Moraine Farm - A Designed Landscape
Olmsted believed that landscapes were meant to be experienced rather than viewed from a single overlook, so Moraine Farm’s roads and paths reveal new landscape experiences as you walk them. He created ‘passages of scenery,’ even in small spaces, that enhanced the beauty and sense of space. Rather than heavily manipulate the landscape, he worked with the existing topography and site conditions to enhance its ‘genius of place.’ His designs incorporated open spaces and dense woodlands to add richness and variety to the landscape experience and believed that each feature worked together to the success of the entire design. Look for these design features as you wander the property today.
What is a Moraine?
When the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated from New England more than 14,000 years ago, it left behind piles of debris and stone it had been pushing along as it moved. Today we call these geological features moraines. You may be most familiar with other Massachusetts moraines like Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, but Beverly’s moraine is similar—sand, stone, and soil creating low, uneven hills. Enjoy the topography here while you are walking and see if you can distinguish the glacier’s work from that of Mr. Olmsted.
Note: Please respect our tenants by staying in the area designated for public access only.
South Carriage Loop
When Frederick Law Olmsted designed Moraine Farm for the Phillips family, he envisioned a forested lodge perched on the edge of a lake—but at the time, there was little actual forest. Instead, the land had been cleared for farming. Olmsted wanted the estate to be something you explored, with new views created at each turn of the road.
Today, with the fields, forests, and estate grounds clearly defined, Olmsted’s three carriage loops are now walking trails for visitors. This South Carriage Loop winds its way along the shore of Wenham Lake from the entry gates on Cabot Street up to the main house. Pay attention to the landscape as you walk and enjoy the changing views to the lake, the open fields, and the woodlands. Note the large trees along the way and the smaller trees that have grown in among them. Over time, we will remove some of the smaller trees and reclaim the forest and field edges Olmsted originally intended.
Today Wenham Lake is the water supply for the City of Beverly. In the 19th century it was a bustling center for harvesting ice. The first shipment of American ice to reach England came from Wenham Lake and it is said that Queen Victoria would have no other ice in any of her palaces because of the clarity of each ice block. The bottom of the Lake is covered with white quartz-rose sand; it is fed by a series of springs and does not receive any mud from streams or brooks running into it, which is why the water is so clear. Today the edges of the Lake are protected by thickets of shrubs and grasses which continue to help protect the water quality.
This field is one of the best examples of the genius of Frederick Law Olmsted’s designs. Though it seems like it has always been here, this area was a smooth hillside that had been heavily farmed up until 1881. The subtle topography, woodland edges, and even the small groupings of trees in the center of the field were created as part of the landscape design. Olmsted wanted the landscape experience to reveal itself as you traveled through it. This field opens a vista to glimpse the lake for the first time as you come up the main driveway. From the South Loop Carriage Road, the field dramatically enhances the slope—so it feels much steeper than it really is—and the main Carriage Road cannot even be seen from the lower elevation.
It has taken years for the trees to grow and the woodlands to tower over the field, but this evolution continues to make the field more beautiful each year. Often the trees want to encroach on the grassland, so our stewardship team prunes back the seedling trees to retain the field edges. Grassland birds love this habitat and the diversity of water’s edge wetlands, meadows, and woodlands attract a wide variety of bird species here.
You are standing in the flower garden created for the Phillips family in 1880-81. When originally designed, it was supposed to represent a palm leaf with the center depressed. Since then, it has had many planting designs, and many subsequent gardeners, but it has always served as the source for cut flowers for the main house. Mrs. Phillips wanted an ‘old fashioned flower garden.’ Olmsted preferred that the lake, the fields, and the forest provide the setting for the house. So, the compromise was to create a flower garden below the grade of the estate lawn, nestled behind a tea house overlook. The garden begins to bloom in the late spring and is filled with color until frost.
This building was designed in 1880 for the Phillips family by the Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns. The Batchelder family removed the third floor and north wing of the house after they purchased the property in 1929, so the house is much smaller than it was originally. At that time the interiors were updated and renovated for the new family.
The house was designed to appear as a forested lodge “country-made and highly picturesque [with] an aspect of rustic picturesqueness.” The tea house at the end of the lawn and a gatehouse down near the main entry were designed in the same style. Today the house is used for corporate and private meeting rentals, so it is not open to the public. The large terrace with its rustic boulder walls expands the rustic design of the house, and makes the house seem much bigger than it is. Perched like an eagle’s nest over the water, the terrace offers some of the best views of the lake.
Leave the garden steps and walk toward the lake. Turn left and you will see a narrow path that meanders along the steep slope between the house and the lake under massive rhododendrons. Here, you cannot see the lake and you are consumed by vegetation, like a tropical rain forest. The goal of the landscape design was to surprise, to delight, and to entice you into areas that look much different from each other. The rhododendrons that surround you are native to the U.S. They send out new roots and shoots to colonize a large area. See if you can spot the older, original plantings from their suckers as you wander the path. The path ends near the North Carriage Loop and the trails to the Phillips Preserve.
More than 60,000 trees were planted all over Moraine Farm between 1880 and 1910. Pine, hemlock, larch, and spruce were some of the conifers planted in large stands, like a farm crop, with the intention that they be forested and then replanted when their timber was the right size. Mr. Phillips kept careful track of the quantities of trees planted, and which species grew well or died. Maple, birch, and other deciduous trees added stands of color in the fall and provided alternative woodlots for harvesting. The variety in color, texture, and timing of the plantings created a beautiful landscape experience but also provided an alternative to farming for estate income.
The Batchelder family planted firs to be harvested for Christmas trees and cared for Moraine Farm under a professional forestry plan into the 1970s. The forest is a key element of Olmsted’s designed landscape; the estate grounds and fields complete the three key elements to Moraine’s design. After the completion of Moraine Farm, Olmsted was commissioned to design the famous Vanderbilt Estate, ‘Biltmore’, in Ashville, NC. Much larger and more elaborate than Moraine Farm, Biltmore was still designed under the same design principles, and forestry was incorporated as a major source of estate income.
Why is Moraine Farm called a “farm” when you do not see many fields of corn, pumpkins, or potatoes? The trees, the forest, were intended to be farmed as well, so most of this farm was intentionally planted as forest. Yet at the bottom of the hill, along Cabot Street, traditional farming is still happening. The Trustees leases some property to the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a nonprofit that trains emerging farmers in growing vegetables for market through sustainable practices. Surrounding the farmhouse, which is still privately owned, you can see the remains of the former orchard, hen house, barns, and other outbuildings that create the core of the more traditional farming operations.
Note: These areas are not open to the public, so please enjoy the view from afar.