Thursday, March 15, 2007

The lovely CONNECTED FARMSTEADS of New England

When I am inundated with fast-food chain stores, used-car lots and shopping malls my stress level goes berserk and I feel faintly ill ...not enough to call the doctor but just enough to make me aware that something is out of whack. I’ve come to realize that that “something” is SPEED.

Our efficient life style is fraught with computers, cell phones, digital cameras and every other work-saver gadget known to man. It literally takes my breath away. I feel squeezed and wrung out at the end of an ordinary day where speed is the norm. I yearn to go where the pace is SLOW.

In August of 2002 I did just that. I spent the month traversing the back roads of New England, wending my way slowly through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The countryside was lush and pastoral and the days were long. Of course I basked in the warmth and peace of the drive, but my eyes were always searching for the delightful connected farm buildings that dotted the countryside. They were a constant source of surprise and I loved them.

These structures date back to the 19th century and there is a child’s verse that describes them perfectly: “Big House, Back House, Little House, Barn”. It is possible to walk from the main house (the parlor, dining area and bedrooms) through the “little” house (kitchen and wood shed) through the “back” house (privy and storage or workshop) to the barn without ever going outside.

There are two theories for this connected arrangement. One theory is that a family could exist through the extreme winter snows without having to go outside to get to any of the buildings. The other premise holds that the thrifty New England farmer figured he could eliminate 3 walls by connecting the buildings!

I became fascinated with these add-on homesteads during my journey and especially with the fact that no two of them were alike. Some of the homes were imposing Colonials connected to the smaller buildings, but usually it was the barn that dominated the grouping. The animals were valuable assets to a working farm and it made sense that they would be cared for as well, or better, than the family.

I spent day after day on those New England back roads and every time that I spied a connected farm complex I would slow down or stop. Although it was August and a warm breeze caressed my cheek I would envision this same scene blanketed in snow. This gave me a feeling of snugness, safety and contentment. Now, when I feel the need I just bring back those memories and it never fails to slow me down.


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I was also briefly exposed to these several years ago although we weren't in New england for very long: maybe four days.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

Growing up I used to ride my horse along through the country side where I lived. There was a man I got to know, he was a vetrenarian. He built two homesteads, one smaller than the other. His reasoning...he lived in one and the living areas and library in the other. He came from outback Western Australia. He said that if there was ever a bushfire out there and one home got burnt he would have another to live in.
We all learn something new every day!

6:57 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

I would like to see those in person, someday. The house plan reminds me of the new Edward's home in Chapel Hill. The main house and the "barn" are connected by a long corridor.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

I love those old farm houses and am happy to be living in the countryside where they exist. I moved to VT for the reasons you love it: the beauty, the peace and the pace.

3:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Ginnie,

Excellent post, both in content and in form. I agree with you so much about what is lost with our increasing speed and "communication." I have the same physical reaction that you experience.

I was lucky enough to have grown up in a household with two parents who were fascinated with city planning and pedestrian centers. Everywhere we went, they would point out successes and disasters in community building. To this day it remains a theme in my daily life.

Finally, you made such a good point in your comment on my post about the wealthy. I brought it up at staff breakfast the next day. Thanks.

5:04 AM  
Blogger KGMom said...

I have not previously heard of connected farmsteads. What an interesting post. And I love your idea of taking time to leisurely explore back country lanes.
We have seen farm houses, in Switzerland, where the barn is on the ground floor and the living space for farm family on the upper--the theory being farm animal heat rises and helps to keep the people warm.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here via Naomi's post. I think North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states. I head there this week. My daughter lives in Winston-Salem.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Ginnie - This was fun and informative. I really new nothing about these New England homestead arrangements. It sure makes sense. I agree with the weather explanation. You didn't have to bundle up to use the facilities.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Ginnie,

I'm back to share thoughts on your idea that blogging drives spiritual growth. Absolutely. I had no idea when I started a year ago that I would develop such a supportive and searching network. I have visited places in myself this year that I was not even aware of. Also, being recognized for my own supportive role has been priceless. This one year of blogging has fostered self-esteem and trust in others. You are so right. Yours is one of the voices that gives me faith. You have led -- and continue to lead -- a very satisfying life. The metaphoric twinkle in your blogging eye gives me permission to play and enjoy life.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

I really understand what you mean about speed. Sometimes I feel like evertything is rushing past me. Especially, because my children are growing up so fast.

The homestead reminds me of a house that they did on This Old House a few years ago. It was in New England, too, and connected to the barn.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Suzy said...

Hi, Ginnie.

The sketch reminded me of the many books of Eric Sloane, all about the tools and architecture of rural New England.

I agree about speed, too. Too much, too fast, too busy. I love living where I can walk to work, etc. but even here the pace gets so fast. I hold on for summer when I am not working and everything s-l-o-w-s down.

Great post!

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are indeed way too speed-driven in this country.
Since I'm from New England, I'm very familiar with the structure you describe. And like you, they never failed to capture my spirit. They just exude a comforting presence, far removed from much of America today.

10:00 AM  
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6:37 PM  

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