On a recent visit to the North Shore of Massachusetts, we explored one of the most beautiful Gilded Age estates, the Crane Estate, set high on a hill above one of the most beautiful beaches, Crane Beach, in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The estate has been carefully restored and preserved by the Trustees, who oversee more than 100 properties throughout Massachusetts.
The Crane Company, founded by Richard Teller Crane, in 1855 was well known for their brass fixtures and bells, most famously used to help build the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Later, his son, Mr. Richard T. Crane, who focused the company on manufacturing various bathroom fixtures, purchased Castle Hill and began renovating and expanding the property. The Cranes, who were based in Chicago, had summer homes in London, England and Jekyll Island, Georgia. The first home on the Ipswich property was built in 1912 but later torn down as it was properly outfitted to withstand the elements of the nearby ocean. The current estate, with 59 rooms, was built in a timeless English style similar to the Cranes’ London estate and finished in 1929. Over the years, the Cranes restored over 3,500 acres in Essex Bay, Choate Island, and Ipswich. The estate also includes the 700 acre Crane Wildlife Refuge, made up of Castle Neck (which borders Crane Beach), five islands, and salt marshes.
Today, the 165 acre estate is a National Historic Landmark overseen by The Trustees. The public is welcome to enjoy tours of the Great House (seasonally), stay at the Inn at Castle Hill (previously the Brown Cottage), walk and hike the grounds and hiking trails, enjoy the beauty of Crane Beach, and even attend summer camp. More than 300,000 people visit the estate each year. We highly recommend the Guests of the Cranes guided tour for families (really, anyone) as costumed docents lead the tours and engage (quite humorously!) with guests.
15 Ways to Explore the Crane Estate:
- Pick a card to assume the identity of a real guest of the Cranes and pay attention on the tour to learn about your connection to the family and estate.
- Step inside the Silver Safe lined with velvet to protect the silver flatware and serving pieces from tarnishing or being damaged.
- Check the direction and speed of the wind with one of the estate’s four wind indicators mounted to the walls. They are tied to the master wind indicator in the Gallery and were recently restored. Richard Crane Jr., and his children, was an avid sailor and checked the conditions before setting sail.
- Count the tiles in son Cornelius’ bathroom that depict young children playing (and fighting!). Note that only men had standing showers in their bathrooms.
- Find the mechanism used to flush a toilet (it’s not where you expect it to be!)
- See if you can tell the difference between the real marble and the faux marble (wood brought over from London and painted to look like marble) in Mrs. Crane’s bathroom.
- Ring the maids with the call buttons. As head of the household, Mrs. Crane was the only one to have FOUR buttons on her call box (for her lady’s maid, chambermaid, butler, and secretary) that were part of the Private Automatic Exchange, an internal phone system.
- Peek out the windows at the sunken garden that was once a hedge maze for the children. The grounds of the Crane Estate, at one time, included a grass tennis court, a bowling green, and, finally, a hedge maze. It took gardeners over a decade to grow the maze and deer less than two years to eat it!
- Choose your favorite guest room from the wide selection. The Great House had almost 60 rooms!
- Find one of 10 fire hoses stashed inside the house. Being from Chicago, Crane was often worried about a fire in his home and had fire hoses installed throughout the property, including one outside his bedroom.
- Measure your height and compare it to the Crane children on daughter Florence’s sleeping porch.
- Count the silver ships etched in eglomise tiles on the walls of Florence’s bathroom.
- Drink “champagne” (aka ginger ale) while touring the dining room. Truly, each guest is offered a champagne glass of ginger ale to toast the Cranes!
- Explore the gardens, which include the formal “Italian” Garden dating back to 1910 (there are several, well spaced out steps down to the garden), the Rose Garden dating back to 1913 with a large water fountain, and the Wild Garden and Woodland Trail. There are several trails on the property that range from a half mile to two miles- see the map here. Use the landscape app Tour Trustees for information about the various flowers and landscape architecture.
- Leave time to drive down the road to Crane Beach. There is an entrance fee during the summer season, along with concessions, restrooms, one manned lifeguard station, and picnic areas. There is a separate, large parking lot for the ebach. There are wooden ramps and a few steps from the parking lot to the beach.
Looking for other nearby adventures? Check out our full City Guides to nearby Gloucester and Salem, Massachusetts, and dozens of posts featuring popular Boston landmarks here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.
Disclosure: Our family was given a media pass to tour the estate; all opinions expressed are my own.