Stephen and Audrey Currier were first captivated by the Danby Four Corners Valley when a photograph of a small farmhouse and its breathtaking views caught their attention from the pages of a 1954 Vermont Life magazine. In 1958 they bought the house and began to assemble surrounding tracts into a country estate. Less than a decade after the Curriers were inspired to create “Smoky House Farm,” tragedy struck and their airplane was lost over the Caribbean Sea. In 1967, according to Stephen and Audrey’s wishes, the land passed to the Taconic Foundation — a foundation they had previously established to help impoverished youth in New York City.
The Curriers’ generous bequest did not specify an intended use of the property. Some trustees felt the land should be sold and the proceeds used to further Taconic’s philanthropic work in New York City, while others believed that the Curriers would have wanted the land to be used in a way that conserved and nurtured both natural and human resources. At the time, Taconic’s trustees decided to look beyond the land’s monetary value and the urban scope of their work.
To honor the young couple’s ideals, the Taconic Foundation engaged youth development, education, and land management leaders to pilot what has become Smokey House Center’s YouthWork Program. The program, launched in 1974, engaged rural youth—those at risk of dropping out of school—in work and learning through their direct participation in managing the land reserve. In this way, the foundation matched the requirements of the land with the needs and promise of young people.
In 1978, Smokey House Project became a Vermont non-profit corporation with an independent board of directors. However, Smokey House Center was not autonomous; the land continued to be owned by Taconic, and Smokey House Center depended primarily on the foundation for annual support. Early in the 1990s—appreciating that Taconic Foundation wanted to return its focus to New York City—Smokey House Center began to build a case that the property, rather than be subdivided and sold, be transferred in its entirety to Smokey House Center. In 1995, Taconic Foundation generously promised to gift the land to Smokey House Center and to provide an endowment grant to jumpstart a capital campaign that would raise support for the organization. Between 1994 and 2002, Smokey House Center successfully matched the grant from Taconic and made a commitment to the rural character of this region by putting 4,417 acres of land under conservation easement. Today, Smokey House Center continues to preserve the rural character of this valley through forest management, partnerships with farmers, and educational opportunities for local youth.