Turner Hill on Topsfield Rd. received its name in 1638 when it was owned by Captain Nathaniel Turner, who removed to New Haven about 1638. William Warner’s deed refers to “a parcel of meadow, lying in the west meadows, being fourteen acres more or less, having on the Southeast the great hill called Captain Turner’s Hill, bounded on the North by certain land lying between that and Turkey Hill butting at the West end upon a parcel of meadow granted to Theophilus Wilson.” In the late 19th Century, it was known as the Brackett Farm, and included both Turner Hill and Little Turner Hill. In 1899, T. Warren Bracket sold the entire estate to Anne P. and Charles G. Rice.
Construction on the Turner Hill mansion-house on Topsfield Road began in 1900. The story below contains excerpts from “A Short History of the Rice Estate, 1890-1945” by Rev. Robert F. Ippolito, M.S., published in 1976, with pictures from the October 1903 issue of “Architectural Review.” Additional photos are provided by the Turner Hill Residential Community site.
Anne Proctor was born on September 18, 1869 in Peabody Massachusetts, and married Charles G. Rice in October 1890. Mr. Rice was born in Boston on December 10, 1866. He was a treasurer in his father’s firm in Boston, the N. W. Rice Company, and later became President of the U. S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Company of Boston. Together, they lived first in Hamilton before moving to the large white farm-house on their new seven hundred acre estate, commonly known as Turner Hill, on Topsfield Road in Ipswich, MA.
Construction on the Turner Hill mansion-house began in 1900. William G. Rantoul was the architect for this grand undertaking, and he traveled to England with Mr. and Mrs. Rice to obtain ideas for their Elizabethan style home. The intricacies that constituted the construction of the mansion could rarely be repeated today, and then only at great expense. Unskilled labor could be had for a dollar a day; skilled labor for slightly more. The mansion-house was not fully completed in 1903 but it was ready to receive its first occupants.
There were a total of fourteen buildings on the estate. The butler’s cottage was built at the same time as the mansion-house. Its first occupant was Robert Dunlop and his family. His wife was parlor maid for Mrs. Rice. In close proximity is the garage. Mr. Rice’s cars were kept downstairs while the chauffeur occupied the apartment above. The five-room gardener’s dwelling was built in 1918, and was known as “Mary’s house.” The stable was built in 1908 in the form of an H. The horses were kept in the front two wings, where there was room for twenty-four. If there were more (and there often were) they were stabled at the farm barn. The carriage house was next to the stable.
Ice on the pond was sawed into blocks and sent down a chute to the ice house,where it was packed in sawdust and hay. The greenhouse was near the gardener’s house, and an employee’s garage was located near the stable, constructed in 1927. Mr. Charles Arthur was superintendent of the estate, and lived nearby. He employed about ten people year round, but there were as many as fifty people in the summer time and fall to pick the produce. There were eight farm horses to do the work, and some twenty cows provided milk for all the people on the estate. Approximately 160 acres were occupied by orchards, and as many as 25,000 bushels of apples were marketed in a single year.
There were 22 domestics employed in the mansion-house. The largest room in the house was the Living Room. A decorative frieze surrounded the room with a peacock, symbol of immortality, alternating with Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and merry-making. Two lions guarded the base of the fireplace. The smoking Room at the far end of the main hall was Mr. Rice’s private chamber. The Main Dining Hall was a duplicate of Haddington Hall in the Royal Burgh of Haddington, seventeen miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland. The Palm Room was constructed mostly of stone decorated with furniture purchased in Italy.
The library served as a reception room, and was used for afternoon tea. The walls of Mrs. Rice’s personal office were covered with a blue-grey brocade silk, and paneling of water chestnut. adjoining was the Boy’s Room, with a commanding view of the ponds and the area around them. The Game Room and bowling alleys were finished in 1910. Each of the six guest rooms had mahogany doors and marble fireplaces, named by the color of the room (Green, Gilt, Grey, Blue, and Black, and the Adams Room). The Breakfast Room was used for lunch and dinner and small gatherings. In the back of the house were the pantry, kitchen, serving room, employee’s dining room, a valet’s bedroom, and a butler’s bedroom. Upstairs, Mr. and Mrs. Rice had adjoining bedrooms.
Mrs. Rice loved riding horses, and often insisted on going alone over all the property and surrounding areas, often bringing her Great Dane or Irish Wolf House with her. The many bones she broke during her lifetime are ample evidence of this. The Rice’s had three children, Hilda, Neil and Thomas, who received their primary education in the house, and later went to boarding school. The voices of children gave Turner Hill a distinctive touch. The children’s parties were held weekly from the last Friday in June to the last Friday in August, rain or shine, with as many as 175 children from all over the North Shore.
May 5, 1933 was a tragic day on the Rice estate. Mrs. Rice went out riding in the morning as usual but did not return for lunch. One of the stablemen, Carl Back, saw her horse, “Yellow Turk” grazing near the stables. He and a few men immediately went out looking for her. They found her lying beside a tree, apparently thrown from the horse, dead at the age of 64. The obituary in the Ipswich Chronicle read, “No one who ever had a casual acquaintance with Mrs. Rice could fail to be impressed by her charming personality in which perfect candor was an outstanding characteristic. With this unaffected honesty was combined a wholesome love of life and its manifestations and graciousness that found expression in delightful hospitality for which Turner Hill is noted.”
With the death of Mrs. Rice, activity all but ceased on the estate. Mr. Rice’s health failed, he soon retired. The end came quietly for him on July 29, 1943. By then there were only a few of the old help left. Mary Booth was in charge of selling the furnishings in the house. The La Salette Fathers purchased most of the 350 acres on the northerly side of Topsfield Road on May 1, 1945, for use as a spiritual retreat, which closed in 1997. They operated a school and summer camp for boys on the grounds.
The Winthrop family purchased the farm and the large old white house on the south side of Topsfield Road. Mrs. Frederick Ayer kept the stone lodge and picnic grounds as well as one house along the road.
The Turner Hill estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and is now the Residences at Turner Hill, a condominium complex and golf club.