Highfield Hall May Be the Coolest Place You’ve Never Been on Cape Cod

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/09/17/highfield-hall-may-be-the-coolest-place-youve-never-been-on-cape-cod/

Suddenly it’s mid-September. Embracing the change of seasons Highfield Hall and Gardens has planned activities that are as cool as the temperatures and as abundant as autumn’s leaves.  

The Falmouth landmark is home to a modern-day story of renaissance.  Its patrician history belies its playfully engaging sensibilities. With a nod to its founders and a welcoming wink to new friends Highfield has been transformed from a 19th century family retreat into a center of culture.

The hill-top museum is an eclectic fusion of what was and what is. Ongoing and special-event tours, concerts, classes, and theatrical productions are designed to complement the history of this dynamic destination. After a near-disastrous decline Highfield is buzzing with even more activities than it had in the 1800s when the Beebe family entertained their guests in Gilded Age style.  

SUNKEN GARDEN with mature beech tree and centerpiece sculpture created by Cape Cod artist Alfred Glover, whose work is also featured at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. ////
Photo by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post


James Beebe earned the original family fortune by supplying blankets to Union soldiers during the Civil War. That nest-egg supported the dreams of his children as they built two Victorian summer homes on a nearly 700-acre estate in 1878. The mansions referred to as Tanglewood and Highfield shared a stable, trials, and park-like gardens surrounded by young beech trees. 

The Beebes enlisted the services of Brookline’s famed landscaper Ernest Bowditch to integrate their summer homes and grounds.  Examples of Bowditch’s professional involvements include Boston’s Trinity Church, Castle Hill in Ipswich, and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the designer of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, assisted Bowditch by overseeing the Highfield project. 

The Beebes’ primary home on 30 Beacon Street (presently the West Wing of the Massachusetts State House) was a stone’s throw away from controversies over Boston’s changing landscape. Many Bostonians appreciated the Common’s naturalized pasture and considered the adjacent installation of a Victorian garden to be garish. In today’s parlance blingingout the Public Garden rocked Boston in 1837 as neighbors argued whether it was in good taste to include promenades, extravagant statuary, and colorful plantings so near a natural setting.   

In a way, Highfield settled the horticultural huff. Focal points of the estate couple Bowditch’s flare for the dramatic with Olmsted’s ability to link the natural with the nouveau. The embellished beds of the postcard-pretty homestead complement lawns and trails, trademark signatures of the landscape-design masters. 

According to Highfield archivist Lisa Willow Dunne, the museum’s education and volunteer coordinator, as the Beebe families grew older and smaller surviving heirs established homes of their own, some as far away as Santa Barbara, California. Tanglewood was donated to Harvard University in 1932. Additions made by the university to that home lacked architectural integrity. Poor planning and decades of neglect left Tanglewood too costly to restore. It was demolished in 1977.

Alternatively, Highfield and its grounds were sold and re-purposed by a succession of owners who saw it as a health resort, religious retreat, and hotel. One owner turned its stable into a stage for summer stock productions. That building remains intact and is used for theatrical productions. But as decades passed Highfield continued to lose its vitality. Seventeen years after Tanglewood was razed, Highfield was also scheduled to be destroyed to make way for investors to develop what remained of its now-300-acre estate.

Procedural delays allowed time for a grass-roots effort by friends and neighbors to raise more than eight and a half million dollars. Instead of burying history, one of the region’s last examples of Queen Anne Stick-style architecture lives on. Restoration of Highfield Hall began in 2001.  The young beech trees have matured, their dramatic leaves sway over elaborate beds, meticulous manicured with a palette of seasonal colors.  

West Garden at Highfield Hall. ////
Photo by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post

The preservation of Highfield Hall and Gardens included more than a revival of its structural provenance, however. By investing in the property, volunteers, staff, and board members also captured the spark of the Gilded Age. That spirit reflects an aurora of creative energy charging visitors of all ages and abilities with its positive magnetic force. The home that had become a decrepit old lady is more like a gregarious grand dame and so much fun to spend time with. 

Today, rocks and trees draped with sail-size doilies decorate the carriage trail that delivers guests to Highfield’s colorful  front door. There, a juxtaposition of inspirations weaves together the history of our culture. The domestic setting is more than a tapestry of privileged times, it’s an understanding of how a community prospers when it ties its past to its present.  As Bowditch and Olmsted linked horticultural philosophies, Highfield links progress to preservation.

This doily is bigger than your doily. ////
Photo by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post

Its interiors revolve with artistic displays by local, regional, and nationally renowned artists. Centrally located, a grand piano fills the meter of the house with music. Stained and clear glass windows return guests’ eyes to the gardens. Benches and rocking chairs dot the property, lawns invite picnics, and woodland trails trace the path of a century of eco-adventuring. 

Highfield Hall and Gardens welcomes guests to experience the grounds or join special events that celebrate the abundant links between what was and what is a very cool place to visit.


For particulars on upcoming activities : 

Send an email message to: [email protected]

or call 508 -495 -1878


Highfield Hall and Gardens
56 Highfield Drive
Falmouth, Massachusetts


Grounds and trials are open dawn to dusk 7 days a week


The museum is open April 15 through October 31

times vary

$5 admission

members & children free


Special Events: 




24th- 4 – 6 p.m.  Piano Recital :Anastasia Seifetdinova Boston’s spectacular pianist who plays with Russian flare -$25.00-$30.00 


27th-  1 a.m. – 1 p.m.  Cuban Cooking: guest chef Martha Tarafa recipes from Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban — $39 – $49


28th-  6 – 8 p.m.   Japanese Floral Arrangements:  Gretchen Ward Warren demonstrates free style Ikebana designs- $55 – $60




8th –  4 – 6 p.m.   Piano recital :Steinway piano artist Sandro Russo plays with a profound sense of poetic style $25 – $30


11th-  11 a.m. – 1 p.m.  Jewish Cooking:  Culinary Director Gail Blakely cooking from Modern Jewish Cooking featuring Pamela Rothstein  $39 – $49 


19th- 6 – 8:30 p.m.     Autumn Floral Arranging:  Anna Holmes says “Don’t purchase a thing — Collect what you need!” Leaves,twigs, blossoms, pods, and grasses are some of fall’s best floral materials. $30 – $35


25th-  11 a.m. – 1 p.m.    Italian- American Cooking:  Culinary Director Gail Blakely cooking from Italian American Food by John Carofoli $39.00-$49.00




2nd-  7 to 9 p.m.     Robert Wyatt Lecture: Gilbert and Sullivan comedic opera collaborations $20 – $25


4th-  10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Robert Wyatt Lecture: repeat of the Gilbert and Sullivan comedic opera collaborations $20 – $25


5th-  4 – 6 p.m. Violin and Piano Concerto: Michi Wiancko and Michael Mizrahi perform ensemble works $25 – $30


8th & 18th-  11 a.m. – 1 p.m.  Holiday Cooking:  Culinary Director Gail Blakely and Andrea Norris take the hectic out of holiday cooking with brand new recipes.  $39 – $49


30th-  4 – 6 p.m.  Tabletop Boxwood tree: Anna Holmes teaches how to make this classic with white lights, ornaments and a tree topper. All materials are provided. $50 – $55


November 24th — December 3rd (times vary)

~see the international crèche collection, a huge model train display, shop inside the inspired gift gallery and write to a deployed service person as part of the Any Soldier Project. Highfield says to “expect the unexpected” for holiday decor.


Fiber art suspension and windows. ////
Photo by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post