12 Woods Lane, Grant’s Barn (1865)

by Mariana Ovnic

The term “adaptive reuse” first entered the Merriam Webster dictionary in 1973,(1) but the concept of repurposing older structures and putting them to new uses was practically second nature to thrifty New Englanders. The post-and-beam barn that now stands at 12 Woods Lane is no exception. Its history is pieced together here, based on clues provided by the building itself, records of land bought and sold, historic maps, and old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

What does the structure tell us?

The barn, as found in 2012, had elements of both an English barn (entry via outwardly-swinging doors on the barn’s long side[2]) and a New England barn (roof rafter structure, and existence of a cupola, loft, and rudimentary basement [2]). The barn is made of pine, and indications are that the wood was milled, perhaps at the nearby sawmill at the County Street bridge? It appears that “modern” machine cut nails, first produced in the 1830s, were used in its construction.(3) The clearest clue of the barn’s age was found on a dividing panel, which includes a date, June 1, 1865, marked in chalk. Taken together, these elements are consistent with a civil-war era barn.

Dividing panel with date, June 1, 1865, marked in chalk

Who built the barn?

Although the recorded history of land ownership on the Turkey Shore side of the Ipswich river reaches back to the 1600s, our interest is focused on a relatively rapid series of exchanges that began in 1837. On February 4th of that year, Sanford Peatfield sold his lot to Eliza, wife of Edward Plouff.(4) The Plouffs built a house and occupied the site until April 7, 1849, when it was sold to Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan, in turn, sold it to Asa Kinsman 9 years later, on April 14, 1858.(4) On September 13, 1859, the plot was sold to William Grant.(4) William Grant died of consumption only 4 months after the purchase, on January 22, 1860.(5) The house and land then passed to his nephew Joshua B. Grant, a cabinet-maker,(5) who owned the property for 53 years. It is Joshua B.Grant, therefore, who built the barn.

Depictions of the Joshua B. Grant property

A hand-drawn survey from 1878(6) that names Joshua B. Grant as the owner depicts both the house and barn. Here the barn, with an attached shed on the right and a smaller addition on the left, sits next to the house behind a small yard.(2)
A “birdseye view” map from 1893 again shows the barn, with its cupola and shed, next to the home.(3)

The barn makes a move

Joshua B. Grant died in 1913 at the age of 88.(5) His land was subsequently divided into 14 lots. Norman J. and Martha Bolles purchased lot 13, comprising almost 1 acre of land, including the land on which stood Grant’s barn(4) in September of 1915.(4)

As the barn was taking up the space on Woods Lane (then called Fruit Street), where the Bolles decided to build their home, the barn had to make way. It was moved back from the road and to the east of its original location. New foundation walls of concrete were poured, and it is likely then that slate roofing was added.

 A US Geological Survey Topographic Map in 1950 shows the new location of the barn.(5)

Bolles and beyond

 Norman Bolles died in August of 1940; on March 3rd of the next year, Norman’s oldest son, Harold, sold lot 13 to his cousin, Chester A. Bolles.(4) In turn, Chester sold it to his son and daughter-in-law, Gardiner and Estelle, in April of 1946.(4) Gardiner and Estelle raised 3 children on 12 Woods Lane. Their son Rusty reported that there was a keen interest in cars – the barn now served as a garage. Oil stains soaked into the old floorboards confirm this. Gardiner and Estelle were also supportive of Rusty’s efforts to make money during college. One summer job was to sell homeowners on the benefits of aluminum siding, and his parents agreed to pay for aluminum siding on the barn. All told, 12 Woods Lane was owned by members of the Bolles family for 57 years.

In March of 1972, 12 Woods Lane was sold to James and Mary Joan Muench.(4) Over 20 years later, in March of 1993, Mary Joan passed the property to her son Karl,(4) in whose hands it remained until June of 2012. During these years, it appears that the barn was primarily used for storage. It also became a haven for barn swifts and pigeons, and even a home to a family of foxes.(6)

The barn before its recent transformation.

Current adaptation

The Ipswich Historical Commission had determined that preservation of the barn, due to its age and in-town location, is of historic value to the town. The current owners of 12 Woods Lane embarked on an ambitious transformation of the structure, with the aim of converting the barn into a highly energy-efficient one-bedroom apartment, while retaining its historic nature. The barn was raised, a new foundation poured, and the exterior of the barn was thoroughly insulated. Now the barn serves as a unique guest house and the site of large family celebrations.(7) In the future, the owners plan to use it as their retirement home.

If reuse, restore, and reinvent are bywords driving the adaptation of old buildings, Grant’s barn in Ipswich is an example of how a barn has served the various needs of generations of Grants, Bolles, Muenches, and Burkeys. In its current iteration, it is anticipated that it will continue on for many years, all the while preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of our lovely little town.

The barn in 2022


  1. Lanz, Francesca and Pendlebury, John. Adaptive reuse: a critical review. J Architecture 2022; 27 441-462, DOI: 10.1080/13602365.2022.2105381.
  2. Visser, Thomas Durant. Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings. Germany: University Press of New England, 1997.
  3. Nelson, Lee H., NAIL CHRONOLOGY as an AID to DATING OLD BUILDINGS [PDF], Historic American Engineering Record National Park Service Department of the Interior Washington, D.C. 20013-7127 , Technical Leaflet No. 48. Available at http://npshistory.com/publications/nail-chronology.pdf.
  4. Southern Essex Registry of Deeds. Available at https://salemdeeds.com/salemdeeds/Default2.aspx.
  5. Family Search. Available at https://www.familysearch.org/
  6. Courtesy of Clark and Elane Zeigler.