The Crane Estate (1928)

Crane Castle

The Crane EstateCastle Neck and Crane Beach belong to the Trustees of Reservations, but historically the three areas were not always owned by the same family. Although the Selectmen originally declared it to be common land forever, it was soon granted to John Winthrop Jr., and then passed through a chain of ownership of the Symonds-Eppes, Bennett, Patch-Lakeman, Burnham-Brown, Woodbury and Crane families. Crane Castle, Castle Neck and Crane Beach are now owned by the Trustees of Reservations.

Crane Castle Ipswich

This synopsis of ownership is based on a comprehensive document that is part of the Trustees of Reservations Management Plan, Part 3.

1634: The Agawam area is designated Ipswich by English settlers, and “Castle Hill” is mentioned by name in town records.

1634, January 4: Ipswich selectmen unanimously voted “That the Neck of Land whereupon the great Hill standeth, which is known by the name of the Castle Hill, lying on the other side of this River towards the Sea, shall remayne unto the common use of the Town forever.”

1638: Chief Masconomet signs over all of Ipswich to John Winthrop, Jr. on behalf of English settlers.

1639: John Winthrop, Jr., the town’s founder and son of Governor John Winthrop, threatened to leave Ipswich, The Town of Ipswich deeds Castle Hill with nearby meadow and marsh to John Winthrop, Jr.

1644: John Winthrop Jr. sells Castle Hill to Samuel Symonds, his brother-in-law, and leaves for Connecticut.

1660: Samuel Symonds sells Castle Hill and some portion of Castle Neck (300 acres) to his stepson Capt. Daniel Eppes.

The first Crane Castle was torn down and replaced by the one still standing.
The first Crane Castle was torn down and replaced by the one still standing.

1665: Ipswich Town Meeting votes that Plumb Island, Hog Island and Castle Neck be divided to such as have the right to commonage.

1677: Ensign Burnham, a carpenter, receives permission to “fell some pitch-pine trees at Castle Neck for summers, beams, plates and principal spars” for a house to be constructed on Castle Hill.

1665-1680: Henry Bennett buys up lots from several proprietors in vicinity of Wigwam Hill on Castle Neck “and built a house there.”

1680: Henry Bennett sells his Wigwam Hill house, land and marsh lots to Isaac Fellows.

1693: Capt. Daniel Eppes Esq. dies. His estate is subdivided between his son Daniel, who inherits the homestead on Castle Hill, and his son, Maj. Symonds Eppes, who inherits the islands, Castle Neck & Wigwam Hill.

1694: Symonds Epes buys the farm on Wigwam Hill from Isaac Fellows, thus enlarging his Castle Neck properties.

1701: Daniel Epes, living in Salem, sells his portion of their father’s estate (Castle Hill) to his brother Symonds Epes of Ipswich. Simon Eppes now owns the entirety of Castle Neck

1741: Symonds Epes dies. Castle Hill, the Islands, & Castle Neck, both upland and marsh go to his only son, Samuel Jr.

1759: Samuel Epes of Ipswich, Esquire sells to John Patch III of Ipswich … Gentleman, Castle Hill, the Islands, and Castle Neck, being part upland and part Salt Marsh, containing … about 472 acres.

Ipswich lighthouse
The Ipswich lighthouse, with Crane Castle in the distance

1771: John Patch and son Nehemiah are listed in the statewide census as owning two houses (probably the Island Farm and Castle Hill).

1800: John Patch III’s will bequeaths estate to (1) Nehemiah: that part of my farm called the Island; (2) daughter Mary Lakeman: my Lower Farm formerly called Wigwam Hill… and the privilege of the Clams, also one mile in Length of my Beach, and (3) daughter Elizabeth Choate: that part of my Farm on Castle Hill, and half a mile of the lower end of the Beach, also pine Island and Hoars Island, and (4) “daughters Bethiah Dodge and Abigail Cogswell inherit my dwelling house in which I now live… and other buildings at the death of my widow.”

1809: Mary Lakeman and her husband James Fuller Lakeman sell 1800 square feet of land to the U. S. government for the purpose of erecting a Beacon on the beach, reserving their right to the herbage and driftwood which may hereafter be or grow on the same and no fence to be maintained. The beach becomes known as Lakeman’s Beach.

1832- 1861: Capt. [Humphrey] Lakeman cuts down the pine grove at Wigwam Hill to sell as lumber, and consequentially, sand quickly envelops the orchard and farm, turning it into a dune.

1861: Humphrey Lakeman dies, and his son James H. Lakeman, sister Martha, and Humphrey’s widow Julia A. Lakeman inherit the farm.

1864: Lakeman family sells all of the Humphrey Lakeman property to George Woodbury of Ipswich. Ipswich Beach (formerly Lakeman’s) becomes a great center of attraction for artists, nature-lovers, fishermen and hunters. It was an ideal starting point for walks across dunes, beaches and marshes.

1879: Manasseh Brown sells to the United States use of certain land for a Light House.

1882: Manasseh Brown dies. Castle Hill is inherited by his son, John Burnham Brown.

1892: George Woodbury is listed in Ipswich property tax valuation list as owning 63 acres, his address given as “Ipswich Beach.”

1908: John Burnham Brown dies. The Castle Hill estate is placed on the market.

1910: Brown estate is purchased by Richard Teller Crane, Jr who builds Crane Castle.

1912: George Loring Woodbury (George Woodbury’s son) and his sister sell all of the Castle Neck property to Richard T. Crane, including all or nearly all of the land and flats devised by John Patch to Mary Lakeman and her heirs in 1800.

1935: Ipswich Beach is opened to public, by an arrangement between Florence Crane and the Town of Ipswich.

1945: Florence H. Crane deeds to the Trustees of Reservations the greater portion of Castle Neck, about 677 acres above high water line and about 260 acres between high and low water lines in memory of Richard T.Crane, Jr.

1949: Florence Crane deeds an additional 350 acres to The Trustees, including another mile of beachfront and the vicinity of Cedar Point.

1952: Florence Crane Belosselsky deeds the top of Steep Hill Beach, northern portions of the Mall, the “Dump” and other land to The Trustees.

Castle Hill Concerts in 1953
Castle Hill Foundation concerts in Ipswich

1974: Miné S. Crane donates Wigwam Hill, Hog Island and other holdings to The Trustees in memory of her husband, Cornelius Crane, to preserve the property in its natural state for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the public in perpetuity.

The Two Crane Castles

Front entrance and driveway of the first Crane Castle
The First Crane Castle was Italianesque, and. Mrs. Crane did not like it. The building was torn down after a dozen years
The first castle on the Crane Estate in Ipswich was an Italianate design
The first castle on the Crane Estate in Ipswich.
Richard T. Crane
Richard T. Crane Sr.

The property was purchased by Richard Teller Crane, Jr., on January 10, 1910. Crane was the president of the Crane Co. of Chicago, which he inherited from his father, Richard Teller Crane, who founded the company in 1855.

Castle Hill is nationally significant as a major surviving example of a landscaped estate of the “Country Place Era”at the turn of the 20th century, when wealthy Americans constructed houses in the countryside as retreats from crowded, industrialized cities. It comprises an entire complex made up of a great house with spectacular formal landscaping, recreational and entertainment spaces, working farm and greenhouses, and other support buildings.

It was the summer home of Richard T. Crane, Jr., the early 20th century plumbing magnate, whose enormous wealth and the lifestyle it permitted are typical of the American titans of industry. two homes erected on the site by Chicago plumbing magnate Richard T. Crane, Jr.

Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted (creator of New York’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace and others) was hired to design the landscaping. By 1912, they had fashioned a series of ornate terraced gardens, with a magnificent grass mall.

First Crane Castle Ipswich
Crane’s first castle was torn down after a few years because his wife did not like it. The present castle was built on the same location.

The first “castle” was intended as a summer home according to local narrative was considered “too atrocious” by Mrs. Crane, but Mr. Crane asked her to give it ten years. In 1924 the Italianesque mansion was torn down, as promised, and a new mansion soon took its place. Designed by architect David Adler of Chicago, the new fifty-nine-room mansion included a main facade designed in the 17th-century Stuart style.

The Richard T. Crane family
Richard T. Crane Jr. and family
Florence Crane with her children
Florence Crane with her children
Crane Castle
The second Crane Castle is now owned by the Trustees of Reservations

The garage and chauffeur’s quarters building was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge between 1910 and 1912 along with the first house, and relates in design to that house and its surrounding terraces and garden in its use of a stucco exterior and Italian ornament.

The Crane Beach Children’s Picnic

In 1911, Florence and Richard Teller Crane, Jr. invited the school children of Ipswich to a picnic on Crane Beach to celebrate their son Cornelius’ 6th birthday. The event became an annual tradition, and a fund was established so that it could continue for many years.

First Crane picnic at the wreck of the Ada K. Damon

Robert Cronin wrote, “The picnic was important to every school kid in Ipswich. Besides Crane’s gift to Ipswich of the Legion Building (Memorial Hall) and the Cable Hospital, he also left money to give all school children a picnic to Crane’s beach in the summer. As I remember it, now 80 plus years later, this included a trip on the then party boats to the beach, and a ride back. To my recollection, no child was left behind or drowned..You were given tickets for hot dogs, soda, and ice cream. It was great, except for the sunburns and sand in your pants.”

Appleton family at Crane Beach
Photo courtesy of Bruce Lord
Appleton family at Crane Beach
John Dolan wrote an article about the picnic and shared this photo in the May 16, 1996 Ipswich Chronicle.
Crane Castle and Plum Island, Photo by Jay Burnham, North Shore Drone Services
Photo by Jay Burnham, North Shore Drone Services
Aerial view of Crane Castle
Crane Castle with Essex Bay in the background. Photo courtesy of Baystate Aerial
farm view from Crane Castle in Ipswich
Just past the second closed gate house turn left on the one-way loop around Crane Castle. This view of the farm will be on your left.
View of Fox Creek from Crane Castle
Continuing up the hill there is a great view of Fox Creek and the Great Salt Marsh
Gates to the Rose Garden at Crane Castle

You’ll come to a set of steel gates on the right. Take a short trail on the left toward the abandoned Rose Garden.

Trail head to Pivot Rock
The trailhead has an interpretive sign describing the various gardens that once graced the Crane Estate.
Pivot Rock at Crane Castle in closed position.
“Pivot Rock” acts as a pivoting gate on a trail that runs between the old Rose Garden and the former Casino at the Crane Estate. Mr. Richard Crane liked to surprise his guests by turning the stone to let them through. Based on its size I estimate the rock weighs over two tons.
Pivot Rock at Crane Castle in open position.
I was able to open and close the Pivot Rock with a little leverage from a stick lying on the ground. Beware–local kids called this “The Devil’s Rock” and by opening it, I may have let him loose! I hope I closed it back in time.


  • Crane Beach Management Plan
  • Trustees of Reservations
  • Ipswich Chronicle

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2 replies »

    • Thanks, there is so much Ipswich history filed away, (as well as a lot of “I heard” anecdotes) that it’s becoming an obsession to uncover and sort it all out! One thing always leads to another.

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