Buddhist Community Saves and Preserves Historic Beecher House

Livingston Manor’s Zen Studies Society is planning several measures to save the significant property.

The house was built in 1875 by the Rev. James Beecher, brother of famed abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the 1852 novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It sits on the shores of Beecher Lake, which is up a long winding and unpaved road amid 1,400 acres of forest.

The 19th-century cottage was constructed in the simple style of its time, with cedar shakes, a sloping roof, and stone chimneys. To save it, the Zen Studies Society, a Livingston Manor organization dedicated to the practice of Rinzai Zen in the United States, is planning to build a retaining wall and swale to manage water runoff, repair the original stone foundation, replace the roof and siding, install insulation and energy-efficient windows, and upgrade the plumbing and electrical systems. This will allow the house to be used year-round by visitors and overnight guests as well as those taking part in Open Space programs.

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Drawn to the serenity and beauty of the land just as the Rev. Beecher was, the Zen Studies Society purchased Beecher House in 1971, and a small group of Zen practitioners began living in it. Several of them, including the current abbot of ZSS, the Rev. Shinge Sherry Chayat, came up from New York City, where they had been practicing at the Zen Studies Society’s urban temple, New York Zendo. 

Related: Buddhism As Popular As Ever in the Hudson Valley

In 1974, they began construction on a second building on the shores of the lake, a 20th-century monastery designed in traditional Japanese architectural style. Named International Dai Bosatsu Zendo, this is the home of the Zen Studies Society and was formally opened on the Bicentennial of the United States, July 4, 1976.

The Beecher House has been an important component of the retreats offered by the Zen Studies Society, supporting its mission of teaching meditation as a path of living with compassion and insight. While the monastery building is where practitioners live, meditate, study, and work together, the Beecher House is used by visiting groups attending a variety of wellness programs under the designation Open Space, from yoga and reiki to shiatsu and 12-step recovery. Weddings are held there, as well as Family Weekends, programs in the arts, and events of community interest.

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