Raising a Barn, Growing a Family
An Ipswich family learns that sometimes the perfect place is right under your feet.
Amy and Jacob Borgman and their four daughters were living in Paris when they began to look for a new home across the pond. The couple, who, for 10 years had lived in a house on the Annisquam River, was ready to come back home.
“We knew that we wanted a farm where we could grow crops and keep animals,” Amy says.
“We looked in Vermont, in Virginia, even in California. Coastal Massachusetts was, for us, preferable — we have family in the area. But it’s not easy to find enough land in this part of the country, and in some towns, you need a permit if you want to keep chickens.”
Serendipitously, a seven-acre piece of land with a house on it became available for rent.
“Ipswich has the right vibe for us. We rented it sight unseen,” Amy laughs. “Our youngest was a 1½ year old baby when we moved.”
The house lot on Northgate Road is surrounded on three sides by 150 acres of orchards. Across the street is a large equestrian estate. Both are long established and deeded to remain agricultural in perpetuity, perfect neighbors for a family seeking the rural life. The fact that the property was for rent was a plus: if it turned out to not be right for the Borgmans, they could leave when the lease was up.
But it was right in every way, with a quiet, verdant neighborhood, lovely views of fields and orchards, and excellent local schools. The Borgmans bought the property and settled into country living. The only thing missing was a barn.
“A neighbor wanted to get rid of a barn, so all the pieces fell into place,” says Jacob.
They had located not just any barn, but a superb example of a “Yankee Ground Barn” built in 1839. Traditional joinery consists of hand-hewn beams and rafters that display the 179-year-old adz marks. With a gable entry at both ends, the structure allowed for hay wagons to be driven into a large haymow, while lower stalls lined the opposite side.
The 40 × 60-foot structure stood on its original location on Argilla Road until 1929, when it was moved by oxen to a neighbor’s property just down the street. The new owners built living quarters into part of the interior and, for many years, used the barn to host rowdy neighborhood parties. In his book, Argilla Road, R.S. Warner reported: “Many hilarious parties have been held in this old barn, with people sitting about among boats, saw-horses, parts of automobiles, neighbors, and kettles of clams and corn-on-the-cob.”
For the Borgmans, the barn’s origins not a mile from their new home was important: they were rescuing a piece of local history. They also knew that considerable effort was required to turn their barn into a working structure.
“When we first saw the barn, it had an apartment that ran the length of one side. It was kind of homely,” Jacob says. “We disassembled the barn, labeled all the pieces, and moved them to this location.”
Before they could put it back up, the Borgmans had to make space.
“Where the barn is now was dense woods,” Amy points out. “We cleared five acres of forest to create a place for it.”
Jacob continues, “We tore out the apartment in the process of taking the barn apart. Before we reassembled it, we washed all the pieces in Borax to get rid of bugs, mold and the like.
“We did much of the work ourselves,” he adds, and his wife nods.
“After dinner, we would tell the kids, ‘Now we have to go back to work on the barn. You all need to put yourselves to bed. See you in the morning.’”
She and her husband are quick to point out that it took a village to raise this barn. Timber frame expert Huw Price took the frame down, repaired, and reassembled it. They received input and assistance from many others as well.
Raising Asa Stone’s Barn
“It is very satisfying to work on it yourself,” Jacob says. “You save money, but you also can be in control in a way you never could be otherwise. You have to figure stuff out — the design and the construction are entirely on you.”
Jacob was well prepared. “Many of my summers, since I was about 14, I spent working on construction crews,” he says. Formerly a teacher, he works today as a physicist.
Amy, an art director, explains, “We had to do architectural plans, and to have them stamped by a structural engineer. A wonderful part of doing this work is how you learn that there is no line between design and construction — it’s seamless.”
They rebuilt the barn with structural panels in the walls, hidden behind old sheathing. Jacob drove to rural northern New England to find framing elements to replace missing pieces. They ran wiring, plumbing and other services to upper floors via a hidden chute.
Amy and Jacob designed the interior to house both animals and humans: Skittles, the pony, and two Nigerian goats live in stalls. Their part of the barn also has space for a tractor, bikes, tools, and farm equipment. A heavy door leads into a hallway. From here, a great room opens up with the soaring, jaw-dropping volume of a barn. Beams with the unmistakable patina of age display the evidence of human hands and rise to a peak high above.
In the large, dramatic space, furniture is arranged in conversation groupings. At one end, the kitchen runs along a wall. The refrigerator and various appliances are hidden in a large cabinet whose doors are fronted with blackboards. On the second floor, a library overlooks the great room. There is also a bunkroom and a spacious bathroom equipped with a six-foot-long claw-footed bathtub. On the third floor is a large children’s playroom.
At present, Amy’s mother, Doris, lives in the barn. The children are in and out, using the playroom and bunkrooms. The family’s primary residence, for now, is in the 1½ story house just across the way.
“For my mom, this is great single-floor living,” Amy smiles.
Besides Skittles and the little goats, the Borgmans keep chickens and bees. A family of three collies guards the chicken coop. The two older Borgman daughters make regular trips up the road, delivering fresh eggs to neighboring customers. (They have a waiting list).
There is also a very large vegetable garden that the Borgmans leased to neighbor Caitlin Kenny who sold much of the produce to Short & Main, a Gloucester restaurant. “What we want here is to be totally focused on nature,” says Amy. “We are all animal lovers now, and we’re pescatarians.” Restoring the barn was an invaluable family experience, she says.
“This project has allowed our four little girls to understand the importance of history and how it links us to our past.”
In honor of that history, they have named their fledgling farm after the barn’s original owner and builder. A sign hangs at the edge of the road, proclaiming this “Asa Stone Farm.”
▶︎ For more information on Asa Stone Farm and to inquire about architectural or interior services, go to Farr & Co. To reach timber frame expert and carpenter Huw Price, call (978) 360 2826.