03 Aug Towne Farm Boxford
Application to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, requesting that ifarm be considered for designation as a National Historic Place, as recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Towne Farm is located in the southwest corner of Boxford, a small community of roughly 8,000 residents located 20 miles north of Boston in Essex County. The farmstead is made-up of two adjacent lots separated by Towne Road, a half-mile long public way, which runs from Main Street to the farm, bisecting the farm complex. The lots together measure 16.9 acres (the lot on the north side of Towne Road is 2.4 acres, the lot on the south side is 14.5 acres). In the area of farmyard, farm buildings occur on both sides of the road. Atlases of early Boxford, ca.1830, depict Towne Road as running from Main Street westward to North Andover, however in 1968, a request was made by the property owners to abandon Towne Road at the farm’s west boundary for the purposes of subdivision. This caused Towne Road to become a dead-end just beyond the farmhouse.
Seventeen residential properties have been constructed along the half-mile length of road since 1964. These houses are situated on large, heavily wooded lots, two to four acres in area (see attached aerial photo). Extending off of Towne Road are four residential streets, Hollow Tree Road, Stonecleave Road, Tanglewood Road and Winding Oaks Way, all of which have been developed since 1970. Abutting the the farm to the south are several hundred acres of wooded conservation land known as the Boxford State Forest and Bald Hill Reservation, all of which was originally Towne family property.
The historic structures that comprise Towne Farm are: a farmhouse, an adjoining carriage house, a large barn, a garage with three bays, a windmill and associated pump house, a water tower/storage tank, a stone well enclosure and a number of stone walls. The house, carriage house and barn are located on the north side of Towne Road. The garage, pump house, well enclosure and water tank are south of the road (see attached site plan for locations).
Farmhouse (1790) – The farmhouse consists of a main block, a modern rear kitchen addition, and a small ell that connects the house to an adjacent carriage house. The main block is a two-story Federal style residence built in 1790. It is a typical late 18th century five-bay house with a center entry and large central chimney, typical of houses built before 1830 when kitchens were still constructed within the main body of the house rather than in attached ells. It rests on a low field stone foundation and is enclosed by a gable roof finished with asphalt shingles. Most window openings hold 6/9 wood replacement sash to match the originals and feature wood slatted shutters. Although shutters came into common use in the end of the 18th century, it does not appear that they were used on this house until much later. Historic photographs of the house indicate that shutters were not installed until after 1900.The clapboard exterior is now covered by vinyl siding. The main entry appears to be original to the house and consists of a historic 8-panel wood door flanked by partial sidelights with paneled aprons. The doorway is framed by wide paneled pilasters supporting a high entablature. Around 1905 the exterior of the house was “updated” with the addition of a single story front porch across the façade (south elevation) and east elevation. About the same time, two bay windows were added at the façade (on either side of the entry) and one at the south end of the east elevation. The bay windows and porch along the façade were removed at some point between 1936 and 1954. The porch remains along the east elevation, although the original turned wood posts were replaced by simple square posts (between 1936 and 1954). Fenestration has been modified in several locations. The existing door at the east elevation is in the location of an original window (changed between 1936 and 1954); today it holds a glazed wood door that appears to date to the mid-20th century. Historic photographs indicate that there had previously been a doorway at the center of this elevation, which was likely installed when the porch was first constructed around 1905 but had been removed between 1936 and 1954. In more recent years (c. 1970s) a wide casement window was added in place of an original smaller window at the north end of the east elevation (first floor). Changes to two window openings at the first floor of the rear elevation are also evident (dates unknown). A door sheltered by a small gabled porch was added at the west elevation (likely mid-20th century) and holds a glazed/paneled wood door. A single-story kitchen addition (c. – 1930’s) with a shed roof covers approximately half of the rear elevation of the main block. This small utilitarian addition covered by vinyl siding features little ornamentation aside from a bay window on its north side. Adjoining the kitchen addition to the east is a small single-story ell that connects the main house to the carriage house. There was formerly a mid-19th century shoe shop in this location but around 1930?, it was replaced to give us the existing structure (a portion of the earlier stone foundation is visible beneath the current flooring). The existing structure has been altered over the years with the addition of a small porch (east side) and modern doors and windows.
The main block follows the double-pile, central-chimney plan that served as the most common house type in New England between 1760 and 1830. The main entry opens into a small stairhall (or “porch” in early architectural terms) with a steep narrow winder staircase backing up to the central chimneystack. The chimney was reconstructed entirely in the ca. 1830, however bricks from the original stack were evidently reused in the construction of the second. Throughout the house, particularly in the front rooms, many features from the original 1790 construction are obvious, including wide wood flooring, pine beam casings, hand-split lath, horse-hair plaster, four-panel doors, flat baseboards flush with the walls, and flush door casings with simple band moldings. Early 19th century modifications to several fireplaces are also evident (reconstructed fire boxes and mantels). The use of oak framing members (for purlins and some posts), hand-hewn rafters (visible in attic) and cut nails (found in upstairs flooring and beam enclosures) is consistent with the 1790 construction date. Typical of many Federal period houses, the beams and posts were originally encased and the walls plastered to provide a more finished appearance. In the case of the Towne house, framing members are obscured by hand-planed pine casings assembled with hand-cut nails, however in several places it appears the earliest period framing was white-washed in lieu of finishing. Rooms at the rear of the house have undergone more significant alteration than those at the front but overall, changes have been sympathetic to the historic character of the house.
Carriage House (1858) – The carriage house was originally a free-standing structure and remained that way until the 1930’s, when the property was sold by the Towne family. At that time, the carriage house was connected to the main house by a narrow addition which became the laundry room in the 1970’s. The carriage house has a rectangular plan enclosed by a gable roof and finished with asphalt shingles. The interior layout has been altered significantly however the frame and structure of the original building remain intact. The earliest photographs of the building show it had narrow board and batten siding and a large sliding barn door on its façade (south elevation). Later images show that painted clapboard had been installed on the front. Today the front and east elevations are covered by vinyl siding, while the north (rear) and west elevations have wood shingle siding. Around 1935, the carriage house was converted to additional living space. Windows, dormers, an entry door and rear chimney were added at that time. The interior is divided into two floors, the lower level being a single large space with added bathroom and closet space along one side (ca 2003). The upstairs holds two bedrooms and a bathroom and closets in various places. The spaced was probably converted into living area in the early 20th century (census records confirm that Hiram Towne had as least one farm laborer living on the property in the early 20th century and the rooms above the carriage house may have housed hired help). Finishes in the bedrooms and hall include wood floors, chamfered wood baseboards, and two-panel wood doors, all consistent with 1930’s interior design. Although the first floor has recent wall paneling and a drywall ceiling, many of the historic framing members remain visible however the ceiling beams are cosmetic.
Barn (late 18th century/ early 19th century) – The barn that exists today envelopes the the first barn that was built in 1790 , which was an English tiebeam barn measuring 40’x20’ (according to the 1799 tax valuation). The first barn was set with its gable ends facing east and west with a large entry along the eave side facing south. In the mid to late 19th century the barn was enlarged and converted from a sheep barn into a dairy barn by adding additional bays to the rear (north), changing the direction of the ridgeline and constructing a new roof with a front-facing gable. The original hand-hewn frame remains visible with most of the tie beams intact, although some of the post locations have been changed. – Hand-hewn timbers at the south end of the barn are clearly distinguishable from the later reciprocal sawed timbers at the rear. Today the barn is finished with painted clapboard siding at its facade (south elevation) and painted wood shingles at the remaining elevations, all covering the original sheathing. The massive gable roof is finished with asphalt shingles however the original roof sheathing is visible inside. The façade is dominated by a wide central entry holding a pair of sliding wood replacement doors. The entry is topped by a multi-pane transom that was added sometime after 1936. A similar entry is located at the north (rear) elevation. Access to the lower level of the barn from the exterior is by means of two large openings, one at the east elevation and another at the north elevation. The main level of the barn is laid out with a broad –center aisle running from the front to the rear door. West of the aisle are four horse stalls that were added in the 1950’s. The area east of the main aisle is divided into a series of small work rooms and storage areas by a mix of wood plank partitions installed at various times, as well as what appears to be interior/above ground silo in the north-east corner, roughly 14 ft. square in plan, that was constructed in the 1890’s.
Garage (late 19th century/early 20th century) – The garage is a small single-story building with a rear ell. The exact date of construction is not known but it appears that it was built in several phases in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, likely first serving as a shed and later enlarged and converted to hold vehicles. In fact, the rear ell appears to predate the front (northern) garage block. According to family notes, Hiram Towne acquired his first automobile in 1912 so the garage may have been constructed about that time. In addition, a photograph from 1916 confirms there was a building of the same materials in this location (possibly a horse barn or chicken coop) at least that early. Tax valuations confirm that a shed was added to the property in the early 1880s. Today the building is enclosed by a steep gable roof finished with asphalt shingles. The exposed rafter ends of the roof are visible along the deep eaves. The façade is covered by wide painted clapboards, while the secondary elevations have wood shingle siding (painted at the rear and east elevations only). The principal elevation (north) features three bay, two of which feature large batten doors, all topped by a segmental arch head with a decorative wood keystone. Window openings at the side and rear elevations hold older double-hung wood sash (a combination of 8/6 and 6/6) framed by simple wood surrounds. There are several entrances into the rear additions holding a variety of wood doors from various periods. A fairly recent wood lean-to covers much of the east elevation of the garage. A concrete slab floor has been poured throughout the interior, which is divided into three principal storage areas with utilitarian finishes.
Pump House/Windmill (1902) – The pump house is a small rectangular structure which rises from a rough field stone foundation and enclosed by a gable roof finished with asphalt shingles. The exterior is finished with clapboards at the north, south and east elevations, while the west elevation is finished with unpainted wood shingles. Wood trim elements include narrow corner boards, flush window casings, and a simple box cornice. Windows hold older double-hung wood sash (2/2 and 6/6). There are three entrances to the building; one at the north elevation holding a four-panel wood door, another on the west elevation with a sliding batten door, and a third on the south elevation covered by a simple batten door (all doors appear to be historic features). The framework of a tall metal windmill (an original or very early feature) projects from the east end of the pump house, although the bladed fan and wind vane are no longer in place. The windmill tower extends down through the roof to the interior of the building where it was once connected to a pump beneath the floor. The interior of the building is finished with wide plank wood flooring and narrow beaded board over the walls and ceiling. According to Bertha (Towne) Crosby, niece of Hiram Towne, the pump house was originally an ell of a nearby house and was moved to this location (noted in property scrapbook).
Water (1907) – The water tower is located on a hillside south and west of the other farm buildings. Although it is now overgrown by the surrounding woods, it once stood in open space atop the hill. Historic photographs of the structure document that it has changed very little over time. This circular structure rests on a rough field stone foundation and is enclosed by a conical roof finished with wood shingles. The exterior is finished with vertical staves held in place by a series of metal hoops which encircle the volume. Access into the base of the structure is by means of a low doorway on the south side of the foundation (no door remains).
Well Enclosure (date unknown) – The well enclosure is located in an open field a short distance west of the pump house. It consists of a low rectangular field stone base supporting a flat, contemporary, wooden well cover. The date of the stone enclosure is not known.
Stone Walls (likely various dates) – There are a number of historic stone walls scattered throughout the property but most are found in the immediate vicinity of the house and barnyard, framing the yard and lining portions of the road. There are about a half dozen other locations were small sections of historic stone walls have been identified, generally in overgrown areas see attached site plan for locations).
Towne Farm is significant for its associations with Boxford’s agricultural history and for Towne family, who ultimately owned the property for more than 150 years (1777-1934). Furthermore, due to its extensive collection of intact historic farm buildings, the property provides an excellent example of an early farmstead in Essex County.
In 1777, when John Towne made the first purchase of land that would eventually make up the family farm (believed to be in the range of 70-110 acres), Boxford was a rural community with a population of only about 990 individuals. Given the size of Boxford (25 square miles) two parishes came to be established, East Boxford Parish (settled 1645) , located near the intersection of Georgetown and Middleton Road, and West Boxford Parish ( 1652), located near the intersection of Main and Washington Street. In the late 19th century, after the establishment of a library in 1873, followed by a grocery and a dry goods store, the East Parish became the primary civic and commercial focus for the town. The vast majority of Boxford residents were engaged in agricultural pursuits in the late 18th century;this continued to be the case into the early 20th century. The town landscape was characterized by scattered farms and residential construction tended to follow the two principal axes in town, Main Street (running between Boxford Center and West Boxford) and Ipswich Road (joining West Boxford to East Boxford). John Towne’s initial purchase in 1777 included “one half of a certain tract of land with one half of the buildings thereon” from his brother-in-law Elijah Dwinell. Towne moved into an existing older house on the property (built 1756 according to .tradition) and lived there until 1790. At that time, his son Asa, a carpenter, constructed the existing Federal style house for his father and the older house wasdemolished . Asa Towne then purchased the other half of the former Dwinell farm in 1790, selling his half back to his father in 1808. The 1784 local tax valuation (see attached chronological history for details) indicates that the amount of tillage land, pasturage, land for mowing hay, and woodland owned by John Towne was quite typical of farmers in town. He did however own a relatively large amount of meadow, as well as unimproved and unimproveable land. The number of livestock on Towne farm was typical of local subsistence farmers (as revealed by analyzing the Boxford tax valuations) and included: 1 horse, eight cows, five sheep and goats and three swine. Little information regarding the types of crops grown on the farm has been discovered. John Towne was taxed for only 6 acres of tillage land in 1784. This modest amount of land was likely for growing predominantly subsistence crops. Similarly, Towne had only three acres of mowing land, suggesting he was producing hay largely for his own livestock. Towne also had an orchard sufficient enough to produce two barrels of cider annually (as noted in the 1784 tax valuation). It is interesting to note that, like many New England farmers, John Towne apparently supplemented his income by making shoes (1808 deed lists him as a cordwainer), a trade that would also be taken up by his son and grandson.
John Towne died in 1830, leaving his farm to his son Samuel (see attached chronological history for additional detail regarding the family). It is unclear exactly how much land Samuel Towne inherited from his father (John Towne had roughly 145 acres in 1874) but it is known that Samuel sold the farm with “about seventy five acres” to his son Henry A. Towne in 1845 (according to the deed). The deed documenting this transfer identifies Henry as cordwainer but the 1850 federal census indicates that he was principally a farmer like his father and grandfather. (Samuel Towne was also identified as a cordwainer, in a deed from 1817, indicating that he too was involved in shoemaking.) As noted previously, it was not unusual for farmers to engage in shoemaking as a secondary occupation, particularly in the winter months. In fact, the local tax valuations of 1861 list a “shoe shop” among the buildings on Henry Towne’s farm, located off the northeast corner of the house. There is little information available regarding Samuel Towne and his operations on the farm but it appears that little changed in the first half of the 19th century. Tax valuations for 1861 reveal that Henry Towne had roughly the same number of animals as his grandfather had in 1784 – two horses, ten cows, and nine sheep.
Boxford’s population grew slowly in the first half of the 19th century, reaching only 1,034 by 1855. It wasn’t until the 1850s, when the Boston & Maine Railroad established a regular route through town, that the population increased more rapidly, particularly along the principal roads from East Boxford to West Boxford and in Boxford Center where there was a focus of residential construction. Farming remained the principal occupation of residents, although in the mid-19th century some economic diversification did occur in the farming industry. In 1855 hay of various types accounted for more than 50% of the total agricultural product value, while butter, corn, apples and potatoes accounted for another 40%. By 1865 nearly 60% of the agricultural product value could be credited to poultry and dairy products and butchered livestock. Shoe manufacturing, although undertaken on a small scale in town since at least the late 18th century, had little impact on the local economy until the mid-1830s when about 150 residents were employed in shoe production in Boxford. This industry was short lived however and by 1865 shoemaking, and manufacturing in general, had all but disappeared (only 10 residents total were employed in manufacturing of any kind in 1865).
Henry Towne purchased additional land adjacent to the farm, increasing the size of the property to 95 acres by 1886, at which time he sold the property to his youngest son Hiram N. Towne. Hiram was the first in three generations to diverge from farming as his principal source of income. He instead entered the lumbering business and became a very successful wholesaler of lumber and wood. By 1865 the cutting of wood products had become a fairly significant industry in Boxford. During that time, a match-stick manufacturing factory opened within a mile of Towne Farm. The MHC Reconnaissance Survey Town Report notes that “lumber and firewood worth $19,000 were cut by 26 men in 1865. Six sawmills cut 625,000 ft. of lumber and 20 men cut 1,900 cords of wood for market.” Hiram was responsible for significantly increasing the size of the family farm by buying up a number of adjacent parcels of land between 1885 and 1928. At the time of Hiram’s death in 1932, the farm property contained nearly 220 acres of land. In addition, Hiram purchased numerous large tracts to support his lumber business, most in Boxford but also in the nearby towns of North Andover, Andover, Rowley and Middleton. His schedule of real estate compiled as part of his will lists a total of 910.5 acres of land. His obituary stated that he was “probably the largest land owner in town.” Although Hiram’s principal focus was in the lumber industry, he continued to maintain an active farm, in fact he increased the amount of livestock. In 1889 he was taxed for two horses, a dozen cows, and two swine. By 1900 he had increased the number of animals to four horses, 22 cows, one bull, three swine, and 30 fowl. In the early 20th century the number of fowl on Towne’s farm in rose, while the number of cows declined. By 1923 the livestock listed in the tax records included two horses, three cows, 155 fowl, and 17 goats (a few years earlier the farm also included more than a dozen sheep). It appears that Hiram’s brother-in-law Robert Parkhurst (husband of Hiram’s sister Lucy) was largely responsible for the poultry business at the farm. The 1930 federal census lists him as a “poultryman.” Parkhurst was also a member of the Essex County Poultry Association and winner of several top prizes in the Topsfield Fair’s poultry division in the early 20th century. Parkhurst and his family lived in a cottage on the farm (see below) from about 1911 until about 1934.
In the late 19th century, Hiram Towne was responsible for a number of changes around the farm including the modification of the original barn to create a larger barn. In 1901, a hennery was added, followed by a windmill (1902), water tank (1907), a cottage (converted from a former horse barn in 1911), and a small camp on the property (1930). The windmill and water tank were part of a system that pumped water from a well in the field south of the house up to the water tank, which sits atop a hill south of the well. Water was then gravity-fed back to the house. To the main house Hiram added several bay windows (two at the façade and one at the east elevation – c. 1908) and a single-story porch across the façade and east elevation (c. 1905). The former shoe shop off the northeast corner of the main house was modified around 1910 by lowering the roofline and changing the fenestration.
Hiram N. Towne died in February, 1932 and his wife Alice passed away the following June. By then the number of livestock on the farm had decreased significantly. In 1930, Hiram was taxed for only two horses, four cows and 200 fowl. Having no children of his own, Hiram bequeathed a portion of the property to two nieces, Bertha and Barbara Perley (665 acres according to the 1933 tax valuation). Subsequently in 1933, the nieces sold 460 acres to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who used the became the Boxford State Forest. The farm complex, along with about 218 acres of land, was sold out of the family to John P. Hughes in 1934. This not only marks the end of the Towne family association with the property but it also appears that the property no longer served as an active income-producing farm after the sale to Hughes, although some subsequent owners kept animals for personal use. Hughes purchased five additional parcels of land adjoining the farm between 1935 and 1937, resulting in a total of about 276 acres.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the population of Boxford experienced a gradual decline, from 847 in 1870 to 714 in 1915. This may be attributed to younger residents leaving town to seek employment in the booming manufacturing centers. Well into the early 20th century, Boxford remained predominantly an agricultural town. The number of residents employed in agriculture fell from a high in 1885, although the number of local farms in 1905 (122) was only three fewer than in 1865. Boxford historian Sidney Perley noted that Haverhill, Lawrence and Salem furnished “ready markets for the produce” of Boxford (Perley, p. 344). In 1905 wood and dairy products represented the largest portion of goods produced in town, accounting for half the total agricultural products. (It is interesting to note that the value of wood products rose sharply from $11,156 to $61,825 between 1895 and 1905.) Hay, vegetables, poultry, and fruit were also important agricultural products for local farmers in the early 20th century. The population of Boxford continued to decline, as farming became less profitable and residents sought employment elsewhere, until 1925 when only 581 individuals remained. This decline was followed by a long period of steady growth (1,177 residents by 1955). This growth was due in large part to improvements in transportation, particularly automobile travel, which made it possible for individuals to live in the bucolic settings of rural agrarian communities like Boxford and travel out of their home town to find viable employment. Although rail service in Boxford ceased in 1941, the growing popularity and affordability of the automobile after 1920, along with construction of today’s Route 95 in the 1950s, served to transform Boxford from a rural agrarian community to the residential suburb it is today.
John Hughes sold the former Towne Farm property (a total of 15 parcels of land – roughly 250 acres) in 1939 to Eunice L. and John Frederick Vaughan, who lived here with their children for about seven years. In 1946 the property was sold to Paul S. and Josephine Knowles who occupied the farm for about six years. The 15 parcels of land that made up the farm were purchased by David H. and Amelia R. Donnan in two deeds, one from 1952 and another from 1953. The Donnans, who named the property Ardon Farm (an alliteration of their names), sold the farm in 1962 to Wiilliam Dorman and a group of investors that included Richard Wills, son and successor to well-known architect Royal Barry Wills. At the time there was only one other house along Towne Road east of the farm. A portion of the property, including the buildings and 8.4 acres of land, was sold by Dorman et al the same year to Charles H. and Marjorie E. Alcorn. The Alcorns sold the farmstead property to Richard and Jean Price in 1967. Meanwhile, Dorman and his partners retained 106 acres on the south side of Towne Road until 1971, when they also sold to Richard and Jean Price. The deed to the Prices included an interesting stipulation that no buildings could be constructed on the 106 acre parcel until September 20, 1992, unless they were designed by Royal Barry Wills Associates, Inc. As it turned out, development did not occur on this parcel; instead, about 89 acres were sold to the Essex County Greenbelt in 2001 and preserved as conservation land. The Prices sold the farm, with the buildings and approximately 17 acres of land to i-Farm LLC, the current owner in 2009. Plans are currently underway to revert the property to a working farm and restore the remaining structures.
The Towne Farm is particularly significant for its intact and comprehensive collection of historic farm buildings and structures. It is also one of only a small number of historic farms in Boxford that retain the integrity of their historic setting. Boxford retains an excellent collection of roughly 60 intact residences from the Colonial and Federal eras, including five that are listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. Roughly 30 Federal era houses survive in Boxford, 26 of those are intact and maintain their architectural integrity. Of the 26 Federal style houses identified in Boxford, only 6 have lots containing more than 15 acres of land, including the Towne Farm, which sits on a parcel of nearly 17 acres. In addition, the Towne Farm abuts several hundred acres of conservation land, much of which was formerly part of the farm property. While many of the town’s late 18th and early 19th century houses remain alongside their historic barns, none retains the number and variety of secondary structures that are found on the Towne Farm. The buildings at the Towne Farm also remain very much intact, particularly the main house (both inside and out). Many of the historic homes in Boxford have extensive addition, that often wrap the historic structure, and other unsympathetic treatments, such as added dormers, enclosed porches, inappropriate replacement doors and windows. By comparison, the Towne farmhouse has been well-preserved. Modern additions to the Towne house have been minimal and largely been kept to the rear of the building. In addition, the main entry remains intact and appropriate replacement windows were installed. The interior of the main block remains remarkably intact, particularly the front rooms and front stairhall, where the original layout (a typical double-pile, central chimney plan) is preserved. A number of finishes remain from the original construction, including wide wood flooring, beam casings, doors, and door casings. Subsequent finishes from the early 19th century and Victorian era are also evident and serve to document changes that occurred over time.