Old Story Farm restored as historic bed-and-breakfast

Last modified: 9/25/2014 1:02:00 AM
The floor-boards and the wooden planks in the walls of the home John and Jennifer Balkus recently purchased in Hopkinton have not been replaced. A barn that sits near the house is filled with tools, furniture and other items – all dating back centuries. And a silo on the property stands empty, serving as a reminder of a once thriving farm.

“There are things that are left alone, and thank goodness,” Jennifer said.

These historic features are among the couple’s favorite things about the old structures. The Balkuses recently turned the home into a bed-and-breakfast, and they have plans to use the barn as a greenhouse and a place to hold functions.

And while it was the buildings’ history that first drew the couple to the property, they’re also hoping to use it to raise cattle and grow produce that they can serve to guests.

The couple – who have lived next to the property for about 30 years – purchased the house and barn from their neighbors, Jack and Mary French, in October. This summer, they opened the bed-and-breakfast, called Old Story Farm, which they named in honor of a dairy farm that once operated on the property.

“We knew that we wanted to buy that property before we even saw the house,” Jennifer said. “I’ve been looking at that barn for 33 years and wishing I had that barn.”

The Balkuses found their opportunity to finally own the buildings last year, when John Balkus learned from Jack French that the Frenches – who had lived at the 11 Hopkins Green Road address for decades – were moving to Chichester. The couple – both attorneys in Concord – decided that they needed to have the property that surrounded their land on three sides. That way, their garden could be extended, becoming a farm.

“The first plan was to have a farm,” Jennifer said. “The bed-and-breakfast was a good and sensible extension to the farm.”

Over the past 11 months, they have worked to restore the house and convert it into the bed-and-breakfast, which they were able to open in June. They still live next door, at a home that sits nearly as close to the barn as the bed-and-breakfast.

The nearly 200-year-old barn is not yet open to guests, but the Balkuses have several plans for its use. They envision a greenhouse on the southern side of the upper level, room for a farm-stand on the lower level, space to hold weddings and functions, and places for livestock.

“I’m looking forward to when there’s animals in here, so it feels alive again,” Jennifer said.

Much of this fits with their long-term goal of making the home a farm-to-table bed-and-breakfast.

“I hope that people may, if they want to, go out and collect the eggs . . . or milk the goat,” Jennifer said.

John and Jennifer try to use as many ingredients from the property as possible when they cook breakfast for their guests – at the moment, that’s mostly fruit.

“It’s important for us to not only have the food be a component of the farm eventually,” Jennifer said, “but to have the food be something people may be coming for, in addition to this fantastic house.”

There are fruit trees on the property and the Balkuses were already cultivating a vegetable garden at their home next door.

“Even before we had the farm, we did so much gardening in our spare time. . . . This magnifies that,” Jennifer said.

The five-bedroom farmhouse dates to the mid-18th century, and has been owned by about a dozen different families and undergone several additions over the years.

It has enough history that it was the subject of a student’s architectural thesis in the 1970s. The Balkuses received a copy of that thesis when they purchased the home. The paper – attributed to Barbara Dean – is incomplete, missing photos that are referenced in it, but the couple have been able to learn many things from it.

They know that the house was originally built in the 1760s, was added to in the 1820s and saw further additions in the 1930s. They also know from the paper that the Story family owned the property during the 19th century; milk caps inscribed with the name Old Story Farm serve as confirmation.

The Balkuses said they appreciated that much of the house and barn have been preserved, even through several additions.

“People left it alone,” Jennifer said. “I just love that nobody tore this stuff down.”

The couple have tried to renovate the house without losing any of its historic touches.

“It’s got some flaws,” John said. “We’ve opted to keep it just the way we found it.”

The bathrooms are modern but fit with the architecture of centuries past; one bathroom is now outfitted with a sink found in the barn.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Jennifer said. “We’re still discovering things.”

The renovation is not yet completely finished – a couple of bathrooms are still under construction – but it is open to guests. The couple plan to continue working as attorneys, but will devote much of their time working on the property.

“When we think about how we want to spend our time, we want to do it in a way that is going toward a goal,” Jennifer said. “It’s a lot of time 
. . . but it’s the most rewarding way to spend our time.”

(Susan Doucet can be reached at 369-3309, sdoucet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @susan_doucet.)

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