[Reprinted from Co-Operation, Vol.XI, No.10,
"Free Acres was
founded on the philosophy of Henry George, a 19th-century journalist
and economist who believed that land should be owned by the
community rather than by individuals. Residents can build houses on
lots they lease, but they can never actually own the land. A single
annual tax is charged to cover public services like road repair and
maintenance of common buildings. Run by Three Elected Trustees.
In 1910, Bolton Hall, a devotee of George, deeded about 68 acres of
land he owned in Berkeley Heights and New Providence to the Free
Acres Association, a corporation organized to manage the community.
The association, now run by three elected trustees, sets policy,
enforces rules, keeps track of finances and collects the annual tax
from each resident. The association then pays a single tax on the
land to Berkeley Heights; residents pay taxes only on their houses.
Leases, which run for 99 years, are automatically renewed for
another 99 years each time a property is "sold," and when
a leaseholder dies and passes his or her interest to heirs. [From a
story by Jay Romano, New York Times, 10 February, 1991]
"First things first," said old John Swinton; but "small
things most" seems to be the motto of most co-operators. Man is a
land animal, on the land (or on the sea, which is only land covered
with water) man lives; and he dies when deprived of it or of its
products. It is the primal source of every kind of "goods."
This alone should be enough to turn reformers towards Co-operation in
land. But further, the gross profit in groceries selling, is
calculated at 18 per cent., as I understand and the net profit about 3
per cent. The saving can be only a part of the gross profit. But the
gross profit on land sales usually runs from 50 per cent, up to 150
per cent, or more.
Co-operation in land is furthermore the simplest and least expensive
to operate of all forms, and it saves the rent of land paid directly
or indirectly every day. This is the largest item in the family
budget, and is the item for which the family gets no return.
Such co-operation does not necessarily involve its best form,
although this word is already made flesh and dwells among us at "Free
Acres" in New Jersey.
Free Acres is co-operative but it has nothing to sell, even to its
own members. It is a settlement six miles west of Summit, which is
controlled as far as possible on single-tax principles. It shows their
practicability and allows greater personal and economic freedom than
under the conventional forms of government. The Association owns the
land and leases it in perpetuity to those who come; none is sold.
No purchase price is paid by the residents. The annual rent of the
bare land, fixed by their own elected assessor pays all taxes, both on
the lease holders' land and ON their dwellings; and the balance is
paid out for surveys, roads, waterworks, etc., by their own elected
treasurer. The present rental is about four to fourteen dollars per
acre annually, which, as you see, they pay to themselves.
A large "common" provides for athletic sports, tennis,
archery, swings, swimming pool, etc. The old farmhouse is used as a
clubhouse and for dances, public meetings and economic, social,
literary and educational discussions. Performances are given in the
open-air theatre, and the general spirit is fellowship, helpfulness
and liberality. It is not restricted to single-taxers, and includes
wage earners, business and college people, artists, actors and
writers. About half of the sixty houses are summer houses.
It comprises seventy acres in the Bernardsville Hills, of some 500
feet elevation; and is two miles from Berkeley Heights Station,
Lackawanna Railroad; about an hour's ride from New York City, or forty
minutes from Newark. It is worth seeing. Twenty-two trains daily.
Land co-operation is possible. It can be started by simply assembling
a group, preferably one hundred, who put up ten dollars apiece, which
goes as pay to the organizer. They then hold a meeting and appoint a
committee to find a piece of land. (It be a building just as well).
The land should not be more than thirty miles from a center of
population, nor to cost more than one hundred and fifty dollars an
acre. When this selection is approved, the balance of the membership
fee, one hundred dollars, becomes due in installments. The money is
applied to the purchase of the land, and it is divided in units
one-quarter of an acre or more. The comparative prices of the lots are
fixed by an assessing committee.
If a gambling element is desired, the lots can be distributed by lot.
Some of the plots will naturally be worth much more than others; and
the "lucky" ones will get something for nothing. (Wherever
one gets something for nothing, another must get nothing for
Now, somehow, let us get to co-operating in the prime necessity.
LAND! In Free Acres we have the working model. A big community
somewhere could be built on this plan.
The author of this article will be glad to give practical particulars
of the ways of working out such an undertaking to any inquirer.