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Hobbits would be at home in Rindge family’s yurt

‘It’s a little bit magical’

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A yurt on Thomas Road Rindge is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • There's no doorbell for the yurt, but you can ring a more traditional bell tacked on at the door. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 10:54AM

It’s the kind of structure you might see in the pages of a storybook, a squat, wooden structure with rounded walls and a crooked door, topped with a dusting of snow.

The building is a yurt, a classic Mongolian structure that was once used as a transportable home. This yurt, built as a four-season home able to stand up to the rigors of New England weather, is a bit more permanent, but uses the classic yurt structure.

At just over 30 feet in diameter, the house isn’t large. The kitchen and living space are set up in the large, circular main space, and a bedroom is located in a much smaller secondary yurt structure in the middle of the larger one.

“It’s just a little bit magical,” said Hannah Bissex, who lived in the home for three years with her husband and then-newborn daughter.

Now, the Bissexes live in a classic red farmhouse, that sits only a few hundred yards away at the front of the property. The family needed more space after the birth of their second child. The yurt remains livable, and the Bissexes rent it out through the service Airbnb.

The yurt is a remnant from when the property, which is now part of the South of Monadnock intentional living community, was a Quaker boarding school and community.

Bissex was a teacher at the Meeting School in its last year, and later joined the intentional living community that carried on on the property, started by some of the school’s teachers and farmers.

Coperthwaite’s legacy

If you already knew what a yurt was, it’s likely due to the influence of Bill Coperthwaite.

Coperthwaite is the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. The Maine native reconceptualized the original Mongolian design to accommodate a simplified American family.

That the yurt on the South of Monadnock property is a Coperthwaite design is not surprising to those that know about the close connection between the Meeting School and Coperthwaite.

He was a teacher at the school. In fact the first yurt built on the campus in the 1970s was a project he devised for his math curriculum.

Coperthwaite’s class built a normal, straight-sided yurt, but when he left the school, he left behind several more complex designs, including the one for the double-story yurt that remains today.

Two teachers at the Meeting School, Chuck and Laurel Cox, took Coperthwaite’s design and decided to build a second yurt alongside the more simple, straight-sided one. That yurt became a teacher’s cottage, and a total of three smaller yurts were built around it, one each to serve as a girls’ and boys’ dormitory, and one for a communal dining room.

“Those four buildings, essentially made a funny little yurt family, down in that section of the property,” Bissex said. “That’s the origin story.”

For the life of the Meeting School, the yurt served as housing for teachers that lived on the property.

Last summer, when the Bissexes put solar panels on their farmhouse, they also got a free-standing panel which provides electricity and hot water heating for the yurt, leaving the entire building powered by solar energy.

From the window of the yurt, you can watch the solar panel follow the sun, and shut down at night, just another way to mark time in the rustic landscape of fields and woods.

Yurt living

Bissex and her husband Dan Bissex moved into the South of Monadnock community four years ago.

“At the time, we were two, with the promise of three,” Bissex said, referring her pregnancy at the time. “We realized the best way to put some love into that house was to live there, which we did for three years.”

Bissex said some of her favorite memories of living in the home were looking out the window and observing the wildlife. One of her daughter’s first sentences was, “Mama, it’s an owl,” which she said when she spotted a barred owl sitting on a fence post not 15 feet away from their home. The owl, which turned out to be part of a family group of a mother and three baby owls, stayed the summer, and the family would often see them hunting field mice in their pasture.

“It’s just so sweet, tucked away in the woods there. It’s a special and a magical place.”

Now, she said, guests who stay in the yurt often comment on that feeling.

“It’s a place that has had many occupants, all of which loved that space,” Bissex said. “Airbnb is just a nice way to share that space and people are always really thankful to have spent time there.”


A yurt on Thomas Road Rindge is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari A yurt on Thomas Road Rindge is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. - Staff photo by Ashley Saari
A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. - Staff photo by Ashley Saari
There's no doorbell for the yurt, but you can ring a more traditional bell tacked on at the door. Staff photo by Ashley Saari There's no doorbell for the yurt, but you can ring a more traditional bell tacked on at the door. - Staff photo by Ashley Saari
A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. Staff photo by Ashley Saari A yurt on Thomas Road is the design of Bill Coperthwaite, who is considered the pioneer of yurt building in the United States. - Staff photo by Ashley Saari