Designed in 1880, Moraine Farm was one of many estates built on the North Shore as a summer home. The farm was named for the rocky moraine deposited long ago by glaciers that is located on the property. The original owner, John Charles Phillips, a shipping businessman living in Boston, purchased several smaller farms and assembled approximately 275 acres on the shores of Wenham Lake which was 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 country estate. In collaboration with the architectural firm Peabody & Stearns, Olmsted transformed barren pastureland into a gentleman’s farm. Early photographs show 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, including 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 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 1908, 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 a year 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 original red 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 which they named “Highover” around 1913 on his property. It burned to the ground in October of 1968 shortly after it was sold to investors Henry Streeter and Richard West. Today, the cities of Beverly and Wenham own and maintain this 85-acre property, the J. C. Phillips Nature Preserve, through which a portion of the North Carriage Drive runs. John Charles Phillips’s wife, Anna, died in 1925.
In 1928, George L. Batchelder, Jr., and his wife, Katharine (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.
In 1977, 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.
In the late 1980s, with pressure to develop open space and farmland increasing all over the country, the Batchelders began looking into the possibility of placing preservation and conservation restrictions on the property to keep it intact. Moraine Farm was still much as Olmsted had designed it and under the ownership of one family with the exception of the red farmhouse which had been sold in 1978. To assure that the farm remained intact, in 1991, the Batchelders entered into a unique arrangement whereby The Trustees of Reservations and the Essex County Greenbelt Association own the conservation and preservation restriction placed on Moraine Farm by the owners. The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) is responsible for the protection of the farm’s historic landscape. Essex County Greenbelt Association (ECGA) has oversight and responsibility for the protection of the agricultural, forestry and wetland elements of the property. The terms of the restriction severely limited future development on Moraine Farm. It stipulated keeping the farm commercially viable for agricultural and forestry activities. The maintenance and preservation of the approach road was also guaranteed. Moraine Farm abuts Wenham Lake, the water supply for the cities for Salem and Beverly, so the restriction further served to protect the shoreline and watershed of the lake.
For the next several years, George and Mimi Batchelder continued to manage Moraine Farm and welcome visitors, scholars and garden clubs. Maintenance of the forests, house, garden and outbuildings was ongoing. Still concerned about preventing the property from being subdivided into separate lots, the Batchelders began to look for a buyer who was as passionate about preserving Moraine Farm as they were. In 1999, Project Adventure purchased 70 acres from the Batchelders to use for their leadership training through adventure-based programming. The original conservation / preservation restriction agreement was amended to allow the sale to go through. The current agreement is a complex and binding document that outlines how an historic property is to be managed by several parties working together.
Since George’s death in 1999, the Batchelder Trust under Mimi’s direction, The Trustees of Reservations and Essex County Greenbelt Association have been working together with Project Adventure to manage and preserve the property. In 2011 The Trustees acquired 40 acres from the Batchelder Trust. Also in 2011, The Waldorf School at Moraine Farm purchased a portion of Project Adventure’s parcel and now runs their program on Moraine Farm as well. Today, all of these organizations coexist on the property and work together, along with The Friends of the Olmsted Landscape at Moraine Farm to maintain the integrity of the original Olmsted landscape.