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.

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