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Storybrook Farm lives up to its name

Jan Hearne • Jun 25, 2012 at 8:59 AM

If fairy tales came true then happily ever after would look a lot like Storybrook Farm.

The nearly 25-acre farm, bed & breakfast and wedding destination in Jonesborough is picture perfect from the pond at the foot of the long gravel driveway to the 3-acre woods.

In 1992, when Diane and John Vogt and Diane’s parents bought the land, however, it was not a pretty sight (or site). Brambles and honeysuckle choked the entire property. Nothing of value could flourish beneath the strangling vines, so the Vogts set about to change things.

They beat back the tangled mess, and in 1993 began building houses for themselves and Diane’s parents, who lived at Storybrook until last year when they moved into an assisted living facility. The building process required the sacrifice of only one tree, a fact that pleases the Vogts. In 1994 they moved in, and they began landscaping around the two houses.

“We did a lot of plant rescue,” Diane said. “We got distressed plants from a lot of places.”

Explaining they searched the back corners of big box stores and garden centers to find plants on their last legs, Diane said they often didn’t know exactly what they were getting. They had no idea the hydrangeas planted in a semicircle around one wooded wedding site would bloom such a deep blue.

And that is the first indication this couple goes about things a little differently. It turns out they have rescued, recycled and repurposed most of the building and landscaping materials that went into their house and gardens.

Even their chickens were rescued. “Someone on craigslist said he couldn’t take care of the chickens any more, so we got them,” John said.

In the woods behind the log house that serves as both B&B and home to the Vogts, hostas line the paths.

“The hostas originally came from my grandmother’s home in Chicago,” Diane said. The offspring of that original have proliferated in the cool shade at Storybrook until they are a main feature of the wooded walkways.

The red raspberries they grow are legacy plants, too. “My dad got them from a friend when he was in his 20s and he’s 90 now,” Diane said.

A split-leafed philodendron cascading over the second-floor railing was a find when the couple, just married, lived in Wisconsin.

“We got that from the Milwaukee Conservatory scrap pile,” Diane said. “They invited the public to take plants. We were 21 and 22 then.”

Collecting has been a lifelong fascination for the pair, and they both come from families who knew the value of objects saved and passed down.

Diane grew up in Chicago, but the natural landscape is not unfamiliar. She and her family lived on a forest preserve on the Chicago River.

“It was a designated green area in Chicago,” she said. “Deer came up in our yard. It had been an American Indian settlement, so as children we found arrowheads, beads and pieces of clay pipes. We scoured the banks that led to the river (looking for artifacts).”

John grew up in Wisconsin and Michigan, but the couple were living in Chicago when they made the decision to move.

“We were looking for a nice place to raise our family, a family friendly place,” John said.

The first stop was Happy Valley, where they lived when they first came to Tennessee. Then Diane’s parent came to visit, loved the area, and they decided to look for land where they could build houses close to one another.

In Chicago, Diane had been an occupational therapist, but when they moved to Storybrook, she stayed home with their three children and homeschooled them. The two boys went on to graduate from University School, and their daughter graduated from Science Hill High School, where John coached pole vault for about 10 years before he began coaching at East Tennessee State University. He also was Social Security district manager in Kingsport.

After John retired five years ago, the couple began working on the property in earnest. At the moment, they are adding rooms to the wisteria-covered B&B where they also live and creating a Tuscan-style sunroom downstairs.

The slate pieces outside the sunroom were old chemistry lab counters from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “We just go and look for interesting materials and figure out how to use them,” Diane said

The bricks for the front patio were dumped where they weren’t supposed to be dumped. “We asked the landowner if we could have them,” John said, “and he told us we could if we hauled them away.”

“The brick was encased in mortar. We took hammers and broke it all off,” Diane added. “It’s old brick. You can see fingerprints in them from when they were made.”

The lights outside the sunroom were carriage lights from the horse-drawn funeral carriage John’s grandfather drove.

Much of the material used for the house was found at Habitat for Humanity stores in this area and across the country. “When we need something, we start there first,” Diane said. Many of the home furnishings were passed down from five generations or collected over the years.

Both John and Diane’s fathers served in World War II, and their uniforms are on display. John’s dad roomed with the famous bodybuilder and fitness expert Jack Lalane. “He said it was annoying because Lalane was so muscle bound he had to get up every two hours to exercise,” John said and laughed.

A piece of leaded glass in a downstairs window came from the home of Diane’s childhood neighbor. The woman asked that her house be razed upon her death and a park be made in its place. The neighbors were invited to come choose something they wanted, and Diane chose the glass. Under that park is a slate-topped billiard table too heavy to move, John said.

The stories abound at the Vogts’. When it came time to name the farm, their daughter-in-law suggested Storybrook because of its proximity to Jonesborough, the storytelling capital of the world, and for Barclay Creek, a wet-weather creek that runs through their property.

“And because of the pieces we have here — the things we have collected and the building materials all have their stories, too,” Diane said.

Because they love the farm so much, the Vogts are sharing it with others. Their parents’ house is the main B&B now, with themed rooms: the Eastern Mediterranean Room is furnished with items from their travels in that area, the Lexington Room has a horse-country theme and the Heartland Room is reminiscent of the Scandinavian Midwest.

“We also want to do hay rides and sleigh rides, bonfires with hot chocolate and cider,” Diane said.

They have had 50-person sit down dinners, and they just recently began booking weddings.

Though they have traveled throughout the world — John has been to 37 countries — Jonesborough will remain home, they say.

“We just love it here,” Diane said. “There was just something about this area that hit our hearts.”

For more information, call 262-7995 or visit the website at www.storybrookfarmtn.com.

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