Mind Your Manors
By Aaron Hicklin
Photography by Alec Hemer
Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge were not entirely naïve when they spent more than they could afford to buy Beekman Mansion, a large and storied country house in 60 acres of farmland near Sharon Springs, a down-at-heel spa town 190 miles north of New York City. They knew it was a risky investment, but this was the summer of 2007, and plenty of smart people were throwing around wild sums of money to realize their dreams without anticipating how soon the sky would come crashing down. A little more than a year later, Kilmer-Purcell’s advertising agency was in freefall, and Ridge’s department at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia was axed as the economy nosedived into recession. All of a sudden, the prospect of weekends milking goats and tending rhubarb lost much of its charm.
“We could have walked away at any time and declared bankruptcy,” says Kilmer-Purcell, a one-time drag queen by the name of Aqua, whose 2006 memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days, is a master class of confessional storytelling. But the couple persevered, in part because they’d grown close to the local community, which improbably enough reciprocated. Early on, the two men had forged links with local blacksmiths, woodworkers, even a weaver who operated an antique loom. As the recession kicked in, they were busy helping the community find customers by reinventing Beekman as an heirloom brand that epitomized the best of American craftsmanship.
“Sharon Springs pulled us in the very first time we drove through,” says Ridge, who spent much of the recession toiling away at the farm while Kilmer-Purcell helped pay the bills by accepting an advertising job back in New York. “We decided that whichever one of us got a job first would go back to the city, but the other would commit to making this farm pay for itself,” recalls Kilmer-Purcell. “We’d practically grown up together, and all of a sudden we were living apart. And of course, in my mind, Brent was living the dream that belonged to both of us before everything went wrong.”