A rare glimpse inside Naulakha, Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont hideaway
By Kevin O’Connor
When students, on a local field trip, learn they’re about to be introduced to Britain’s greatest literary superstar, they can be forgiven for anticipating the bespectacled Harry Potter.
When a sign on the wall announces their guest is, instead, the creator of “The Jungle Book,” it’s understood why they next conjure up thoughts of moviemaker Walt Disney.
That’s why caretakers of Rudyard Kipling’s former Vermont home — named Naulakha, after a Hindi word meaning “a jewel beyond price” — have opened the late Victorian writer’s private hideaway to people of all ages, so they can enjoy a rare look inside.
“It’s one of the best-kept secrets,” says Kelly Carlin of Landmark Trust USA, which owns the property. “Education is part of our mission. This is a way to educate people not only about Naulakha, but also the fact that someone who was the most famous author in the world lived here.”
Kipling, born in India in 1865 and schooled in England, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1892 upon his marriage to American Caroline Balestier. Settling on a Dummerston hillside at age 26, the writer, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, designed a home similar in shape to the vessel that transported him to the United States.
“He imagined he would ride his ‘ship’ over the mountains, having many wonderful journeys,” Carlin said.
Alas, his landing wasn’t so smooth. On his first day, he met a pair of reporters seeking comment.
A newspaper interview, Kipling replied, was “a crime — an assault — it is cowardly and vile — no respectable man would ask it, much less give it.” American journalism, he continued, had “nothing to admire and less to respect.” As for any reader curious about him, “say I am a boor, for I am, and I want people to learn it and let me alone.”
But Kipling would befriend such locals as former Vermont Gov. Frederick Holbrook, host barn dances, and travel to nearby Brattleboro — sometimes with snowshoes or skis, the latter given to him by Sherlock Holmes author and friend Arthur Conan Doyle — to drink lager in a basement bar of downtown’s cornerstone Brooks House.
“Been in Europe, ain’t ya?” one patron was said to have asked the author.
Kipling wrote his classic works “The Jungle Book” and “Captains Courageous” and conceived “Kim” and “Just So Stories” at his Vermont home. But such professional highs were offset by personal lows.
A border dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela over the South American colony of British Guiana, for example, led some in the United States to criticize Kipling’s homeland, prompting him to plan his departure.
Shortly thereafter, in 1896, Kipling’s brother-in-law, drunk on the street, threatened the author — leading to the relative’s arrest and resulting publicity that shattered the writer’s privacy and spurred his return to England.
Nearly a century and a quarter later, locals have been introduced to Kipling — in the form of Massachusetts actor Jackson Gillman, dressed in period costume — during specially scheduled programs.
“If Mr. Kipling was here today,” Carlin tells visitors, “he would recognize the house.”
That’s because, after the author left in 1896, the property stayed within the family, then sat unused (except for interloping raccoons) for 50 years before the Landmark Trust purchased it in 1991 and since has opened it for short-term stays.
“People still are shocked when they hear Kipling lived here and you can rent his house,” Carlin said.
The house features large, light-filled windows as, upon its construction, the electrical wires that served Brattleboro had yet to make their way to the outskirts of Dummerston.
“Sort of like we still can’t get cable,” Carlin said.
The nonprofit has restored the interior to look as it did when Kipling conceived his “Just So Stories” after his children asked him to repeat a favorite story “just so.” Downstairs, visitors can touch Kipling’s original dining room table (although they’re encouraged not to) and browse his study and its wall of books. Upstairs, they can see not only his bed, but also his bathtub.
“It’s a way to keep Kipling and his stories alive,” Carlin says, “and educate our community about this amazing resource.” •
Naulakha House rental
What: Stay at Naulakha. The three-floor historic home sleeps eight people comfortably and offers four bedrooms with three full baths on the second floor. The third floor features a game room with a pool table. The first floor includes a fully equipped kitchen, breakfast nook, dining room, loggia, office and spacious library. Minimum stay of three nights required.
Where: Naulakha, 481 Kipling Road, Dummerston, Vt.
Cost: $520 during the peak season; $450 off-peak. Weekly rates are available.
Other Landmark Trust USA properties available to rent: Kipling’s Carriage House, Dutton Farmhouse, Sugarhouse, Amos Brown House
More information: 802-254-6868 or email@example.com
Guided Tours of Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont Estate and Rhododendron Display
What: A one-hour guided tour of Rudyard Kipling’s former Vermont estate when its 100-yard multi-colored rhododendron tunnel is in full bloom. Tea on the stone patio. After each tour, guests can visit the grounds that include a barn museum, rhododendron tunnel and pergola, and Vermont’s first tennis courts. Tours are limited to 20 people, and preregistration is required.
Where: Naulakha, 481 Kipling Road, Dummerston, Vt.
When: 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., May 29 and May 30.
More information: 802-254-6868, or landmarktrustusa.org/events
Kevin O’Connor is a Vermont native and Brattleboro Reformer contributor.