By Chelsea Colson | Photos by Pat O’Connell
One of Falmouth’s most treasured historical sites, Highfield Hall and Gardens is one of Cape Cod’s most visited sites. The Hall and Gardens is a center of cultural and community life in Falmouth. Highfield has welcomed over 125,000 visitors since opening in 2006 after 5 years of renovation. One of the most interesting features of Highfield is it’s extravagant history.
Highfield Hall and Gardens’ rich history begins with its construction. It was one of the earliest summer mansions on Cape Cod and was built by the Beebe family of Boston in 1878. It is one of the few remaining examples of Stick-style Queen Anne architecture in the Northeast. At the time of its construction, the mansion was one of the first expansive summer retreats on the Cape and was surrounded by park-like gardens, a stable, carriage trails, a caretakers cottage and almost 700 acres of woodlands.
James Beebes, one of Boston’s merchant princes, gifted the funds for his children to create and live in the home. While residing in Falmouth, Pierson, Franklin, and Emily Beebe lived lavishly. Servants quarters were located on the upper floor. The servants assisted the siblings when they threw many extravagant parties on the property. In 1932, Franklin Beebe James’ only surviving child, passed away, leaving no heirs to the Beebe fortune and estate.
After being bought and sold several times, the estate had been transformed and re-purposed from a private home into a hotel. In 1972 Josephine and Josiah Lilly purchased the entire estate and generously donated the nearly 400 acres of Beebe Woods to the town for permanent conservation as green space. The local arts organization received the buildings and acreage around the mansion. Unfortunately for two decades, the property was vandalized and neglected until 1994. At that time, Highfield Hall Inc. saved the property from demolition. After several years of wrangling to keep the building standing, Town Meeting Members authorized Falmouth Selectmen to lease the property to Historic Highfield. In 2001, $8.5 million was raised through donations to renovate the hall and the 6 surrounding acres. Private individuals made a majority of the donations. The funds went towards replacing the roof, repairing the foundation, repairing, flooring, windows and doors. In September 2006, Highfield Hall had its grand reopening when the 1st floor was completed. By April 2007, the Hall’s 2nd and 3rd floors were completed and the building finally was fully renovated. The landscape restoration came after, lasting from 2010 – 2012.
Now that you’ve learned the summary of Highfield Hall & Gardens’ intricate history, it’s time to come back to the present. “Arts on the Hill”, a collective of non-profits that operate the estate, hosts a variety of classes, lectures, theatre presentations, concerts and gallery shows. They also offer estate tours. Visitors can stop by to browse the current art shows or visit when there is a theatre show scheduled. When the weather is permitting one can take advantage of Beebe Woods and enjoy a calming nature walk. Two of the most recent additions are the restored “Sunken Garden”, a cutting garden and a labyrinth.
On your next visit to the Palmer House Inn, make sure you don’t miss this Falmouth treasure. It is a short 3 minute drive up the hill, or a 13 minute walk from the Inn.
While all of our guest rooms have their own charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day exploring gardens and Cape Cod museums, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.