The quaint stacked stone and stucco building that sits next to the nature trail parking lot is one of the most asked about buildings on campus—and it happens to be one of my favorites. Known as the potting shed, it’s used only for storage now, but its history goes back more than a century.
When I did some digging in the archives, I found that the structure’s original purpose was quite different from what its name might suggest. It was built in 1923 as a wellhouse over the big water well at Unity Farm, as the campus was originally known.
The loft of the potting shed served as a dovecote (a small structure built to house doves or pigeons). In medieval England, only the wealthy aristocrats were allowed to keep doves, so the free-standing buildings often became a status symbol. I wonder if Rickert Fillmore, the son of the Unity founders and the person responsible for the Village’s architecture, was inspired as he traveled through Europe after college. The potting shed structure fits right in with the other English Cotswold cottages Fillmore designed at Unity Village in the 1920s. Its dovecote served a practical purpose as well, since the droppings could be used as fertilizer by farmers.
As farming operations grew, two large greenhouses were built next to the potting shed, which housed the boilers that heated the greenhouses with steam heat. Oil and natural gas wells on the property supplied power for the boiler.
Flowers and vegetables were grown year-round on the land here at that time, and the carnations, poinsettias, and Easter lilies grown in the greenhouses were sold to the public. Produce was of such high quality that even local gourmet grocer and restaurant owner Fred Wolferman, known for purchasing only the finest products, bought tomatoes here. Most of the produce went to the Unity Inn, a vegetarian cafeteria that had opened several years earlier at the Unity headquarters (then located at 9th and Tracy in Kansas City, Missouri). The inn was famous as the first vegetarian cafeteria in the world. The farm continued to provide produce for the Unity Inn after the inn relocated to Unity Village in the 1930s.
History in the Village
The greenhouses eventually came down in the 1970s, but the potting shed still stands. (In fact, if you peak in the windows, you can still see some tables with pots.) In the late 1980s, Unity looked at the possibility of using the building for one of the departments, but it needed electricity, plumbing, gas lines, and insulation. At the time, the cost of renovation outweighed the benefits. The potting shed gets plenty of adoration during the holiday season, however, when Unity outlines it in lights. It looks just like a gingerbread house with its idiosyncratic chimneys, windows, and arched door.
This much-loved building may not be one of the more important structures on campus today, but it carries the distinction of being one of Unity Village’s most historic buildings and one of the few left that tells the history of Unity Farm.
This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.