Monday, August 25, 2014

Big House, Little House, Backhouse, Barn

The Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, home of poet Robert Frost
You can see the Big House, Little House and Barn,
but the backhouse is hiddlen in the corner of the "L" shaped structure

This is the back of the Frost Farm, and you can see all four structures that make up
the Big House, Little House, backhouse (lean-to) and barn

A connected farmhouse style very common in southern New Hampshire and southern Maine is one known locally as a “Big House, Little House, Backhouse, Barn”.  Connected farmhouses are seen all over New England, and evolved to with carrying out barn chores during the worst winter weather.  You can travel from the house to the barn and not go outdoors.  The Big House, Little House, Backhouse, Barn style of house is a particular style that features a farmhouse, a summer kitchen (the little house or middle house), the backhouse (the shed where the latrine was often located) all in line with the barn bringing up the back of the line.

As farming moved west, New England Yankee farmers couldn't compete with the longer seasons and better growing conditions found by the farmers of the Midwest and western states.  The “Big House, Little House, backhouse, barn” structures became useful for other cottage industries such as shoe making, canning and woodworking.   The type of farming that survived the longest in this area- dairy and chicken farming, worked out well with connected farmhouses since the farmer never had to brave the snow to get to his cows for the early morning milking, or for egg gathering. 

In our area the most famous house of this style is the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire.  This is a typical home of the style, with four distinct buildings, four different roof lines and built in the correct time period.  It was built in 1884 and purchased by Robert Frost in 1900 as a chicken farm.  Frost sold the farm in 1911 and went to England for three years.  The property was run as a farm by three more owners, and in 1950 it became an automobile junkyard known as “Frosty Acres Car Recycling”.

The State of New Hampshire bought the farm in 1965, and purchased additional adjoining land in 1969.  There are about 70 acres of meadow, forest, stonewalls, and farmhouse on both sides of Route 28 (Rockingham Road).  The house was renovated with the help of Lesley Frost Ballantine, the poet’s daughter, and opened to the public in 1974. 

The parlor of the Big House features the Morris chair,
Frost's favorite chair for writing

The kitchen of the Frost  Big House, and the door leading
to the Little House

Guess which structure we are in now at the Frost Farm?

Today visitors to the property can visit the home, which is furnished with many items donated by the Frost family.  The barn is now a museum, and there are weekend poetry readings every summer.  You can follow a short hiking trail marked with spots to contemplate Frost poems along the way.  Just guess which poem is marked for the fork in the path, or for the stonewall, or for the pasture?  If you know the answers to these, you must be a real Frost fan.

As you drive around New England you can look at farm houses dating from the 1800s and see if they fit the pattern for “Big House, Little House, Backhouse, Barn”. 

For the truly curious:

Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England, Thomas C. Hubka, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1984.

The Robert Frost Farm  
122 Rockingham Road, Derry, New Hampshire 03038
(603) 432-3091
The Robert Frost Farm is maintained by the State of New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation

Listen to the song “Big House, Middle House, Backhouse, Barn” by the local Maine musical group Schooner Fare

And I can see like yesterday the smile on Grandma’s face,
And I can hear the love we shared as it echoes in this space.
And though it’s just a memory, it cannot be erased;
For like the big house, middle house, back house, barn,
We’re connected to this place.

Previous blog posts about the Robert Frost Farm:

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Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. We saw Schooner Fare years ago and have a "cassette" of their music. "Big House . . . " was always one of my favorites. Thanks for reminding me of this building style and the song!