Rudyard Kipling Wrote "The Jungle Book" in This Snowy Vermont House
Read the original story, first published on Houzz, here.
In the snowy Green Mountains of Vermont, Rudyard Kipling spun tales of a boy raised by wolves in the steamy Indian jungle. The Bombay-born and British-educated author had married an American and built his dream house near her family in 1893. In the house he named Naulakha, Hindi for “priceless jewel,” Kipling rejoiced in domesticity, nature, and his newborn daughter, Josephine. Words flowed, and by the next year, he’d written The Jungle Book for her.
The family’s idyll in the States was short-lived.
But the popularity of Mowgli the man-cub endures. Disney’s remake of its 1967
animated Jungle Book was released in 2016. And Warner Bros. also has a version—with Andy Serkis, Christian Bale,
Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch—due out in 2018. As for Naulakha,
Landmark Trust USA restored it and maintains it as a vacation rental, where you
can eat at Kipling’s table, soak in his tub, and enjoy considerably more than
the bare necessities.
Kipling and his wife, Caroline, bought the land in Dummerston, Vermont, from Caroline’s brother and worked closely with New York architect Henry Rutgers Marshall on their home’s design. The house incorporates elements of the South Asian bangla (origin of the word “bungalow”), such as the verandas, hip roof, and low-slung eaves, and the Shingle style that was gaining a foothold in the U.S. at the time.
“90 feet was the length of it and 30 the width, on a high foundation of solid mortared rocks which gave us an airy and a skunk-proof basement,” Rudyard wrote in his memoir, Something of Myself. “The rest was wood, shingled, roof, and sides, with dull green hand-split shingles, and the windows were lavish and wide.”
All the rooms face east to take advantage of the views across the Connecticut River Valley toward Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. The main entrance, protected by a gabled porte cochere, is on the west side of the house. A hallway running along that side on each floor served as a buffer against the paparazzi of the day, who congregated on the hill outside.
Rudyard, who had made nine trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific crossings between the ages of 17 and 28, wanted the house—his first—to resemble a ship riding the hillside like a wave. At the southerly bow, his first-floor study and the second-floor nursery open onto verandas. The formal garden has since been removed.
The eat-in kitchen—with its original range hood, hearth stone, and Southern yellow pine cabinetry—occupies the stern. Thanks to the restoration efforts of Landmark Trust USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historic U.S. buildings, it looks much the same as it did when the Kiplings lived here. Adding modern conveniences like the refrigerator, range, and dishwasher enabled Landmark Trust to rent the house and sustain it as “living history.”The dining room contains the Kiplings’ original table, china cabinet, and Lockwood de Forest sideboard, made of oak and accented with panels of carved teak.
De Forest, trained as a painter by Frederic Church and an early business partner of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s, met Rudyard’s father, Lockwood Kipling, while on his honeymoon in India. The elder Kipling, an illustrator and art scholar, nurtured de Forest’s budding passion for the area’s handicrafts. When de Forest returned to the States, he embarked on a distinguished career in the decorative arts, furnishing the Gilded Age homes of Andrew Carnegie and the like in Indian style.
Next to the dining room, the shingled loggia brings the outdoors in, with a picture window that lifts entirely into the ceiling and doors that disappear into pockets. “The joy of the house is the loggia,” Rudyard wrote in a letter to his cousin Margaret Mackail, “with the 10-foot window that slides up bodily and lets all the woods and mountains in upon you in a flood.”
Some walls of the loggia were subsequently removed to form a large living area. “We knew from Kipling’s letters how important this room was, so we were committed to putting it back,” says Kelly Carlin of Landmark Trust USA. “Fortunately, we were able to find all of the original pocket doors and ash paneling in one of the barns at Scott Farm down the road, covered in 100 years of bat guano."
The fireplace in Caroline’s study is one of six in the house. It shares a chimney with the fireplace in Rudyard’s study. In the brick surround of Rudyard’s fireplace, his father inscribed a somberly motivating verse from the Gospel of John: “The night cometh when no man can work.” An ornate teak cornice, a gift from de Forest, decorates the east-facing bay window in Rudyard’s study.
At Naulakha, it seems, Rudyard needed little prodding to write. Working religiously from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, he penned his first books for children: The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book. He also wrote Captains Courageous, The Seven Seas, and much of The Day's Work and Many Inventions.
Rudyard had the windows on the west side of his study covered with bookcases and Tiffany glass panels to keep from being spied upon. Today, the shelves hold books that the Kiplings would’ve been likely to own, plus ones about the Nobel Prize-winning author and Vermont.
“The making of Naulakha was a great interest and delight to Rudyard,” Mary Cabot wrote. “Kipling had never had a real home since his days in Lahore [in Pakistan]. The laying of each stone and timber, interior development and finish, were followed by his close and tender observation. Of special importance to him was the arrangement of grounds and formal garden. He cared for every tree and shrub, investing them with poetic individuality, and tended the flowers with affection, as his daily portion of work, through their season.”
When the loggia’s oversize window and doors are open, the morning sun illuminates the center hall, and breezes waft up the staircase. At the top, a hallway leads south to what was once the nursery for Josephine and, in 1896, for sister Elsie, and to Rudyard and Caroline’s bedroom on the left. There, Rudyard invented fantastical bedtime stories—origin tales like “How the Whale Got Its Throat”—which Josephine would beg him to retell in exactly the same way.
Rudyard and Caroline’s former bedroom adjoins the nursery. Their en suite bathroom features the original oak-trimmed soaking tub and toilet, now 123 years old. “Kipling once said this was the first bathtub that met his needs,” Landmark Trust’s Carlin says. To the north, the upstairs hallway leads
straight to another bathroom, with two bedrooms on the right. “It’s a very
interesting challenge when the toilets need repair. We often have to have
someone make the parts that need to be repaired or replaced,” Carlin says.
On the third floor, small dormers in the roof light a playroom complete with the billiard table Rudyard requested to match one he’d seen in the home of Mark Twain, whom he greatly admired. The Kiplings seemed to have had every intention of staying at Naulakha until a dispute over a hayfield with Caroline’s brother escalated into death threats and a lawsuit. A media circus ensued, and the publicity-shy Kiplings fled to England in 1896.
While visiting relatives in New York three years later, Rudyard and Josephine caught pneumonia. Josephine died, and Rudyard left America, too distraught ever to return. Siblings Mary, Grace and Will Cabot, along with Grace’s husband, Frederick Holbrook, bought Naulakha for $5,000 in 1903. It remained in the Holbrook family until it was acquired by Landmark Trust USA in 1992.
“And so, in this unreal life, indoors and out, four years passed, and a good deal of verse and prose saw the light,” Rudyard reminisced about his time in Vermont. “Better than all, I had known a corner of the United States as a householder, which is the only way of getting at a country. Tourists may carry away impressions, but it is the seasonal detail of small things and doings (such as putting up fly-screens and stove-pipes, buying yeast-cakes and being lectured by your neighbors) that bite in the lines of mental pictures.”