Harlan Hubbard

Life in Payne Hollow

By Don Ward

Rivers Edge

Harlan Hubbard was known and remembered by many for his writings and art, but it is his philosophy on living off the land in what he called his "experiment in living" that fascinated yet another group of followers.

Initially, Hubbard studied the writings of Henry David Thoreau, who also experimented with self-sufficiency and living off the land. The difference is, Thoreau spent only a couple of years doing it, while the Hubbards devoted most of their life to it.

Even today, Harland and Anna Hubbard are referenced by those studying or writing about homesteading, organic farming or what Michigan author Gene Logsdon called "Contrary Farming."

While the Hubbards sought a life of seclusion on the wooded riverbank of Payne Hollow in Trimble County, Ky., ironically their lifestyle attracted hundreds of visitors during their 40-plus years there – people who came from all over the world, really, to meet them and learn from them. Indeed, the Hubbards lived off the land, with no electricity or running water, but they were surrounded by their art, their music and Mother Nature's beauty.

It is from this simple setting that they existed by drawing water, cutting wood for the fireplace and homemade furnace, raising a garden, tending goats and fishing the Ohio River. Harlan was described by many who knew him as an expert scavenger of scrap materials from which he built useful tools. He used to say that while he was working at these life-sustaining tasks, he was always thinking about what he would write or paint next.

In this day of technological gadgetry, electronics, TV and the Internet, it is hard to imagine ever living that way again.

Paul Hassfurder, the Hubbards' caretaker in their final years who inherited Payne Hollow from Harlan after his death in 1988, says that while we may not be able to live like the them, "the best way to pay tribute to the Hubbards is to incorporate something into your life that you have learned from them. Reading quietly in the evening, playing music, making something with your hands, planting a bigger garden..."

Hassfurder, an artist and musician, still spends a lot of time at Payne Hollow, where he does the chores he once did for the Hubbards. He also greets many visitors there each year and retells the stories about their life in Payne Hollow. He says he is not trying to be Harlan Hubbard, but after 17 years of ownership, Hassfurder says he still feels an obligation to his maintaining the place in the same fashion that Harlan would have done.