Designed in 1880
Moraine Farm was one of many estates built on the North Shore for use as a summer home. Moraine Farm was named for the rocky moraine deposited long ago by glaciers that is located on the property. The original owners, John Charles Phillips, a wealthy shipping businessman living in Boston, purchased several smaller farms in the late 1870’s and assembled approximately 275 acres on the shores of Wenham Lake which was the the center of the ice cutting industry. In 1880, Phillips commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to create a design that combined scientific farming with experimental forestry on a county estate. In collaboration with the architectural firm Peabody & Stearns, Olmsted transformed barren pastureland into a gentleman’s farm. Early photographs show land with very little vegetation of any sort. Olmsted proposed to plant lots of pine and larch and thin them later. An estimated 60,000 conifers were planted for future logging, among them, European larch, Scotch and Austrian pines, Norway spruce and white pines.
In a style for which Olmsted has become famous, buildings and roadways were laid out so that areas were separated by function in a creative design that respects the natural topography of the land. The original 1880’s plan illustrates that the barn and farmhouse were to be hidden by trees from the approach road as it winds by them. Olmsted also laid out carriage drives and walking paths throughout the estate all of which are still in existence. A third drive was planned to the northwest of the house but was never completed. Finally, Olmsted improved the drainage of 40 acres near the entrance to the estate off of Cabot Street for agricultural use thereby demonstrating that it was possible to turn worn-out, useless land into productive farm land. Those fields are still being farmed today. Between 1881 and 108, Peabody & Stearns designed and built the stables (which were later torn down), a barn (which was destroyed by fire and rebuilt), a henhouse (which has been converted into a cottage) and a gatehouse to complete the estate.
John Phillips died in 1885 and was unable to enjoy Moraine Farm. His wife, Anna, and their five children continued to spend six months on the farm returning to their home in Boston’s Back Bay in the winter. John Charles Phillips, Jr., and his brother, William, each purchased adjoining properties. When William purchased land north of Moraine Farm, he realized he had no place to live so he cut the farmhouse in two and moved it to his property. To this day, the farmhouse is no longer attached to the barn as generations of New England farmhouses grew to be, but rather sits at right angles to the present barn. William and his wife, Caroline Drayton Phillips, built an Italianate home around 1913 on his property and named it “Highover.” It burned to the ground in October of 1968 shortly after it was sold to investors Henry Streeter and Richard West. Today, the city of Beverly owns and maintains this 85-acre property, the John Charles Nature Preserve, through which a portion of the North Carriage Drive runs. John Charles Phillips’ wife, Anna, died in 1925.
George L. Batchelder, Jr., and his wife, Katherine (Katie) Abbott Batchelder, purchased 141 acres of the farm from the Phillips family. By 1947, the Batchelders had purchased the agricultural buildings and the fields and Moraine Farm consisted of about 180 contiguous acres much as it stands today.
George L. Batchelder III and his wife, Mimi, inherited the farm at Katie’s death. George was an only child and had grown up with an appreciation of Moraine Farm even though by 1977 he and Mimi had lived on the west coast for nearly 20 years. In 1982, George and Mimi returned to Moraine Farm to live full time and began restoring the Olmsted landscape. Their focus continued to be on the agricultural and forestry components that Olmsted had laid out. In 1979, the first Christmas tree seedlings were planted. From 1987 until 1991, George and Mimi’s son, Terry and his wife Erica, raised sheep on the property for wool and lamb. They also produced knitting yarn, wool fleeces and wool blankets. For many years farmers leased acreage to grow crops, particularly vegetables, for sale at local Farmer’s Markets. Timber continued to be an important crop in the form of firewood, lumber and landscape wood chips. Landscape trees and shrubs were also cultivated both for use as replacements for those on the farm and for public sale. All of this was part of a certified management plan for the improvement of soil, wildlife and timber resources.