Bolton Hall established Free Acres in 1910 on land that had been the Murphy Farm in what is now Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. A follower of Henry George’s single-tax philosophy that only land should be taxed and return from improvements on the land should be equally shared, Hall structured Free Acres as both a single-tax community and an experiment in democratic self-government. Following Georgist beliefs, Hall also believed that in a democratic society, everyone should have an equal opportunity to share in land and resources and that they do not belong to any individual. At the time, there were dozens of these experimental communities in the United States. Hall deeded 68 acres of land to The Free Acres Association, and drafted its Constitution and By-Laws so that the land was protected from ever being sold, and individuals signed leases for their small leaseholds. Leaseholders were responsible for maintaining the community through volunteer committees and for governing themselves through monthly meetings at which each leasehold had one vote.
Most of the original leaseholders were writers, artists and theater people. They were Georgists, socialists, anarchists, and free-thinkers with roots in Greenwich Village. Their thinking reflected the ferment of social thought in the period before World War I, which did not endure in the general society after the war. In Free Acres, however, in the words of one early resident, “Freedom was the watchword, freedom in our manner of living, in our speech, as in our thoughts, in our dress and in our choice of homes.”
The wooded property began as a summer colony, where residents pitched tents or shacks on their small leaseholds, using the widened Green Brook as a swimming place and pursuing shared activities on the rest of the grounds. Life in Free Acres was flavored by the Guilds that formed around different activities: archery, gardening and theater. The Dramatic Guild was very important as many of the summer activities focused on theatrical events and dance performances. People swam in the pool, which had been created by a small dam in Green Brook. The Farm House was used as a gathering place and tea room.
From its founding, Free Aces continues to attract interesting, free-thinking people, and its character as a lively, vibrant summer community remains the same.
210 Emerson Ln.Berkeley Heights NJ07922
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