ON the Farm
Opera North at Blow-Me-Down Farm is a unique partnership between the National Park Service and an independent non-profit.
Charles Beaman, Jr. purchased Blow-Me-Down Farm in 1880 and was the arts patron who encouraged Augustus Saint-Gaudens to rent the house that would become the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site (NH’s only National Park) while he worked on his Standing Lincoln sculpture. Saint Gaudens also worked here on the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston; General Sherman and Adm Farragut monuments in NYC, and gold eagle coinage commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt – all depicted at the site.
Saint Gaudens drew his artistic friends to summer in the valley and form the Cornish Colony an extraordinary group of visual artists, writers, architects, landscape designers, musicians, and others who lived and worked in Cornish and nearby Plainfield from 1885 until 1935. The group included such notable people as Maxfield Parrish, Ethel Barrymore, Emma Lazarus, Percy Mackaye, Charles Adams Platt, and novelist Winston Churchill.
Thanks to that history, Blow-Me-Down Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the farmhouse is a 6,000 sq. ft., 2-1/2 story post and beam, wood framed structure with a full basement, gabled roof, painted wood shingle siding, 8 bedrooms, 5 baths, commercial kitchen and 12 other rooms including a large wood-paneled room facing views of the river and Mt. Ascutney.
Opera North intends to revive the Cornish Colony gatherings of artists at the site once the farmhouse is restored – like the ones hosted by Charles Beaman, Jr. and recorded in photographs and journals from the era.
The ON the Farm vision is being realized with support from the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state development partnership in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. This grant covers close to half of the estimated $350,000 cost of renovations at the farmhouse.
Opera North has also received one of 20 national Opera America Innovation grants to work towards the vision of ON the Farm. Dartmouth College’s, Tuck Business School adopted the NPS-Opera North partnership at Blow Me Down Farm as a First Year Program case study project.
In 2018, Opera North selected R. Andrew Garthwaite, AIA of the Norwich VT firm Haynes & Garthwaite to undertake the preservation and rehabilitation of Blow-Me-Down Farm. Opera North is responsible for stabilizing and repairing the Charles Beaman farmhouse, parts of which date to the late 1700s. Garthwaite’s work includes comprehensive renovations of the 1928 Federal-style Dartmouth College President’s Residence, the restoration of the 1838 Lyme Academy for use as an historical society museum and community arts center (winner of the 2002 New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, Preservation Achievement Award) and the restoration of two important Cornish Colony artists’ residences. One of these is a classical house, studio, gardens and grounds designed by Charles Platt in 1896 and employed the same materials, details and themes as the original to preserve and honor Platt’s work while accommodating its new use.
In addition to preserving the historic property, the partnership allows the NPS to bring elements of its Cornish Colony collections, previously not on public display to view and for the “footprints” of Cornish Colony artists past and present (and working in many media) to be linked as the basis for a new arts/culture/history enclave in the Upper Valley.
Images from "This Land of Pure Delight: Charles C. Beaman and Blowmedown Farm,” by John H. Dryfhout