A Grand Undertaking

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A Gr and Undertaking The Grand AllĂŠe at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate


A Grand Undertaking: The Grand Allée at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate First Edition copyright © 2012 The Trustees of Reservations All rights reserved. The book, or portions thereof, may not be translated or reproduced in any form without written permission of copyright owner. ISBN 978-0-9651563-0-1 Editing/Writing by Laurie O’Reilly Design by Elizabeth Hall McCormack Additional writing by April Austin Cover photo: © TTOR Photography: J. Beck, T. Kates, Jumping Rocks, E. McCormack, TTOR Published by The Trustees of Reservations 572 Essex Street | Beverly, MA 01915 | www.thetrustees.org Printed and bound by Blurb


This book is dedicated to the memory of David Crockett When Gordon Abbott, then President of The Trustees of Reservations, wrote his definitive history of the organization, Saving Special Places, his entry on the story of Castle Hill was animated by the man he called the “Impresario of Argilla Road” – David Crockett. “No member of the Board of Governors played a more important role with Castle Hill than David C. Crockett of Ipswich,” wrote Abbott. “For Crockett, it was a labor of love.” Few might have handled the task so well. Crockett’s commitment to the care of the extraordinary gift of the Crane family set the standard by which the property is now managed. We thank David, his children Susie and Chris, and their family for their passion and commitment to the care of this very special place.

we are grateful to all of the donors who have supported this project and to those who have dedicated their time and talent to help make this restoration a reality. There are far too many to acknowledge them all here by name, but we would like to recognize and thank certain individuals: Nathan Hayward, for his visionary leadership, inspiration, and generosity; Tatiana Bezamat, for continuing her family’s of legacy of passion and care for this special place; Dan Mayer for his longstanding commitment to the Crane Estate and The Trustees and, of course, his big cranes!; Augusta Stanislaw, for her years of dedication to Crane and to The Trustees’ extraordinary collection of cultural landscapes; Lucinda Brockway for her unique insights into this landscape’s history, which have helped to shape its future; and Bob Murray, for his passion for this place and his exceptional management of this complex and historic project.


Chapter 1

History & Background

Measuring 1,500 feet long and 100 feet wide across its grassy middle, the Grand AllĂŠe provides a breathtaking natural transition between the stately Crane mansion and its wild ocean vistas. The Grand AllĂŠe came about at a particular moment in landscape history. In the early 20th century, wealthy Americans, including the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, built lavish estates and summer retreats. Richard T. Crane, Jr., had made his fortune in the manufacture of plumbing and industrial supplies, and his family was eager to assume the social and philanthropic duties that came with great wealth. The Cranes purchased land on the North Shore of Boston, which had become a summer resort for the wealthy, to create a place where they could entertain friends and escape stifling Chicago summers. Well-to-do Americans of that era often traveled to Europe, returning home with elaborate designs in mind, in particular,




the park-like grounds of English manor houses and the manicured gardens of Italy and France. Architects and landscape designers were increasingly called upon to recreate the Italian style for their well-heeled clients, including the Cranes, whose first house atop Castle Hill was an Italian-style villa. The Cranes engaged Frederick Law Olmsted’s sons, who had taken over their father’s famous landscape firm and established a national reputation of their own, to create its gardens. The Olmsted Brothers’ formal Italian Garden became a highlight of the estate, but Mrs. Crane was less satisfied with their proposal for a large lawn off the north terrace area. In 1913, another landscape architect emerged serendipitously on the scene: Arthur Shurcliff, an Ipswich neighbor. He was brought in to consult on the complex drainage and irrigation system being installed on the then 1,380-acre estate. Although he had trained with Olmsted Sr., Shurcliff was sympathetic to Mrs. Crane’s desire for an Italian-style feature that would link the

house to the sea. He suggested a mall – a grassy expanse bordered by trees. Several such malls existed in Italy, including at the Villa Borghese and the Boboli Gardens, both of which would have been familiar to Shurcliff. Shurcliff’s brilliance shows in the deceptively simple arrangement he devised, a design that took ten years to mature to its ideal height. Shurcliff chose trees that grew well in this part of the country: The inner hedge was Norway spruce, sheared to a height of 12 to 15 feet to provide a green-curtained backdrop to classical sculpture. The hedge was backed by a row of white pine, and the last 500 feet were edged with red cedar. The resulting grand avenue, or greensward, is unique in American landscape design. While other estates of the so-called Country Place era boasted similar features, none approaches the size or scale of that at the Crane Estate. It is also the largest surviving example of Shurcliff ’s work in the Italian style. (Shurcliff is today best known for his Colonial revival gardens at Old Sturbridge Village and Williamsburg.)

The classical statuary that would later line the Allée awaits its installation. FAR LEFT: The Allée c.1930. NEAR LEFT: The original construction involved hauling large loads of dirt to create the natural-looking hillsides.



RIGHT: Columns of evergreens, like Italy’s famous cedars, punctuated the Casino courtyard. BELOW: Arthur Shurcliff’s intricate paving patterns were a visual delight to the family and guests.

Tucked halfway along the undulating Grand Allée was the Casino, Italian for “little house,” which served as a striking venue for relaxing and entertaining for the Crane family and their guests. Designed by Boston architects Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, the Casino complemented the Italianate style of the original mansion. Graced with classical-style sculpture, the Casino also boasted columns of dark evergreens, like Italy’s famous cedars, which punctuated the courtyard with its in-ground swimming pool. Emerald groundcover softened the slopes of the pool terrace, and topiary shrubs in large urns decorated the courtyard entrance. A large retaining wall with side stairwells and dressing rooms below framed two guest pavilions. The eastern pavilion, the Bachelor’s Quarters, was a four-bedroom guest house, while the western building, the Ballroom, contained a single large room used for billiards and dancing.



The rest of the Estate’s landscape was just as grand as the Allée, linking the estate’s cultivated grounds with its magnificent natural surroundings (a fashionable design concept of the time). The Cranes worked with the Olmsted Brothers to lay out the Italian Garden, a maze, and a bowling green over the next several years. In addition to creating the Grand Allée, Arthur Shurcliff brought to life Mrs. Crane’s vision of an elaborate, sunken Rose Garden, which would boast 600 varieties of the flower. When the first Italian-style house failed to satisfy the family’s needs, the Cranes turned to Chicago architect David Adler. The tradition of English country life was much admired by wealthy Americans like the Cranes, and Adler was skilled at interpreting architectural tradition to suit the needs of his time. In addition to the use of authentic detail, his designs had a great sense of scale and style, and he knew how to provide luxury. The Stuart-style Great House was completed in 1928. In 1945, the Crane Family gave 1,000 acres of their beloved estate to The Trustees. When Mrs. Crane died in 1949, she added 350 acres, the Great House, and most of Castle Hill. The contents of the Great House, some 1,032 items, were sold at auction. In 1957, Miné Crane, wife of the Cranes’ son Cornelius, donated the Cornelius and Miné Crane wildlife refuge, where she and Cornelius are buried.


LEFT: Arthur Shurcliff brought to life Mrs. Crane’s vision of an elaborate, sunken Rose Garden, which would boast 600 varieties of the flower. ABOVE (clockwise from top):

Richard T. Crane, Jr., son Cornelius – named after Richard’s friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt – daughter Florence, and wife Florence in the Rose Garden. In 1920, the Crane family added an elaborate maze carved from hedges to the grounds; its entrance was just beyond the Bowling Green. The Italian Garden in its splendor, c.1915.



Chapter 2

The Project By 2007, the Allée’s visionary design was fading. The oncegraceful trees that lined its edges were overgrown, engulfing the classical statuary that lined the lawn and disrupting the vistas they previously had framed. They were also weakened by age and continued exposure to harsh New England weather. When storms in 2007 and 2010 downed hundreds of trees along the Allée, it was time to act. With inspiration and guidance from Nathan Hayward, President of the Board of Trustees of Longwood Gardens in Delaware, landscape experts from Longwood, landscape historian and garden designer Lucinda Brockway (who would soon join The Trustees as Cultural Resources Program Director) and landscape architect Todd Richardson (Todd Richardson & Associates), The Trustees of Reservations developed an ambitious, three-phase plan to restore Shurcliff’s vision for the Grand Allée.



CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: An enormous crane gently lifts each aged tree from its stump. Young Norway pine await their planting. The completion of Phase 1 provided a dramatic preview of what was to come.

Phase One Hill by hill, year by year, starting near the Great House and moving outward towards the sea, more than 700 trees were removed and replanted. Phase 1 began in 2010, with the removal of 150 mature trees and the replanting of 200 young spruce and pine trees.




PREVIOUS PAGE:The Grand AllĂŠe today, revealing a spectacular view to the wild ocean vistas beyond. FROM LEFT: The classical statuary that graces the AllĂŠe was also restored as part of the project, carefully cleaned by experts such as sculpture conservator, Nina Vinogradskaya.

Phase Two Phase 2 was launched in 2011, with the removal and planting of 300 more trees. The Trustees also continued work to repair 12 classical-style statues, which had long been hidden under the overgrown branches of the original mature trees.





are cleared along the final hill. Enormous cranes, used to remove trees, add to the dramatic spectacle of the restoration in progress. Dan Mayer of Mayer Tree Service, based in Essex, and Mark Chisholm of Aspen Tree in New Jersey, held a three-day arborist training workshop at the Estate, which attracted 22 expert arborists from across the country.

Phase Three The final phase of the AllÊe’s transformation began in the early spring of 2012. Another 200 trees were carefully removed and the final rows of young trees were planted, opening up the final view to the sea.


The Casino restor ation In 1998, Castle Hill was designated a National Historic Landmark, and The Trustees undertook a $3 million restoration and reconstruction of the Casino’s retaining walls and pavilions, revitalizing this critical architectural treasure and saving it from further deterioration. The project included the careful reconstruction of exposed oak timber-framed ceilings and plaster cornice moldings within the Bachelor’s Quarters and the preservation of the grand fireplace and English oak flooring of the ballroom. The Massachusetts Historical Commission and Essex National Heritage Commission provided grant assistance for the ambitious project, which took two years to complete. Now, The Trustees are working to restore the Casino’s beautiful landscaping – the terrace, plantings, balustrades, and statuary – to complement the remarkable transformation of the Grand Allée.



The restoration of the Casino took two years to complete and included the rebuilding of its retaining walls. It also required the removal and reconstruction of exposed oak timber-framed ceilings and moldings.



Chapter 3

Going Green As trusted caretakers of Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, The Trustees are deeply committed to its exemplary care – and to the modern-day lessons that its century-old landscape can offer in living more sustainably for the future. Of the more than 700 trees that were removed from the 1,500foot AllÊe, all of their bio-mass has been salvaged as saw logs for lumber or wood chips used for energy production. Some of the chips were composted and used as a mulch on the new trees on site (right). Some logs even went to a local shipbuilder, who has transformed them into spar rigging for a schooner.



In addition to recycling the trees, The Trustees are recycling water, thanks to the foresight of Richard T. Crane, Jr. Crane was a man ahead of his time – not only were the Estate’s internal systems state-of-the-art for the early 20th century, but the systems constructed to nurture the landscape were as well. In 1911, Crane commissioned an underground rainwater-catchment system that included a 135,000-gallon cistern and a vast network of pipes, allowing the landscape to be self-sustaining. The Trustees have brought the cistern back into service, nurturing the more than 700 trees that have been planted over the past three years. Once these trees are established, we will redirect the harvested rainwater to support other aspects of the landscape, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the use of potable water in the landscape altogether.




Chapter 4

The Future The Cranes loved opening their doors to friends and neighbors. Presidents Taft and Wilson, among other dignitaries, visited Castle Hill during the Cranes’ time there, and Mr. Crane especially loved entertaining friends, neighbors, and Ipswich children at clambakes. Great and good times were to be had by those fortunate enough to enjoy serene summers on Argilla Road. It’s a tradition that The Trustees are happy to carry on. As we welcome our thousands of visitors for concerts, weddings, art shows, and many other events, we hope they will find themselves appreciating Arthur Shurcliff’s skill and vision for this beloved landscape more than ever. As they look out on this undulating stretch of young trees overlooking a spectacular view to the sea, they will marvel – at the foresight of a landscape architect who could imagine their extraordinary effect and at the generosity of a new generation of people whose love for this magnificent place has allowed The Trustees to bring the Allée back to its original glory.



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