If you find joy in summer, the outdoors, wonderful gardens, pre-Victorian mansions, walks in the woods, and divinely wacky sculpture, Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth, on Cape Cod, is your best excursion this summer. Map.
People familiar with the Gilded Age summer retreats built by business giants of the late 19th century in places like Newport, RI, and the Berkshires will recognize the majesty of Highfield Hall, powered by ego and fine taste.
What’s left out at this historic house is glowering ancestral portraits, stiff formality, and the implication that guests should be stunned into reverence by the grandness of it all. What you do find is visitor wandering the property, entranced by indoor and outdoor displays that verge on an Alice-in-Wonderful adventure.
On a recent weekday visit, the property was humming with adults and kids prowling the gorgeous gardens; looking around the breezy, light-filled house; examining paintings in the current exhibit 60/60: Over Sixty Pieces of Art by Women Over Sixty; and kneeling down to examine dozens of intricate fairy houses that wind all around the property in the Fairy House Trail.
Still in place from its debut last year is Stickwork by sculptor Patrick Dougherty, a massive sculpture of woven sticks and branches that visitors can walk around and through.
One room in the mansion, just off the airy entrance hall, offers a history of the Beebe family, founded by James Beebe, an Irish immigrant who worked his way into the ranks of the Boston Brahmins by the mid-1800s through his import/export, warehousing and other business ventures. The family began summering on Cape Cod and selected Falmouth as the centerpiece of their summer fun and largess.
Highfield Hall, one of the few examples of Stick-style Queen Anne architecture in the Northeast, was built in 1878 as a home for the unmarried three out of the five adult children of James Beebe. An adjacent mansion, called Tanglewood, which was demolished in the 20th century, was home to one of the Beebe brothers.
The family history on display includes intriguing stories of a family of fortune whose noblesse oblige earned the family a variety of responses in the local community. The family also built St. Barnabas Church in Falmouth and preserved the land known today as Beebe Woods. The story of the family and mansion includes its share of tragedies the felled people and buildings. When the last member of the Beebe family died in 1932 with no heirs, the property passed through various other owners, including some who worked to develop the place as a nexus of theater and performing arts. In 1977 the Tanglewood mansion fell to the wrecking ball, but community efforts ultimately saved and paid for the refurbishing of Highfield Hall.
Are you ready to visit? [answer: “yes!”] This summer Highfield Hall & Gardens is open to the public Wednesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. All visitors will be required to wear a mask. Everyone is asked to maintain social distancing at all times.
People who are ready to put Highfield Hall on their to-visit lists should keep an eye on the estate’s calendar for the summer, because there is lots happening, including virtual and on-the-property events..
Here’s a sample of upcoming events
July 22 — Farm To Table Series: From The Garden To The Grill. Gail Blakelysets up shop outdoors, on Highfield’s back porch. Blakely brings fresh produce to the class so that you can join her in learning how to cook local. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $50.
August 12 – Fairy Tea Party on the Lawn. Children, dolls, and parents are invited to an English garden tea party to celebrate the opening of “Lessons from the Fairies.” The tea party will also include doll-related activities so make sure to bring your doll with you. 3-4:30 p.m. $30-$40. 508-495-1878
August 12 — Sizzlin’ Summer Fare. Enjoy a cooking lesson from instructor Kay Benaroch. This week brings marinated lamb, a chickpea curry and deviled eggs. Recipes and tastes are provided. Register online. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $60-$70. 508-495-1878