Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Highfield Hall


I'm almost ready to pack up and move to Cape Cod. Not only are there numerous house museums to visit but Highfield Hall has the most interesting events calendar. There's art exhibits, cooking classes, jazz nights, lectures, nature walks and a Holiday Ball.

Highfield Hall is a fascinating place, both it's history and current usage.

When the railroad from Boston and New York transformed Cape Cod from sleepy fishing and farming villages wealthy families began building summer estates to escape the city heat (not so different from today). In 1878 the Beebe's of Boston, heirs to a dry goods fortune, built two Stick-style Queen Anne mansions on a 700 acre property in Falmouth,MA.

For a mere 50 years or so the homes remained in the family but when the last heir passed away the property was sold and began a journey through different owners and uses. Attention to the beauty and possibilities of the estate waxed and waned. For a period the two mansions were used as a hotel and later the estate housed a theater and school. (Reminds me of the inn in White Christmas. The movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. But that being the movies the inn was saved before it slid into disrepair. Not the case here.)

The two mansions suffered from years of neglect and vandalism until in 1977 one of the two grand homes, Tanglewood, was demolished. Highfield Hill continued its decline and was nearly razed as well. Eventually it was saved by a local ordinance enacted two days earlier.

I found the preservation story of the home fascinating. Loved the pictures of volunteer supporters doing the dirty work of cleaning up;local government involvement in the 11th hour rescue; and the professional manner in which the house is now run and presented to the public. This extraordinary example of local initiative was recognized with a 2010 Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The estate now is a vibrant community asset offering public viewing of the mansion, a full calendar of cultural events, and rental availability. The current non-profit owners have achieved their goal as outlined in their strategic plan " to create a new model for an historic house that's not a static display, but a house that is to be used and treasured by the entire community."

While tours of the house must be prearranged and are for groups only, a room just off the entrance has a permanent exhibit with a full history of the family and their estate.

Wish I had taken some notes. Since our September visit the details have slipped my mind. I vaguely remember some melodrama with a father rushing to his suicidal daughter's bedside and the carriage colliding with and killing a local ten year old boy. Even an internet search on that didn't turn up the details.

You can see from the pictures that this house can be a wonderful venue for a wedding "at home" if you don't happen to have a floor plan that can comfortably accommodate hundreds of people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Got Plans this Weekend?

What are you doing this weekend? Live close to New York City? Love architecture, culture, learning or outdoor activity?

It's Open House New York (OHNY) weekend and the Historic House Festival.

The 9th annual OHNY weekend will be held Saturday Oct 15 and Sunday October 16. The event showcases hundreds of New York City's most architecturally and culturally significant spaces and places, many of which are not usually open to the public. They'll be site talks, tours, performances and family activities.

Especially appealing: OHNY just announced two days ago that the newly renovated, and not generally open to the public TWA Terminal at JFK will be open on Sunday from 1-4 P.M.

This year the Historic House Trust has partnered with OHNY and will hold its annual Historic House Festival on the same weekend. The theme for the Festival is NYC Never Tasted So Good: Celebrating Culinary History and Contemporary Food Trends. Each of the 23 historic house in the city's five boroughs will be holding food themed tours and entertainment.

Want to fit your exercise workout into the weekend? Try the bike tour of Queens stopping at all of the Trust homes and cool eating spots.

A weekend packed with fun activities. Will the weather cooperate?

Check out these websites.



Friday, October 7, 2011


Nancy, the chairwomen of the Museum committee, very kindly responded to the question about the Josiah Dennis Manse in my last blog entry.

"The round stone at the front door is one half of a millstone. The other half is at a door at the back of the Manse. If you visit a working grist mill (There is one in Sandwich, MA) you will see this kind of mill stones actually grinding the corn."

Wish I had a picture of the back door for you.

What I do have and will blog on at some point is exterior and interior photo's of the 1745 school house that is on the property.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Josiah Dennis Manse Museum


Missed this house museum by one day on my first visit to the Cape this June and you may have visited before me if you read the July 26 post to this blog. The Josiah Dennis Manse Museum held its grand reopening after the town of Dennis completed a 2.7 million dollar five year restoration. So the home was a must see on our September return trip to the Cape.

The incredibly well informed guides held our attention with stories about the home, its inhabitants, and maritime life on Cape Cod. But there was one particular story that we all focused on.

Floating lighthouses were once used to keep ships safe from shallows,reefs and other treacherous waters. They were in use between 1820 and 1985 with the heyday being 1909. At least initially they were without they're own power and were hauled out to the site by another boat. They were eventually replaced by buoys, LNB's(large Navigational Buoys)or Texas Towers.

Back in 1918 the Cross Rip Lightship with 6 crew members on board was towed to its post in the Tuckernuck Shoals. After a long winter the boat became encased in a frozen sea. The First Mate walked a long 3 miles back to shore to ask permission to abandon the Cross Rip before the boat was washed out to sea as the granite anchor had been pulled loose in the melting ice.

The owners refused permission to abandon the ship reminding the mate of the lightship creed "You have to go out; you don't have to come in." Chilling!

And they didn't come in. A few months later a rudder and American flag from the Cross Rip lightship washed ashore.

Want to tour a lightship? There's one berthed at Jack London Square in Oakland,CA that's open for weekend public tours. Or maybe you'd rather read about them. Try Lightships: Floating Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast by Wayne Kiklin published in 2007.

One of the best parts of my visit was the discussion in the car on the way home. Mostly I just sat and listened to my 3 companions discuss what they really enjoyed and what was most remarkable about our visit. It was energizing to see others get excited about this house museum. It happens to me all the time.

Here's a little check list for your tour. If your guide doesn't tell you first then be sure to ask about:

* What's strange about the shadow box portrait of Nathan Stone Jr?

* How many other US towns are named after its first minister?

* Why both young boys and girls learned stitchery?

* Why Lulu the pony sailed the seas on a clipper ship?

* Why smoking pipes were made to be broken multiple times?

* How one slept tight on a rope bed?

One more question to June or Nancy. Can you tell me something about the beautiful front step or round stone? I saw something similar, though not as grand, at another Cape house museum.