These Walls Can Talk
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These Walls Can Talk

These Walls Can Talk

 

History and future meet at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield.

By Jane Roy Brown

Corn cobs used for insulation. Initials scratched into stairs. Old coins squirreled beneath floorboards. Even a letter from a boy to his grandfather describing the 1966 World Series. These are a few of the relics discovered during the renovation of the 1840s Cape-style farmhouse on The Trustees’ Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, which opened to the public in October.

“It’s been fun to see the history of the building as we’ve peeled away the layers,” says Mary Quigley. This fall, the owner of Quigley Builders and her crew were in the final phase of a “deep energy retrofit” of the historic farmhouse, a comprehensive renovation that will substantially improve the building’s comfort, durability, and air quality.

The remodel is just one of the initiatives underway at this rolling landscape of forests, meadows, and streams, which diverse occupants have called home over the past century and a half – from those who lived here in the 1800s, when it was the town poor farm, to U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt, Jr., who summered in a mansion on the property in the first half of the 20th century.  

It was Bullitt’s daughter, Anne, who later sought to conserve the land she had so enjoyed as a child. Norman Walker 
of Ashfield, a Trustees volunteer and Anne’s childhood friend, helped guide her to The Trustees as the best caretakers for the property. After Anne’s death, in 2007, the main house and 103 acres of the estate were sold to a private buyer, who placed the land under a conservation restriction held by The Trustees. The remaining 262-acre section of the 
estate, which straddles Ashfield and Conway to the south, now forms the Bullitt Reservation.

Good as Gold

The reservation represents a mix of old and new, and nowhere is that more evident than in the soon-to-be state-of-the-art “green” farmhouse. The improvements there should provide a reduction in energy use of 50 percent or more, as compared to a new structure built to code. To make room for the beefed-up insulation this requires – “superinsulation” is loosely defined as insulating with the intention to heat with intrinsic sources, such as body heat – the builders stripped the timber-frame house down to its skeleton.  

While it might have been easier and less expensive to outfit a brand-new building with energy-saving measures than to rebuild an older structure, “this is a chance to show people how energy savings can be achieved at a residential scale, and to demonstrate how the reuse and recycling of existing materials is an essential part of the sustainable process,” Quigley explains. “Plus, the appearance of the building still fits the historical character of this place.”

“The Trustees believe that the 
greenest building is the one that already exists,” says Jim Younger, The Trustees’ Director of Structural Resources. This is the third green building project Younger has shepherded – the Doyle Center in Leominster opened in 2004 and the 
renovated Old House at Appleton Farms in Ipswich will open as the Center for Agriculture and the Environment in early spring. “As part of our efforts 
to reduce our organizational carbon footprint, we have committed to ensuring that every renovation or construction project is green and sustainable. We’re excited to share what we learn through those projects with the public, so that they can understand the real-life solutions they can implement to make their own homes more sustainable.”

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Reuse & Recycle
The Bullitt Reservation demonstrates the ultimate practice in sustainability: reusing the land and building of this former town poor farm (and later summer estate). During construction, the building was stripped to the framework and rebuilt from the ground up. Nearly 90 percent of the materials from the farmhouse were reused or recycled.

Visit the Bullitt Reservation.

Jane Roy Brown is a writer and Trustees member based in western Massachusetts.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Special Places, The Trustees’ member magazine. To subscribe, join The Trustees today.