Everything You Need To Know About Highfield Hall

Cape Cod is rich in history. Nearly every street in every town on the peninsula features something that contains a connection to the Cape’s past. There are countless historic homes with the year they were built located on the façade. Some places have markers dedicated to iconic figures and events which need to remembered. These locations and buildings are treasured and revered and luckily have survived decades or centuries of change.

Sadly there have been many historic places that time or development have claimed. Once these sites are gone they are gone forever.

One spot which was close to suffering the same fate resides nestled just off of Palmer Avenue in Falmouth. Highfield Hall, and its surrounding grounds, is a place of serenity and beauty. A 19th century home part of a larger estate on nearly 700 acres this building has been lovingly restored and is now an historic museum. However when walking the grounds it is hard to believe just how close it was to becoming just another memory.

The building known as Highfield Hall was built in 1878 by the Beebe family along with a mansion called Tanglewood which came in 1879. They sat on a large parcel of property on the western side of Falmouth, part of a large summer home compound to be used by the family when they visited from Boston. The buildings were surrounded by unique gardens and carriage trails. It was one of the first such compounds akin to the one built by the Kennedys in Hyannis Port.

The Beebe siblings who inhabited the pair of stately manors, J. Arthur, Pierson, Franklin, and Emily, were heirs to a mercantile fortune made by their father James Beebe who passed away in 1875. The elder Beebe had purchased the estate of Benjamin Swift on Shore Street in Falmouth and created a summer home there known as Vineyard Lodge. Later he would acquire a large swath of pasture land, nearly 700 acres, which would come to comprise much of the compound and present day Beebe Woods.

The Beebe siblings were charitable, threw lavish parties, and were seen as wonderful citizens of Falmouth. J. Arthur in particular was beloved and heavily mourned upon his death in 1914. Upon his death Tanglewood, which had been his residence, would be rented out to others including former New York Congressman J. Sloat Fassett. The rest of the Beebe siblings would inhabit Highfield.

Pierson would pass in 1926 followed by Franklin in 1932. With no heirs to pass the compound down to the property would be sold. First came E.H. Bristol in 1936 who wanted to create a health resort out of the grounds. Next would come J. Elwin Wright in 1945 who wished to make it a religious retreat. Third was Arthur Beckhard who in 1946 turned both mansions into hotels and changed the property’s stable into what is today Highfield Theatre. In 1949 Beckhard’s friend DeWitt Ter Heun bought the estate and created a training ground for student actors, remodeling Highfield Hall as the family summer home and using Tanglewood as a dormitory.

In 1962 after Ter Heun’s death there were plans to make the property into a residential community with 500 units. That plan fell through and in 1972 the estate was purchased by Josephine and Josiah Lilly. The Lilly’s donated 400 acres making Beebe Woods a permanent conservation land while the buildings became part of the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music and Arts. Sadly in 1977 Tanglewood would be torn down and Highfield Hall would be neglected and vandalized over the following years.

By March 1994 it seemed as though Highfield Hall would suffer the same fate as its sister building. Years of deterioration had the Conservatory looking to demolish it. The permit was filed but a ninety-day grace period allowed efforts to save the building to gain steam. Historic Highfield, a non-profit was created in May 1994 to begin the process of raising the funds necessary to not only keep it from demolition but to renovate it to its past glory.

The group worked tirelessly and in 2000 the estate was taken by eminent domain by the town. In 2001 Falmouth signed a lease with Historic Highfield to renovate and operate Highfield Hall. The renovation and restoration of the historic estate began that summer. In total the donations toward restoring Highfield topped $8.5 million. Highfield Hall was reopened as an historic site in 2006. The landscape was restored in 2010, the incredible Sunken Garden in 2011, and the West Garden in 2012. In 2013 the estate was rechristened Highfield Hall & Gardens. Since being opened this magnificent spot has welcomed more than 125,000 visitors.

Highfield Hall & Gardens is located at 56 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. It opened to the public from April through October. Admission is $5, members, active military, and children get in free. For more info visit their website: HighfieldHallAndGardens.org

By Christopher Setterlund

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