When Google maps first went online, it showed a couple of large dunes at the tip of Crane Beach, one labelled “The Great Dune.” It was the tallest of the newer dunes, comparable in size to Wigwam Hill, which is a small drumlin which became covered in sand and to become a well-established dune in the middle of Castle Neck.
The Great Dune, alas, is no more. Using Google Earth, I was able to compare satellite images from 1995 and 2005 with the satellite view today. It is clear that the tip of Castle Neck, where the Great Dune once stood, is retreating, and the opening to Essex Bay between the tip of Castle Neck and the tip of Wingaersheek Beach has widened by perhaps a quarter-mile.
The newer dunes may have been a temporary phenomenon–they seem to have appeared after publication of the 1912 nautical map of Ipswich Bay, reaching prominence sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, then began their retreat. A crude map produced in 1786 and shown further down (if at all accurate) indicates that Castle Neck is longer than it was 230 years ago.
Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, March 28, 1995
Google Earth satellite view, April 29, 2005
Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, June 6, 2015
Castle Neck on Google Earth, 2019
The large new tree-less dunes at the tip of Castle Neck were short-lived. In the book, Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes, a study of the Ipswich dunes published by Charles Wendell Townsend in 1925, he includes the map below, drawn in 1786. In that map, Castle Neck is rounded at the end, and does not protrude so far into Essex Bay. (The accuracy of the map may be questionable.)
“Map of Castle Neck With Ye Adjacent Sea..,” produced by P. B. Dodge, April 3, 1786.
Cross-country skiing in the Castle Neck dunes, Ipswich. The dunes, contrary to popular belief, have not disappeared, but they do expand, contract and evolve. Castle Neck and Crane Beach are a wonderful place to go for a walk, with almost 10 miles of dune trails and beach combined.
The Crane Estate (1928) - Castle Neck and Crane Beach have a long history of ownership by several families before being granted by the Cranes to the Trustees of Reservations.
Wreck of the Edward S. Eveleth, October 1922 - In October 1922, the sand schooner Edward S. Eveleth rolled over when a wave rushed over her deck and pushed her onto the edge of Steep Hill Beach. Filled with sand, each tide buried her deeper. Her remains were visible for several years. The skeleton of the hull is just off-shore a short distance from the wreck of the Ada K. Damon. The Ipswich lighthouse - In 1881, a 45-foot cast iron lighthouse was erected at Crane Beach, replacing an earlier structure. By 1913, the sand had shifted so much that the lighthouse was 1,090 feet from the high water mark. Use of the light was discontinued in 1932 and in 1939 the Coast Guard floated the entire lighthouse to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. Charles Wendell Townsend, Ipswich naturalist - Born in Boston, November 10, 1859, Charles Wendell Townsend, M.D. was attracted by the natural beauty of Ipswich. He built a summer house on a ridge overlooking a wide expanse of salt marsh with open sea to the east. From here he wrote a number of books, including […] Strandbeest Invasion - The Strandbeests came to Crane Beach this morning, but the bigger news was the largest invasion of people the town of Ipswich has experienced in recent memory. Even though it was cool and cloudy, Deb and I anticipated a traffic backup on Argilla Road, so we took our bicycles. Finally, the […] The missing dunes at Castle Neck - The "Great Dune" at the end of Castle Neck has disappeared, the point is retreating, and the opening to Essex Bay between Castle Neck and Wingaersheek Beach has widened. The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar - The Ipswich Bar has a long history of tragic shipwrecks. Its swift currents and shallow waters are especially dangerous during storms, and many ships have gone aground. The hull of the Ada K. Damon sits on Steep Hill Beach. The dunes at Castle Neck - Crane Beach and all of Castle Neck are protected by the Trustees of Reservations. Pitch pine and scrub oak rise from the masses of marsh grass, sage green hudsonia and dune lichen lining the trails that wind through the dunes. Crane Beach - Crane Beach belongs to the Trustees of Reservations and is part of the historic Crane Estate. The property includes Crane Castle, miles of shoreline, and over 5 miles of marked trails through the dunes at Castle Neck and Steep Hill Beach, open year-round. Choate Island and Rufus Choate - Choate Island was originally known as Hog Island, and is the largest island in the Crane Wildlife Refuge and is the site of the Choate family homestead, the Proctor Barn, the White Cottage, and the final resting place of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Crane. There are great views from the island summit of the Castle Neck dunes and Plum Island Mount Agamenticus in Maine. The Fox Creek Canal - The Fox Creek Canal is the oldest man-made tidewater canal in the United States, dug in 1820. In 1938 it was dredged to accommodate ship-building at Robinson's Boatyard, where small minesweepers were constructed for World War II. Wreck of the Ada K. Damon - Christmas, 1909 witnessed the heaviest storm in many years. The ship was wrecked during the captain's first trip for a load of sand from the plentiful supply on Plum Island. Life in the Time of Greenheads - Situated in the epicenter of The Great Marsh, Ipswich is ground zero for the annual invasion of Town's Official Pest, Tabanus nigrovittatus, better known as the Greenhead Fly. In my opinion, which I am happy to share with you, the Latin name for this scourge lends it far more dignity than it deserves. The farm at Wigwam Hill - Symonds Epes bought a large tract in 1726 and built a substantial farm and orchards at Wigwam Hill, named for a group of destitute Indians who briefly camped there. The protecting pitch pines were later cut for lumber, and the farm became a large dune.