Land Co-operation

Bolton Hall

[Reprinted from Co-Operation, Vol.XI, No.10, October 1925]

"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 something).

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.