The Eco-friendly Village of Arden
With 100 Years of History Alternative Art Community
Founded in 1900 by sculptor Frank Stevens and architect Will Price as a single-tax community, Arden Village is an alternative ecology/art community in Newcastle County, Delaware, USA.
The Buddhist concept of “no mind (無心 thinking consciousness is nonexistent)” is different from that of Taoism which is “letting nature be, or leaving nature as it is (無爲自然).” In Taoism, the Tao’s undiscovered nature abandons artificiality and emphasizes life as it is in nature. In Buddhism, it integrates man’s coexistence with nature on the basis of artificiality, that is, reality. Various alternative communities pursue life as they imagine it should be, and at the same time expand their philosophy and experimentation beyond nature. These are also connected with the Buddhist world-view.
In this respect, Arden is a village and environmentally-friendly art colony in New Castle County, Delaware, USA. It was founded in 1900 as a radical Georgist single-tax community named after Henry George by sculptor Frank Stephens and architect Will Price. The single tax concept is an economic philosophy which holds that, while people should own the value of goods they produce themselves, the economic value derived from land (including natural resources and natural phenomena) should belong equally to all members of society. The single tax movement appeared suddenly in 1890s America and flourished around the world until the 1930s. The single tax movement is a kind of alternative tax system that was theorized by Henry George (1839 – 1897). However, the philosophical root of the single tax movement was based on the ideas of John Locke and Spinoza. Henry George was an American political economist and philosopher. His immensely popular writings are credited with sparking several reform movements of the Progressive Era and inspiring the broad economic philosophy known as Georgism.
Arden Village occupies about 160 acres, about half of it open land. According to the 2010 Census, the population of the village is 439. In 1973, the entire village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP). Two neighboring villages of similar size were also founded on Georgist principles, Ardentown in 1922 and Ardencroft in 1950. In 2003, they were also listed on the NRHP as the “Ardens Historic District.” Many Ardenites, as the villagers of Arden are called, consider themselves to be “close-knit, nature-loving, liberal, tolerant, free-spirited, artistic, intellectual and even ex-hippie.”
History of the Village of Arden
Arden was founded in 1900 by sculptor Frank Stephens and architect Will Price, based on ideas such as Henry George’s single-tax, William Morris’s Arts and Crafts principles, and Peter Kropotkin’s theories of community. The single-tax movement believed the best way to raise government revenues was to tax only the value of unimproved land and the public-created value added to the land, such as roads. The tax, based on a systematized assessment, would recover both the value of natural resources and public investment for the public, while not impeding labor and capital from profiting from their efforts. Followers of Henry George’s economic philosophy established Arden as an experiment in the single-tax ideal after a failed attempt to implement Georgism all across Delaware in the late 19th century. William Morris, an Englishman, rebelled against modern cities and industry. He advocated a return to craft production, good design and village life. While Kropotkin was primarily an “anarchist-communist,” many of his ideas regarding social and community living were implemented by the founders of Arden to advance William Morris’s ideas for a return to village life.
The Land Management System of Arden Village Aims at Non-possession
The most unique aspect of Arden Village is that it is impossible to buy and sell land. Instead, tenants maintain a 99-year long-term lease policy. Instead of owning the land directly, the tenant can claim ownership of the proceeds from the lease he owns and also claim the right to sell or transfer his lease. In other words, it means that you can sell agricultural products and handicrafts produced on the rented land to outsiders autonomously.
Arden Village does not levy taxes completely separate from the land tax in Newcastle County, but the buildings and schools in Arden Village pay an independent tax separately from Newcastle County. The land in Arden Village is defined as one large section, which is said to be covering the land tax in Newcastle County. The board of trustees is in charge of land management in Arden Village. There are three elected members of the board and they hold tenure for life, and all members of the Arden Village have been elected through election to the village council. The tax structure of Arden goes back to the center of individual landlords. Most of the landlords borrow land for purely residential purposes and the rent is based on the area of the land itself rather than the value of the land. It seems to be complicated at first glance, but it is a reasonable community-based real estate system. Arden Village is a pleasant community in summer. Ardenites enjoy a simple life of eating in a tent. By 1909 most of the residential land in Arden Village was already leased, and the community land was mostly used for summer recreation.
People in Arden Village Who Love Shakespeare
In 1908, the Arden Club was formed to organize community activities. Organizations that generate profit for community operations are called “Gilds.” Some may think Shakespearian plays unsuitable for an environmentally-friendly community that pursues an alternative lifestyle. The interesting thing is that the first profit-making activity organized by the Arden Club was a play. The Arden Shakespeare Gild produces one Shakespearian play every summer which is performed in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater. In addition to Shakespeare, simple profit-making activities such as the bazaar, the village festival, and other unique holiday festivities in Arden Village are major events on the Arden Village calendar, some of which have been around for more than 100 years. The Arden Community Recreation Association (ACRA) and the Arden Club are responsible for organizing these various village events, and the Georgist Gild studies Henry George’s alternative economic ideas.
Arden’s beautiful natural surroundings are not its only attraction. Some of its buildings, some designed by Frank Stevens and Will Price, are more than 100 years old and a great source of pride. These buildings possess both historic and architectural value and are well-preserved.
Arden Village enjoys a simple life where Ardenites sometimes even sleep in tents in summer. By 1909, most of the residential land in Arden Village was already leased, and the land was mostly used for summer recreation.
Handicrafts made in Arden. Due to its high artistry and quality, it is still a specialty of Newcastle County. Even 100 years ago Arden’s nature-friendly, art-friendly lifestyle attracted attention which eventually led to the establishment of the similar communities of Ardentown and Ardencroft.
In 1913, the first craft shops were built in Arden Village to make and sell various crafts and goods. The artwork made in Arden is unique to Newcastle County and is noted for its high artistry and quality. Even 100 years ago Arden’s nature-friendly, art-friendly lifestyle attracted attention which eventually led to the establishment of the similar communities of Ardentown and Ardencroft. Today Arden Village is still growing. The spirit of Arden Village is rooted in all forms of artistic and intellectual expression and promotes a strong, independent community life. Most community activities and small group activities are run by volunteers. Arden Village has a “town meeting” form of government. All village matters are handled through direct voting by all village members. Village meetings are held at 7:30 a.m. on the fourth Sunday in January, March, June and September. Anyone age 18 or older who has lived in Arden Village for more than six months may participate.
Architecture with over 100 Years of History
Arden’s beautiful natural surroundings are not its only attraction. Some of its buildings, some designed by Frank Stevens and Will Price, are more than 100 years old and a great source of pride. These buildings possess both historic and architectural value and are well-preserved. There are six named houses in Arden Village designed by its founder, Will Price: “Friendly Gables” at 2205 Little Lane (1909), “The Lodge” (1910), “Green Gate” (1909), “The Second Homestead” (1909), “The Fels House” (1909) and “Rest Cottage” (1910).
Price also designed the Arden Craft Shop in 1913. His designs are generally Elizabethan Revival and show the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. The first houses built in Arden were small summer cottages that either no longer exist, or in a few cases have been greatly enlarged. Small worker’s cottages were also built after the completion of the Craft Shop. Price may have participated in designing these as well. Residents often designed, built and named their own cottages. Upton Sinclair᾿s cottage was built with funds from Joseph Fels and named by other residents “Jungalow” after Sinclair’s novel The Jungle.
Among the more notable former residents of Arden are: Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), author of The Jungle; Harry Kemp (1883–1960), known as the “Vagabond Poet”; Elizabeth “Lizzie” J. Magie Phillips, inventor of The Landlord’s Game (the precursor to Monopoly); Ella Reeve Ware (1862–1951), a prominent activist in America’s communist party; and Scott Nearing (1883–1983), an American radical economist, educator, writer, political activist and advocate of simple living. Political notables who lived in Arden for a short time include Joseph Robinette “Joe” Biden, Jr. and Russell W. Peterson.
Arden Village is an alternative community with over 100 years of history. Its community identity is rooted in the arts and an alternative tax movement. The ideal goal of living a “natural life” combines the secular concepts of art and economics and expanding upon it. Indeed, Arden Village is a community that demonstrates the possibility of man coexisting in harmony with nature.
Lee Jin | Writer