Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
Drive around a rural New England village and chances are you’ll see a house or two that resembles a rambling cottage. These houses, which generally date to the first half of the 19th century, consist of a main structure connects via a series of auxiliary spaces to a barn.
They may serve only a residential purpose today, but that wasn’t always the case. The type of structure, called a “connected farm,” is a relic from New England’s agricultural history when a single, multi-purpose structure accommodated a family, livestock, and the general business of the farm.
Each section of the house had a purpose. First came “the big house”, which held the living and bedrooms for the family. The big house connects to the “little house,” typically the kitchen. Then came the “back house,” a place to store carriages and other equipment. The “back house” connected to the barn.
The popular myth used to explain the “connected farmhouse” is that such structures offered convenient access to livestock during harsh winter months. However, Thomas C. Hubka, author of the book Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn, explains that while the convenience didn’t detract from the connected farmhouse’s popularity, it also didn’t tell the whole story.
Hubka writes that connected farmhouses provided flexible use of space, especially in the “little house” and “back house,” which sometimes held workrooms where independent farmers could participate in cottage industries like candle and cheese production. The connected farmhouse evolved out of a pressure felt by smaller farms to keep up with a newer building style that larger farms were using at the time.
The main drawback to the connected farm was its susceptibility to fire. If one part of the (mostly wooden) structure caught flame, the extent of the damage could be catastrophic. In the face of this danger, many have survived. Below, we take a look at a few on the market right now.
Lebanon, Maine (4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $399,000)
This Greek Revival connected farmhouse on 71 (!) acres of land sits about 90 minutes north of Boston, in Lebanon, Maine.
One of the interesting characteristics of connected farmhouses is their aesthetic unity, despite some having been built over long stretches of time—even when it comes to the barn. Here, that’s best seen in the white clapboard exterior.
The interior has barely been touched over the 1800-built house’s lifetime. Many of its rooms show woodwork typical of the Greek Revival style, and there’s even a century-old wood-burning stove in a second-floor bedroom. This house might be a project (the kitchen seems to date from the 1940s), but for old house lovers, all the best details are intact.
Gilmanton, New Hampshire (5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, $550,000)
While many connected farmhouses were more modest wooden dwellings, there were some exceptions. Technically speaking, any farmhouse that connects to another set of buildings is a “connected farmhouse.” Case-in-point: This brick house in New Hampshire.
Built circa 1820, the structure has a grand “big house” outfitted with Federal woodwork. We’re especially keen on the generously sized six-over-six windows—and don’t even get us started on the painted scene in the living room.
Unlike the house in Maine—where auxiliary spaces jut out from the side of the big house—the “little house” here is perpendicular to the “big house,” in what’s referred to as an ell, because the shape of the two structures together resembles the letter “L.”
The barn runs parallel to the “big house,” and is currently used as an antiques store, if you’re looking to combine a love of old houses with entrepreneurship.
Harvard, Massachusetts (7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $1.345M)
If taking on a renovation project is the last thing on your wish list, then this 1843-built home in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, might do.
Unlike many connected farmhouses, the 5,500-square-foot structure has a two-story “little house” and a large New England barn. The “New England barn”—or “English barn,” as it’s sometimes called—is a simple gabled structure with a profile not unlike the Curbed logo (coincidence?). This barn type’s heyday coincided with the rise of the connected farm.
Inside the seven-bedroom home, which seems to be more Greek Revival than anything else, are the typical trappings of an antique house: wide floorboards, six-over-six windows, wood paneling, and numerous fireplaces, including one in the recently renovated kitchen. Even better, the bathrooms have been updated, too, meaning you can move right in, and realize the connected farmhouse dream we know you have.