The unassuming hamlet hosts a coterie of boldfaced names whoprefer to live humbly among their horses
lenty of shades of green exist already in the visual lexicon: forest green, lime green, hunter green and polo green, for example. There are also Windsor green, Farmington green and Greenwich green for the discerning color master. And then there’s Millbrook green. Eighty miles north of New York City, the tiny village of Millbrook has the aura of another time. In spite of its size (just 1.9 square miles), the land feels endless, almost unbounded, thanks to rolling hills, open pastures and fertile fields. Equal parts freshly-mown-grass green and old-money, faded-bill green, Millbrook has a positively viridian patina.
On my first trip to the village, I listen in disbelief as the car’s GPS goads my companion and me forward. There is no way we can possibly be headed in the right direction on these unmarked byways, mere suggestions of roads. Still, we sally onward, pitching through mud piles and skittering over rocks. Then, miraculously, out of the brush appears a towering white Greek Revival house in the throes of renovation. Here is the home of our host, Kevin “Pebble” Smith.
Pebble, in blue seersucker pants and a straw hat, is preparing cocktails on the back porch. I ask if we can squeeze in a tour of town, but then why would we want to leave the comforts of the refurbished kitchen, which extends from the original 1830s house? After all, “main street” consists of a mere three blocks and features a single stoplight (the Millbrook website boasts, “…you’ll never see a Starbucks or a Home Depot on the corner of Church and Franklin”). For Millbrook, village is almost a misnomer; it’s more of a landscape than a specific place.
And one of the epicenters of this landscape is Fitch’s Corner, the 150-acre farm of Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels. Kellogg is the former president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation and the daughter of late ambassador Francis Kellogg. More relevant to me, however, is that she is the mother of my friend Fernanda Gilligan, who first introduced me to Millbrook. Both Fernandas—Mrs. and Miss, as they are lovingly referred to by friends—personify the spirit of Fitch’s Corner and of Millbrook itself; they are ebullient, laid-back, warm and gracious.
The elder Kellogg grew up in Manhattan and Bedford, New York, but it was her love for horses (“I could hug a pony morning, noon and night,” she says) that steered the avid equestrienne to spend her weekends in the state’s Dutchess County. The house at Fitch’s Corner dates to 1793 and has passed through the hands of the original owners and Mr. and Mrs. John Hanes of the Hanes pantyhose fortune. When the house and farm went on the market in 1991, Kellogg acquired them.
Two equestrians show off their trophies at the annual Millbrook Horse Trials, at which some of the country’s best horsemen compete
oday, the sprawling property probably looks no different than when the Fitches themselves, the original owners, lived there. The house and barn, nestled among tamarack pines, alfalfa hay fields and teeming wildflowers, are painted the same faded green as the aspen trees that loom in the background. Black angus cattle dot the pastures, and the contours of the hillsides are striped with rows of corn. “The truly rural aspect,” Kellogg affirms, “is Millbrook’s charm. Until you get into the countryside, you don’t know what it’s all about.”
Kellogg’s farm is the site of one of the premier social events of the summer, the Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials, which are sanctioned by the United States Eventing Association and the United States Equestrian Federation. The trials celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2013 and take place from July 19 through 21. They feature dressage, cross-country and show-jumping competitions, and Kellogg opens her farm to everyone from local equine enthusiasts to celebrity weekenders.
Everyone I talked with singled out the Fitch’s trials as the epitome of what Millbrook stands for—“good people,” generosity of spirit and a devotion to horses. Kellogg, admired as a sort of doyenne of the Millbrook horse set, shrugs humbly at any praise. “It just pleases me enormously to be a good steward of the land,” she says.
Above all, Millbrookians pride themselves on their low-key lifestyle. Theirs is an almost Jeffersonian cult of the land—the ideal of the yeoman farmer as the embodiment of civic virtue. When New York glossy magazines began touting Millbrook as the next It residential retreat, people started trickling in. What they didn’t realize is that while Millbrook has its share of tony residents (reportedly among them are Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Mary Tyler Moore, Sigourney Weaver and Rufus Wainwright), Millbrookians are respectfully toned down. “A lot of that Hamptons crowd realized this wasn’t for them and quickly left. There’s no Citarella in Millbrook,” one resident explains to me.
Instead, Millbrook represents an unstuffy society that lives, breathes and breeds horses, not for show but out of genuine love. It’s an attitude and an aesthetic that runs deep, from the generations of quiet, established families through the new ones who embrace it. “It’s just authentic American country,” one resident tells me. “Millbrook is regular people living regular lives.”
A placid pond reflects the lush greenery surrounding Shirin von Wulffen and Frédéric Fekkai’s farm
Well, almost regular. Christopher Spitzmiller, a darling of the Manhattan interior-design crowd known for his ceramic lamps, attended the Fitch’s trials in the summer of 2009. “Bette Midler was sitting at the table right next to me, and you wouldn’t even notice her,” he says. “I can’t imagine what crowd it is that Bette Midler would fit into, but she fits in here.”
DANIEL CAPPELLO runs 47 Ventures, a creative consulting firm in New York City, and is the fashion director at Quest magazine.