Building the Eckert Tree Farm
In the early ‘80s, Bob Eckert and Sheila Delarm gazed upon the 13 acre property they had just put a $5,000 deposit on. A cramped red house with poorly installed insulation sat on the property. There were no shingles leaving the roof unfinished. The fiberglass was completely exposed. All the wiring had to be replaced, the basement had been slightly dug out and the water heater was down in its plywood enclosure, which was heated by a lamp bulb. There was only wood heat with an improperly built stone chimney.
The kitchen was cluttered with faded and worn-out furniture. Several rickety shelves, barely strong enough to hold cans of food without swaying, clung to the wall. A low-hanging light fixture hung nearby supported only by two thin wires on the ceiling. The living room was furnished with a dusty orange rug and a splintery wooden chair that sat in the middle of the room. A beam on one side, with thin hooks, was the couple’s only means of storing their winter attire.
Eckert decided to fix it himself. The odds seemed against him when his mother first visited his new property in the Adirondacks. She toured the house as Eckert explained his plan for restoration over time. His mother saw only the ugly stained wood, the poorly insulated roof, the tiny white stove and her overly optimistic son. She left the house with a grin but burst into tears on her way down the hill. She wondered, “What has he done?”
The endeavor served as a catalyst for Eckert to discover his true passion as a “Do it yourself” professional. He was determined to transform the desolate shack into a home. He created a daily schedule, which had him working 24 hours a day for 6 to 10 days and had him resting for the next 4 to 6 day period. This allowed Eckert to take on projects that didn’t require much money but were labor intensive.
During the process of construction, Eckert and Delarm began renting out the second bedroom of their house to make ends meet. The couple relied on the income from their guests for 10 years, and they continued saving for their first expansion. In 1991, Eckert and Delarm purchased an additional 35 acres of adjoining land for $25,000. The original purchase of the 13 acres sold for $29,000
On their new plot, they decided to build the Eckert Tree Farm Treehouse. They got the idea from the show “Treehouse Masters,” which aired on the Animal Planet channel. The host, Pete Nelson, traveled to build and renovate treehouses with his crewmates throughout The United States. Delarm noticed how the treehouse builders weren’t always constructing traditional tree forts. Some were platforms in the air with the trunk of the tree poking through the middle of the house.
The treehouse became a family project. The thought of being able to sleep in the treehouse nudged Eckert and Delarm to get their two children, Luke and Hannah, involved. The family began construction during the summer of 2001.
“We just have a lot of fun building things,” says Delarm.
Next, they built a greenhouse. Later, they built a lean-to which would become an Airbnb along with the treehouse. After the constructions, the couple added various trails to give visitors a sense of direction while trekking to their rest stop for the night.
A former property manager suggested they should rent out the treehouse. But Delarm wasn’t convinced. She was worried something would happen to their family’s beloved tree fort.
“You could see the dollar signs and I’m like, ‘I’m [still] not sharing the tree house’,” says Delarm.
After some time passed, Delarm listened to the advice of her former property manager. She listed the tree house property on Hipcamp, an online marketplace that offers outdoor stays and camping experiences to customers on their website and mobile app. They had their first booking within six hours. They had a week and a half to get the place ready. Eckert hooked up electricity to the treehouse and added a cooking area and firepit. Eventually, they expanded to more platforms, like Airbnb.
The Eckert Tree Farm treehouse remains the couple’s most popular Airbnb. The structure resides behind the couple’s office cabin. This is where guests sign in for lodging. A wooden dog greets treehouse guests before they travel up the thick natural wood stairs. The stairs spiral around the trunk of the tree. About eight wooden beams are inserted into the trunk to hold the platform of the treehouse. A small patio is built into the side of the tree with a railing made of unaltered tree branches. They look as if they were just removed off the surrounding wilderness.
As soon as visitors step inside, they are introduced to a stunning view of the Adirondacks. The sight surrounds the Eckert’s tree oasis. Instead of leaving a mint on their guest’s pillows, Eckert and Delarm place a greeting card in front of the shaded orange lamp. It is snuggled between two artificial antlers.
A small table has two wooden chairs on either side. The table has a small sample jar of Eckert and Delarm’s homemade maple syrup with two spoons beside it. Serene Adirondack harp music plays on a portable CD player set on the table next to a map of the property. On the other side, a wooden framed queen-sized bed lies in wait for its guests.
The couple meets interesting people from all over the world. Some of their guests have come from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and all over Africa, says Delarm. In the office lobby, a large world map hangs. Guests get a color pin indicating where they are staying: treehouse, cabin, campsite or lean-to, and place the pin on the map at the location of where they were born.
“So the map is now plastered with all of these different colored pins and stuff,” says Delarm. “People love that, when they come in and get to put their pin where they’re from.”
The treehouse has gotten so popular that Eckert and Delarm devised a plan of action to shelter guests in the winter seasons. They put in insulation, two space heaters and an electric mattress pad.
“A lot of our summer guests want to come and stay in the treehouse in the winter, but they have no idea how cold it is in the Adirondacks in the wintertime,” says Delarm.
They had a guest this winter that stayed in the treehouse at 20 below zero. The temperature inside the treehouse was about 30 degrees. Customers aren’t expecting it to be a 70 degree hotel room.
While restoring the original 13 acre land he had bought in 1982, Eckert built a structure specifically for making maple syrup: the Eckert Tree Farm Sugar House.
“It was a great way to get outside in the spring,” Eckert says. “It’s a great way to live off the land and do something physical that produces a product right off the land.”
Eckert slowly began to build his brand as a new sugarmaker in the Adirondacks. Eckert’s entire maple syrup brand is dependent on the traditional ways of doing it. Eckert feels a certain pride from his estate-made maple syrup.
Eckert and Delarm miraculously transformed their empty, barely-livable cabin into a 50 acre adventure base. The ordeal of restoring the dilapidated house has been a blessing in disguise. The Eckert family’s legacy has drawn international visitors to the Adirondacks, offering them a slice of secluded paradise. Where exposed wire and ugly stained wood was once the norm, now the world map shows a representation of the lives the Eckerts have touched.
“The treehouse became a family project. The thought of being able to sleep in the treehouse nudged Eckert and Delarm to get their two children, Luke and Hannah, involved.”
“The couple meets interesting people from all over the world. Some of their guests have come from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and all over Africa.”
Story by Mataeo Smith and Sierra Mcgivney