Belle Terre, revisited

2/19/19, 11:31 AM

By: Diane Frances

Two years ago today I got wind that Belle Terre was up for sale. An historic mansion once owned by Alice T. McLean, daughter of James McLean who was known as the “Copper King” during the Gilded Age, its elegance and charm has withstood with grace the ravages of time, most likely due to her enduring spirit.RooseveltMcLean1946.jpg

Alice took an interest in the 1500 acre family estate in South Kortright after her father passed away and put it to work to further her philanthropic goals. She founded and directed the American Women’s Voluntary Service, a women’s organization to aid in the efforts of World War II, and brought young “wayward” girls to work on the experimental farm on the grounds to raise food for the war effort. Alice also created “International Valley” on the grounds of Belle Terre to further the arts in international good will. In 1946 she hosted a gathering of women from the United Nations, as well as Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.

Those who know me know that I spend a great deal of time thinking  about and working on ways to strengthen our community. Our bonds  with each other, with our history, with our land and its wildlife.  On that day I saw a post on Facebook that Delaware County Tourism Committee was holding public information meetings on how they intended to spend the money they had been collecting with the new bed tax. As a bed and breakfast owner I offered an idea:

 Here's an idea to invest it back into our community as an economic engine that builds upon our strengths - natural beauty, artisans, agriculture. Buy the historic local treasure Belle Terre in South Kortright. Lease it to Roxbury Arts Group AND Catskill Artisan Guild for $1 a year for 10 years. Pay the salaries of 2-3 people for that same period to start and run the Catskills Folk School where craft workshops are given weekly, year round, attracting tourists to our area to stay in our bed and breakfasts and airbnb listings (generating more bed tax revenue) and eat dinner in our restaurants. It will pay the artisan instructors and have a gift shop to sell the beautiful arts and crafts produced in our area. It will hire groundskeepers, kitchen staff and housekeeping staff to care for the grounds and feed the attendees amazing luncheons made with food grown right here by local farmers. It can cross promote with all the amazing work being done by the trails people, by performing arts venues such as West Kortright Center, by Pure Catskills, by Hobart Book Village, by Hanford Mills, by Taste of the Catskills. It would be run as a not-for-profit with some of the fund balance being set aside toward being able to buy Belle Terre from the county at the original purchase price after 10 years. By then it should be self sustaining. If you want to see a functional model for this take a look at the John C. Campbell Folk School in NC.

 As a farmer and producer of eggs and vegetables and a bed and breakfast owner I can attest that people love to come here but they are looking for more things to do, more things connected with who we are as a region, more local food options.

 It can be made more energy efficient in partnership with Transition Catskills.

 Feb 19 2017


The Tourism Committee had other ideas and I wasn’t able to attend the meetings anyway and soon afterward Belle Terre was sold to a private person. That, as they say, was that.

Well, not entirely. There was a wonderful thread on my post, a great deal of enthusiasm was expressed for the kernel of the idea:  a local food-and-art-based economic engine. It wasn’t long after that Julie approached me about working with our farm and our yarn on her knitting projects and soon Kortright Handworks was born.

Kortright Handworks is a community textile studio and small business incubator. Through workshops and retreats, all are invited to learn the traditional arts for creating beautiful and durable goods from nature’s gifts. Students and artists can begin at the beginning with fiber from animals pastured and raised sustainably on our farm and nearby farms. Those who would like to get involved can create their own studio space in our converted carriage house, share their skills, learn from experts and encourage others. We have space and equipment for knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, felting, sewing and whatever ideas may come. Whether someone just completes a piece during a workshop or is taken with the idea of creating an entrepreneurial venture we can help. We are creating custom workshops where folks can stay in our bed and breakfast and enjoy farm-to-table meals too. Maybe one day this idea will catch on and become a food-and-art based economic engine right here on our farm.

It isn’t exactly Belle Terre, but then again, it is La Basse Cour. We’re also in South Kortright. Julie and I are far from wealthy philanthropists but we are working together in many ways to create a more caring, more sharing community. Embedded in that same Facebook thread was a comment by Julie about her idea that was to become The Book Nook. February 19, 2017 was quite an auspicious day.


 Photo Caption: Mrs. Alice T. McLean and Mrs Eleanor Roosesvet on the steps of Belle Terre, Sunday, October 20, 1946, from Stamford Library Collection


More about Alice T. McLean and Belle Terre: