This post is Part I of the Storytelling with Light & Darkness series in collaboration with 1.618 AG.
Glancing up at the main house of Alte Mühle Winterschwil
35 minutes driving from Zurich on a winding street in a quaint agricultural village, you’ll find a 450-year-old hamlet situated at the base of a hill. It’s as idyllic and bucolic as any Swiss village you might imagine: rolling green hills, grazing farm animals, the Alps standing proudly off in the distance. As a new resident to Switzerland, I was excited to set foot in and explore such an impressive piece of history, such an old and historic house. The buildings and their walls have seen half a millennia of change and these photos capture a quiet and lonely period in this estate’s history before its transformation. Soon the mill will be completely revived to serve as a productive and lively hub for Montessori learning in the community — the first of its kind in Switzerland.
The Winterschwil estate is made up of five buildings surrounded by lush forest, sprawling meadows, and a fish pond. The property slopes up to a hill where a picturesque pond sits at the base of a trickling stream that once powered the sawmill below.
Rusted tools, machinery, and materials lie dormant in time inside the old structures. The main building at the heart of the estate is a traditional show of Swiss craftsmanship with rows of numerous dark wood shingles, a sloped roof, and distinct circular stained glass panes. Inside the 16 rooms: normal living areas, a ‘jury’ room, a bakery that was once engulfed by fire, and even a room filled with horse equipment. Centuries have passed and the hamlet has seen generations of change and new ownership, for example during the 1600’s when the hamlet was owned by a Benedictine monastery.
Artifacts of the past
Inside the main house, I was surprised to see how well-kept each of the rooms remained. What were once personal trinkets and keepsakes are now fit for placement in a museum. Religious artifacts in every room, framed family photos, normal household items propped up in the corner. Items from another time, items from other centuries sit patiently in time with a layer of dust. At one time, 28 people lived on the property; now, the house is empty with only the sounds of the creaking floor and rustling trees to inhabit the place.
Soon: New life breathed into the Mill’s old walls
What is now a lonely but beautiful estate will soon be transformed into Switzerland’s first Montessori high school, backed by Montessori Erdkinder Schweiz. The 14,025 square meter property will be home to 60+ kids and teens (12-18 years old) as they can immerse themselves in learning, gardening, artistic activities, woodworking, and so much more. The idea is that upper age schoolchildren can continue to learn in line with the Montessori principles of experiential learning.
What better place to serve these students than on this expansive piece of land, set in nature. The hamlet, once renovated, will serve as a boarding school for up to 26 of these 60+ students. It will offer a high-quality academic program with a social, artistic and practical focus to enable the holistic development of the students. Meals will be freshly prepared on site, and experienced teachers and learning assistants will be present to support the students around the clock.