Beverly’s Long Hill Shows Dramatic Restoration
In 1915, writer Ellery Sedgwick and his wife Mabel purchased a 114-acre hilltop parcel in Beverly. The first thing they did was plant a purple beech tree in the center of the property, a sign of their determination to transform the land from a patchwork of cow pastures into a welcoming summer residence surrounded by panoramic views and inspired gardens.
Today the beech tree is a towering presence, with thick gray roots undulating from the ground, practically begging children to come and play in the shade. And the farmland around it has also been transformed, over the past century becoming an idyllic estate with orchards, meadows, rambling gardens, formal plantings and woodland paths.
Long Hill, now owned by Reservations Administrators, took the next step in its ongoing evolution last summer, launching an outdoor wedding venue, adding new formal gardens and opening the house history to visitors. This is all part of an effort by the trustees to shine a light on a property that has been something of a hidden gem in the organization’s portfolio.
“This is a really great and very special property,” says Jared Bowers, manager of Long Hill. “There is a lot to see and do here.”
When the Sedgwick family bought the property, Ellery was well known as the publisher of the famous Atlantic Monthly (today known simply as Atlantic). But, says Cindy Brockway, director of cultural resources for the trustees, Long Hill’s history really belongs to its wives: first Mabel, an accomplished horticulturist, and later Marjorie, an expert in rare plants.
Mabel, the author of the 1907 book The garden month by monthimagined a landscape that merged formal gardening with native, wild growth.
“His idea was to build a garden below and into the landscape that was already there,” Brockway explains. “That’s why it’s hard to say where the garden ends and the forest begins.”
The trustees acquired Long Hill in 1976 and the property served as the organization’s headquarters until four years ago. Due to its administrative function, the property was not heavily promoted to visitors, although those who discovered it quickly became followers of the wooded paths and lush, winding gardens.
Over the past two years, the trustees have executed major renovations and restorations, both inside and out, intended to make the property a bigger destination and a resource for gardeners of all skill levels.
The house, a stately Federal-style brick home, has been lovingly restored and will be open to the public for the first time. Inside, the house shares its rich history with visitors.
The house is adorned with woodwork – from moldings to fireplace surrounds – that was made by slaves in the early 1800s. The Sedgwicks paid $600 to buy the pieces, which were removed from a plantation home of Charleston, South Carolina, and shipped to Massachusetts. An architect was then commissioned to design the Long Hill house around the woodwork.
The wallpaper that lines the entrance hall and staircase features birds and flowers hand-painted in China in the early 1800s, then purchased for Sedgwick House in London in 1926. The trustees had the coverings restored murals over the past year, illuminating their brilliance and artistry. .
The house’s music room invites visitors to sit back, take in the surroundings, and perhaps browse a replica of the number Atlantic Monthly of Sedgwick’s time as editor. A library welcomes curious horticulturalists to leaf through a selection of gardening books.
“We really hope people pull these books off the shelves,” Brockway says.
Historical research found that the property originally benefited from expansive hillside views, so trees have been cleared from four targeted areas to reopen the view of the horizon. A new formal garden has been created, expressing the combination of Asian and European influences that have been part of the property since the Sedgwicks’ purchase.
A timber-framed tent adorned with crystal chandeliers was built next to the house to serve as an event venue. The first space weddings were scheduled for last fall.
Along with all the changes, the property is also preparing a strong slate of events to encourage people to experience Long Hill. A series of afternoon teas in the garden were inspired by photos discovered during the renovation process of the Sedgwicks enjoying teas outdoors. Forest walks and yoga classes invite visitors to deepen their connection to their surroundings.
In keeping with the aim of encouraging gardeners, Long Hill will also organize expert lectures on horticultural topics, garden tours and practical courses. Indeed, this attention to nurturing a love of plants and the landscape has been very much in the spirit of the property, ever since Mabel and Marjorie shaped the gardens nearly 100 years ago, Brockway says.
“They were very passionate about plants,” she says, “and that’s the great legacy they left behind.”
576 Essex Street, Beverly, 978-281-8400, thetrustees.org/place/long-hill