It is no discourtesy to the current owners to say that Blue Heron Farm is the product of Tony Fisher’s imagination.
It is also true that Mr. Fisher drew major inspiration from at least two sources: the home of West Tisbury builder Rick Anderson and a Kevin Costner movie.
When the late New York real estate developer and seasonal Islander M. Anthony Fisher bought the property in 1992, there was little more than a run-down Victorian farmhouse on the 28.5 acres of land. Builder Heikki Soikkeli, whose extensive work on the property includes two major renovations of the farmhouse, remembers not being able to see the water of the Tisbury Great Pond, which began less than 200 yards from the house, because of the overgrown garden.
“It was a small Victorian vernacular Vineyard farmhouse; there was very little detail,” Mr. Soikkeli says. “Most of the inside was original from the 1800s; white enamel gas range stove, peeling old wallpaper, you know.”
In the intervening decade Mr. Fisher was rarely not knee-deep in some building project on the farm he named himself. By 2003 the property would feature a dozen buildings — most more than a century old and some transported from different states — sloping lawns, tall and broad trees of hundreds of varieties, horse paddocks, an apple orchard, flower and vegetable patches and a tennis court, swimming pool, golf tee and bocce ball court.
Design was being completed on the latest round of renovations to the farmhouse when Mr. Fisher and his wife, Anne, died in an airplane accident that killed four of the seven people on board on April 4, 2003.
He was 52. Mrs. Fisher was 41.
“Tony liked to build,” says Mr. Soikkeli. “He liked to have projects ongoing. Tony always had something going on; he was one of those types of people.”
The farmhouse, which grew to twice its size during the Fishers’ ownership, remains the centerpiece of the farm.
“Tony and his first wife, they had seen Field of Dreams, the movie with Kevin Costner. And they wanted a white clapboard house; they asked me to produce a similar house,” says Mr. Soikkeli.
He already was used to Mr. Fisher as a client, having met him in 1983 while working on a Menemsha house that Mr. Fisher would later buy. Mr. Soikkeli would later make several additions to this house and then build another Menemsha house when Mr. Fisher sold up and moved later in the 1980s. Mr. Fisher was Mr. Soikkeli’s third major client after dropping out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was studying architecture in 1970, to learn his trade in carpentry and construction on the Vineyard. He began Heikki Soikkeli and Co. in 1982 and has worked on many large-scale Island houses.
“The work on the farmhouse is at the top tier of the scale of what I have done,” he says.
Mr. Soikelli himself lives a few coves down on the Tibury Great Pond and has seen several farmhouses similar to the one at Blue Heron along the western tip of the pond. The houses are so alike, Mr. Soikelli believes they were made by the same builder sometime in the late 1800s.
Mr. Soikelli and his team were designers and contractors on the first renovation of the farmhouse, and the New York design firm Fox Nayhem was brought in toward the end to do interior work. That firm was rehired for the second renovation, and Vineyard Haven contractor Holmes Hole Group was brought in for the building. Mr. Soikkeli did the architectural work.
In the process of the two renovations most of the original structure was removed.
The first renovation took about a year, but it was only a fraction of Mr. Fisher’s vision for a gentleman’s farm at his Chilmark property.
Looking out through the antique barn on Rick Anderson’s property in West Tisbury, it’s clear where the rest of it came from.
Mr. Anderson is a contractor and builder who specializes in finding, transporting and reassembling antique structures from around the country. He is considered an expert on old buildings, and among other things was principally responsible for the Agricultural Hall barn in West Tisbury.
“We take them apart, label every piece, and put them in a trailer,” he says.
At the center of Mr. Anderson’s property is a 19th century working hay barn from Vermont, used by a cooperative of horse owners from around the Island. All perfectly proportioned lengths of hardwood, the cavernous barn looks out on several horse paddocks and beyond that, Mr. Anderson’s workshop.
He remembers Mr. Fisher standing in the barn shortly after buying Blue Heron Farm.
“He said, ‘This is what I want,’” remembers Mr. Anderson. “Yes, he definitely got a few ideas from here.”
Acting on instructions, in 1992 Mr. Anderson set off in search of a barn to rival his own and finally called Mr. Fisher to say he had found something in Pennsylvania. They both went to see it.
“I drove; he flew,” he says. “He loved the barn.”
A German-built hay barn from the mid-1800s made mostly from oak, it transported the same year on Mr. Fisher’s say-so.
The work Mr. Anderson was involved in, a carriage house and a Cape style steep-roofed guest house, both from Vermont, in addition to the barn, was almost the opposite of that performed on the farmhouse, out of practicality he says.
“Making a change to any of these houses is a nightmare — to change the roof pitches you have to adjust every dimension. Soon it becomes not worth it,” he says.
In 2005, following the untimely death of the Fishers, Mollie and William Van Devender of Jackson, Miss., bought the farm, soon embarking on a further redecoration of the farmhouse and making some other of their own additions to the property.
But on a recent visit the barn smelled fragrantly of hay and though a foosball table had been substituted for a pool table on a mezzanine level, the barn was otherwise unchanged according to those familiar with the building.
An enthusiastic rider, Mr. Fisher kept horses in the barn but relocated them on the regular occasions that the building was converted to a dining room to accommodate visitors who included a visiting President Clinton and his wife, Hillary.
Mr. Soikelli admits that he liked the original farmhouse, but he says it figures that the First Family would choose the farm.
“You bet I was shocked, but it’s really not surprising. It’s a very nice building with beautiful grounds,” he says.
And meanwhile Mr. Anderson, who is midway through joining two antique structures sourced in different New England locations to build his own home, is an architect of the old school.
“Why do they have such nice lines?” he wonders of the old barns and farmhouses. “They had half the equipment, and it was all built from necessity, but there are these beautiful pitched roofs on these simple farm buildings. I guess they weren’t trying to make it look beautiful, it just happened.”