A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour parts of the Crane Estate in Ipswich, MA. It’s truly a magical place with amazing ocean views, grand lawns and gardens, a beautiful main building and outbuildings – all with a story to tell.
The spectacular Crane Estate encompasses more than 2,100 acres in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The Estate is made up of three properties: Castle Hill, a National Historic Landmark that is the home of The Great House, Crane Beach and the Crane Wildlife Refuge.
Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. first purchased the 2,100 acres that would become The Crane Estate in 1910. Crane was captivated by the beautiful landscape, and over time worked with eight leading architects and landscape architects to shape his summer retreat. In 1928, he crowned the estate with a grand 59-room, Stuart-style mansion, designed by the world-renowned architect David Adler.
Today, the Crane Estate is managed by The Trustees of the Reservations, a non-profit entity that owns and preserves over 100 properties – nearly 25,000 acres! Read more here.
The long winding drive up to the Great House features beautiful vistas, deer roaming about and peeks of the beautiful gardens surrounding the main property.
I attended a press/public event that included a talk on the restoration of the Italian Garden, which was originally designed by the Olmstead Brothers in 1910 to complement the original Italian mansion that was on the site of the current mansion. An interesting back story is that Mr. Crane built the original Italianate mansion for his wife – who hated it. She wanted something more on the English style. He asked her to wait ten years and if she still hated it, he’d tear it down and rebuild. And so he did.
On of the most glorious elements of the grounds is the Grand Allée that runs from the back of the mansion down to the sea. It is one of the largest landscape features of its kind in North America, modeled after the beautiful Italian and French grades of Renaissance Europe. You can see it in the top photo, cutting a swath between the trees. The allée is flanked by marble statuary. This is a very popular wedding destination – my cousin’s daughter was married here a couple of years ago. The light the evening I was there was truly spectacular – as you can see by the two images (above and below) that I took. The restoration of the Grand Allée and the grounds has been extensive and ongoing. You can read an interesting piece about it here.
In this photo below when you look right, you can see the beach and ocean.
The sky was so amazing as the sun was setting.
And a final detail view of the mansion before we head down to the Italian Garden. We headed down a winding path in the woods a short distance and came to a “landing” area (for lack of a better word) with columns and statues which once held a wooden pergola (I believe).
The Italian Garden – currently undergoing a lot of renovations. it’s a somewhat sunken garden, with hills rising up behind the retaining walls on the sides.
There will be a water feature in the narrow curved area in the image below, flanked by plantings between the water and walls.
At the far end is a wooden pergola resting on top of stone columns.
The detail is just so beautiful.
As I mentioned above, the light that evening was so beautiful!
If you’re coming for a stay, The Inn at Castle Hill is a charming shingle style home that is also on the grounds of the estate.
In 1910, Crane and his wife, Florence, purchased the property, which was advertised simply as “Ipswich Beach Farm.” That same year, the Cranes renovated the Brown Cottage, with their architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, so they could live there while their main house was being built. They renovated it again in 1917. The cottage later served as a guesthouse. It was frequently occupied by visiting family members, especially Mrs. Crane’s father, Harlow Niles Higinbotham of Chicago.
After the death of Mrs. Crane in 1949, son Cornelius Crane lived in the cottage with his wife, Miné. They renovated the house in 1958 and added the Colonial-style tavern building in 1959 as an additional space for entertaining. In 2000, The Trustees of Reservations restored the cottage and opened it as “The Inn at Castle Hill.” Here, guests once again enjoy summerhouse living with glorious views across the marshes.