In 1775, Silas Wetherbee gave three acres of land in present day Boxborough, MA, to be used as a meetinghouse and burial ground site for the new town that he and 17 other outlying farmers of Stow, Harvard, and Littleton hoped to establish. That year, having formed a new religious society, they acquired the old meetinghouse in the nearby town of Harvard, dismantled it, and began to reconstruct it on land donated by Wetherbee. In 1783, the Town of Boxborough was officially incorporated, with the meetinghouse at its approximate center. That next year, Silas sold his son Levi, “60 acres of land, half of a building referred to as the “old house,” and half of a barn, all located just east of the townhouse. The farm was run by Levi until his death in 1829, when it came into the possession of his son, John Wetherbee (1800-1858). In 1908, the property was sold out of the family when it was purchased by Burpee Clark Steele, who owned it for the next seventeen years. Steele had immigrated from Nova Scotia to Boxborough in 1886, and he quickly became known for his expansive apple orchards. In 1925, Burpee Steele conveyed the farm to his son, Burpee Franklin Steele. Under his ownership, the old barn blew down in the Great Hurricane of 1938, and he constructed a new barn years later. Also a later addition, the Richardson Ice House was moved to the site by the local historical society in the 1990s. The farm today is protected by the town, but the buildings could use some better maintenance. Hopefully the town funds their preservation so they do not decay.
One thing I really love about small towns in New England is the prevalence of amazing old homes on the winding back roads. Located in Boxborough, MA, the Jacob Littlefield Farmhouse showcases the agricultural character and charm seen in the town. The farmhouse and outbuildings were built by Jacob Littlefield, who likely hired a housewright from town as the home is a near match to a home built on a nearby street. Mr. Littlefield was a farmer from Wells, Maine with seven children and a wife named Anna. After his death, his wife Anna owned the farm, until her death in 1896. Their son Albert ran the farm from about 1896-1922, after which time Jacob’s grandson Earl was the owner. Earl was taxed in 1928 for ownership of two horses, 17 cows, a bull, the house, barn and shed, tool house, ice house, root house, hen house, garage, and a second house on 101 acres. He resided here until 1929 when it was sold out of the family. Since then, subsequent owners have restored the home and the various outbuildings to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of the property. We need more stewards of old homes like this!
Located on Odiorne Point in Rye, New Hampshire, this old farmhouse has overlooked the Atlantic Ocean for over 200 years. Before that, this land was Pannaway Plantation, the first European settlement in what is now currently the state of New Hampshire. By 1630, the plantation was abandoned, and the settlers moved to Strawbery Banke in what is now Portsmouth. John and Phillip Odiorne (likely brothers) arrived to Portsmouth in 1657 from England, and some of their descendants moved south to modern-day Rye. This home was built by a descendant around 1800, and although built as a farm house, not as a city mansion, it is quite large. The house is a Federal period farmhouse with later alterations and additions, but has deteriorated since the property was acquired by the State of New Hampshire from the Odiorne Family in 1942. More on the property next!
This stunning Georgian farmhouse in Acton, Massachusetts, was built around 1773 for Seth Brooks (1740-1831) and his wife Molly Conant Brooks, on land that had belonged to her father, William Conant of Concord (part of which was later annexed to Acton). Seth Brooks fought under Captain Isaac Davis on April 19th, 1775 at the Battle of Concord, who was among the first killed and was the first American officer to die in the Revolution. It was Brooks who ordered Davis’ body carried from the field after he fell, so he could be buried with honor. After the war, the family suffered an unfathomable tragedy. Seth and his wife, all their nine children, and all but one of their grandchildren died of the same type of tuberculosis, “slow consumption.” The family “curse” appears to have been broken by grandson Nathan Brooks, Jr., (1799-1881,) who inherited the property. According to local legend, a room beside the center chimney sheltered runaway slaves, as Nathan Brooks was an avid abolitionist. At the turn of the 20th century, the farm was purchased by Brookline timber merchant Benjamin Pope, owner of the Pope and Cottle Company of Boston. For many years, the Pope family used the house as a summer residence, with managers working the property as a dairy farm. It was Pope who named the farm “Stoneymeade,” and added greenhouses, an icehouse, and had an elaborate water system installed. Stoneymeade Farm continues to this day as an equestrian farm with boarding space for horses.
On the backroads of the rural town of Wilmot, NH, I stumbled upon this perfect Greek Revival cottage tucked away on a dirt road. The home was built in 1840 by Col. Samuel Thompson, likely operated as a farm. The property was purchased by the Tewksbury Family decades later, who likely gave the home its name “Breezy Cottage”, after an older colonial home nearby, and subsequently the name of the street in which it is sited. The Greek Revival home is symmetrical with a wide, gabled roof and upper floors overhanging the recessed front porch. The home features bold corner and entry pilasters.
This perfect country home was built around 1810, likely for Eli Baldwin (1782-1832) and sits in the Iron Works Village of Brookfield, CT. Eli and his wife Lucy had 10 children at the home before Eli died at just 52 years old. Lucy lived at the home until the family sold the house and she moved into the home of one of her children. In the early 20th century, the property was purchased by Andrew Gereg, who immigrated to Connecticut from Hungary. It remained in the Geleg family until the 1980s. The story is one of the “American Dream” where today, it seems less attainable as 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done so. This is paired with the limiting of immigration into the country compared to the early 20th century, a symptom of xenophobia, which has impacted immigrants here for centuries. Anyways, here is a well-preserved, historic house!
Located in Brookfield, Connecticut, the John Peck House (1812) is one of many examples of Colonial farmhouses you can find in small New England towns. The home was built for John Peck (1759-1839), the son of Deacon Henry Peck, a pioneer settler of the town. The home has long held ties to the Congregational church in town, and for some years, was the parsonage of the church. The stunning barn was constructed around 1881 for the property, and is very well preserved to this day with its cross gambrel roof and hay door. The Federal style home appears to have been modernized in the early 20th century with a Colonial Revival entry porch roof and new windows on the facade.
Land that Mount Hope Farm sits upon in Bristol, Rhode Island was formerly council lands of the Wampanoag Indians, where King Philip’s War of 1675 may be said to have begun and ended. For those of you who do not know about the war, it was an armed conflict running 1675–1678 between indigenous peoples of New England and New England colonists and their indigenous allies. Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, had maintained a long-standing alliance with the colonists. Metacom (c. 1638–1676) was his younger son, and he became “sachem” (elected chief) in 1662 after Massasoit’s death. Metacom, however, forwent his father’s alliance between the Wampanoags and the colonists and they fought back. Metacom’s forces could not beat the growing numbers of the colonists, and he was eventually killed near Mount Hope, in Bristol. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. This story, shows how American history is built upon death and suffering and has often been whitewashed to portray early settlers treating native peoples with respect and as equals, which was rarely the case.
Mount Hope Farm as we know in colonial times, was originally 550 acres in size, owned in 1680 by Nathaniel Byfield. In 1744, the estate was acquired by Isaac Royall. Royall began construction of the house soon after. Isaac Royall Jr. was the son of Isaac Royall Sr. (1677–1739) a slave owner, slave trader, and Antiguan plantation owner who had a home and slave quarters (both extant) in Medford, MA. After his father’s death, Royall Jr. inherited his immense wealth, built upon the backs of others, and built this Georgian farmhouse. It is unknown to me if he ever resided there or had slaves maintain the property, but the home was rented for some time. In 1776, Mount Hope Farm was confiscated by the state, after Royall, a loyalist to England, fled to Nova Scotia. The property was added onto in the 19th and 20th centuries and now sits on 127-acres of land, and is run as a park, inn, and event space.
Located on the Poppasquash Peninsula, in my favorite Rhode Island town of Bristol, the Coggeshall Farmhouse showcases the historic rural farming character of the town, which saw much development by the 19th century. In 1723, Samuel Viall (1667-1749 purchased farmland from Nathaniel Byfield, who had acquired most of the north part of Poppasquash as one of the original “founders” of Bristol (though the Wampanoag people had been already living here for centuries). Viall or a descendent likely had this small Georgian farmhouse built on the land, along with outbuildings to farm the beautiful land here. In the early nineteenth-century Wilbour and Eliza Coggeshall were tenant farmers at the farm. The Coggeshall’s son, Chandler Coggeshall, later became a politician and helped to found the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1888, which became known as the University of Rhode Island. The farm eventually was acquired by industrialist Samuel P. Colt, nephew of firearms manufacturer Samuel Colt, who created a massive estate on the land. In 1965 the State of Rhode Island purchased the Colt Estate for use as a state park, and the Bristol Historical Society petitioned the state for permission to preserve the old Coggeshall farm house on the property as a museum. Coggeshall Farm Museum was established in 1973 to educate modern Americans about eighteenth century New England farm life.
Appleton Farms, spanning between Hamilton and Ispwich, MA, is a stunning historic property of historic buildings, rolling hills, and agricultural sites. Appleton Farms is the oldest continuously operating farm in New England and perhaps in America. Farming activities here can be document under continuous operation from 1638, at the time of the original land grant to Samuel Appleton (1586-1770), to the present day. The majority of agricultural buildings and residential dwellings date to the period of the farm’s most productive era, 1857-1904, under seventh generation owner Daniel Fuller Appleton. Appleton Farms has been a leading survivor of northeastern Massachusetts’ agricultural economy, an area replete with rural and small village community character. As the primarily dwelling for farm owners since at least 1794 and perhaps earlier, this home has seen numerous renovations and additions over its lifetime. The main beams of the building are believed to date to 1794 when Isaac Appleton passed the farm to his son, Samuel, though the original house may date as early as 1769, when Samuel Appleton married Mary White and managed the farm with his 65-year-old father. Today, the 658-acre property, operated by the Trustees of Reservations, is open to the public to go for long walks, horseback rides, and history lessons on the significance of agriculture in this part of the state.