawford, TX, and disdain for extravagant entertaining and vacations. After all, the perks from being in the presidential press corps are all that travel to fun places.   As the Chicago Tribune notes in their subhead for the background story on Obamas' upcoming summer vacation to the Vineyard.  

They won't be clearing any brush on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard.

The may not clear brush on Martha's Vineyard, but the place does have something in common with many places hosting vacation residences of the wealthy.  Whether it's Martha's Vineyard, South Haven, Door County, Aspen or the Napa Valley, the locals and the rich part year residents don't rub shoulders socially.  The current part year residents don't like the idea of more of their kind coming in, increasing the density, causing traffic jams and bidding up the cost of local services, while the locals see such development as the source of new and badly needed jobs. No one wants too much change.  From a 1998 article about increased crime, including a rare murder, after the island's full time population burgeoned, came this complaint.

"For new people, it's all about convenience," says Chuck Clifford of the Martha's Vineyard Commission. "Instead of coming down and adopting the Vineyard philosophy, they bring their mainland philosophy and want to change the Vineyard."

That sounds familiar to every sleep small town that suddenly becomes the bedroom community of a large city when a new branch of the interstate comes through the area.