When Frederick Law Olmsted designed Moraine Farm, he didn't plot out an adventure-based ropes course. Or make room for schoolchildren to roam. Or think about the best routes for community members stopping by to pick up boxes of fresh produce.
But these are exactly the activities that have begun breathing new life into the historic Beverly farm, thanks to a groundbreaking partnership between The Trustees, Project Adventure, and the Cape Ann Waldorf School – and thanks to the generosity and foresight of the family that has owned the land since the late 1920s.
Originally designed in 1880, Moraine Farm has been hailed as "the finest existing example of Olmsted's approach to planning a country estate" by pre-eminent Olmsted scholar Charles E. Beveridge, and was a testing ground for ideas the noted landscape architect would later execute on a grander scale at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
In Beverly, Olmsted – an important mentor to Trustees founder Charles Eliot – combined scientific farming and forestry with a landscape of leisure, all on 275 acres located along the shores of Lake Wenham and owned by John C. Phillips.. He created lawns, hedges, rustic stone walls, and a magnificent meadow, and collaborated with Boston architects Peabody and Stearns to design a massive stone terrace facing the lake, extending the shingle-and-stone house into the landscape.
Phillips’ farm took its name from a low ridge of glacial debris, which Olmsted used to provide an elevated vantage point for the paths and carriage drives that looped through 75 acres of coniferous forest, passed lake and meadow views, and climbed to an overlook on the edge of the 40-acre farm. A former scientific farmer himself, Olmsted may have been especially proud of the working section of the farm, for which he designed an underground drainage system that turned spring floodland into productive fields.
Now 29 acres of that farmland, which has been in continuous production since the Phillips era, has become the site of The Trustees’ fifth community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, and part of our newest reservation. Including an additional eight acres on Wenham Lake, The Trustees received 37 acres of Moraine Farm from the Batchelder Family Trust in August of last year. Mimi Batchelder-Brown, whose late husband, George Batchelder III, lived on the property as a child, donated the land from the trust.
Two other nonprofit organizations share a stewardship interest in property are Essex County Greenbelt Association, which monitors the conservation restriction on the property, and the Friends of the Olmsted Landscape.
Parts of this article, written by Jane Roy Brown, originally appeared in our Spring 2011 issue of Special Places.