The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) has announced the completion of a three-year, sustainable landscape restoration of the Crane Estate’s “Grand Allée” located on Castle Hill – a National Historic Landmark – in Ipswich. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of talented staff, community partners, donors, and volunteers, The Trustees were able to carefully remove and replant more than 700 deteriorating, overgrown trees; reinvigorate an underground, rainwater collection cistern for sustainable irrigation; and restore the beautiful, classical sculptures lining the undulating, half-mile-long, “front lawn” of the Crane Estate. Since 1949, when the Crane family gifted Castle Hill to The Trustees, the Allée has become a popular and impressive backdrop for open-air concerts, weddings, historic house and landscape tours, community events, a children’s summer camp, and other recreational activities held year-round at the Crane Estate. Now, this signature landscape feature once again sweeps to a panoramic view of Cape Ann and benefits from a healthier, more sustainably managed landscape.
The Grand Allée is the only known, designed landscape of its size and kind still in existence in North America – and one of only a few remaining worldwide – combining grand scale with decorative arts. It is one of the largest landscape features created by renowned Boston landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, who is best known for his design of Colonial Williamsburg and the Charles River Esplanade. Shurcliff modeled the dramatic design after the beautiful Italian and French gardens of Renaissance Europe.
“There is no other Allée or formal landscape vista in America that can compare to the Grand Allée at Castle Hill,” says David Beardsley, Director of The Crane Estate. “The national significance of this property and its unique landscape and architectural features illustrates the importance of The Trustees’ careful role in its preservation for the public to enjoy.”
The Trustees decided to undertake the massive Allée landscape restoration project nearly 100 years after its original installation, when the plantings as well as the architectural and decorative elements had begun to rapidly decline. The aging trees were prone to storm damage and, at their mature size, had outgrown Shurcliff’s design intent, obscuring his carefully planned views and sightlines of the landscape and sculptures bordering the hedgerows.
“The restoration has also served as a living laboratory, modeling a thoughtful, sustainable stewardship approach while preserving the historic integrity of this important National Historic Landmark,” adds Bob Murray, Crane Estate Superintendent and Project Manager for the Allée restoration. In an effort to be as sustainable as possible, trees were carefully removed with cranes to minimize site disturbance. The bio=mass from the harvested trees was salvaged locally for reuse, and was either cut for lumber or wood chipped for energy production. Some of the chips were also composted and used as mulch for the project. Organic practices were used to promote a healthy, soil ecology by amending the soil with “bio-stimulants” that promote root development and enhance nutrient uptake to help build a more resilient landscape. In addition, The Trustees restored a cavernous underground cistern and rainwater harvesting system, itself a part of the original design of the Crane Estate. The re-use of this historic infrastructure allows the Trustees to meet all of the irrigation needs of the project, eliminating the need to use potable water.
The restoration project was completed in memory of David Crockett, a former member of The Trustees of Reservations’ Board of Governors and Ipswich resident whose tireless efforts on behalf of Castle Hill and the Crane Estate were critical in preserving this property. His commitment to the care of the Crane family’s extraordinary gift to The Trustees set the standard by which the property has been – and will continue to be – privately managed for the public to enjoy.
Caring for the 2,100-acre Crane Estate property is ongoing. Over the years, The Trustees have conducted extensive restoration of other interior and exterior features of the Great House and surrounding landscape features on Castle Hill, including the Bowling Green, which was awarded $50,000 from The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express Partners in Preservation program. The Allée restoration effort, however, represents one of the broadest, most expansive restoration and fundraising efforts ever undertaken on the property. In 2010, The Trustees launched a $2 million dollar campaign to restore this historically significant feature and welcome additional donations to complete the project. All donations are being matched by a generous donor, making individual support go twice as far. To donate, please visit http://www.thetrustees.org/alleeproject.
The crown jewel in its collection of106 properties located throughout the state, twenty of which are located on Boston’s North Shore, The Crane Estate – consisting of Castle Hill, which includes the Crane mansion or "Great House" and the Inn at Castle Hill; Crane Beach; and The Crane Wildlife Refuge – is one of only a few remaining estates intact from the Country Place Era. Like any National Historic Landmark, Castle Hill requires ongoing care and maintenance so that it can continue to be enjoyed more than 300,000 visitors from New England and beyond each year.
Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., purchased approximately 1,380 acres in 1910, the beginning of what would become the Crane Estate. A contemporary of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Crane was captivated by the beauty of the landscape, and, over time, worked with eight leading architects, landscape architects, and artists to shape his summer family retreat. In 1928, he crowned the estate with a grand mansion designed by renowned Chicago architect David Adler. Today, the Crane Estate encompasses 2,100 acres, and is open to the public, offering educational and cultural programs and activities, including SummerQuest, recognized as one of Massachusetts’ best summer programs for children. The Crane Estate also offers opportunities for year-round recreation and wonderful sites for private functions.
The Trustees of Reservations are the nation’s oldest statewide land conservation organization founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891 to “hold in trust” and care for special places of scenic, cultural and natural significance. Supported by members, donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 106 spectacular “reservations” located on more than 26,000 acres in 75 communities throughout Massachusetts. Most are open year-round for public use and enjoyment. The Trustees work to foster healthy, active, and green communities locally across Massachusetts by providing hundreds of year-round programs, events and engagement opportunities for all ages. Most property entry fees, programs and events are free-of-charge or discounted for members. Accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, The Trustees are an established leader in the conservation movement and model for other land trusts nationally and internationally. One of the largest nonprofits in Massachusetts, The Trustees employ 150 full-time, 49 regular part-time, and 400 seasonal staff with expertise in ecology, education, historic resources, land protection, conservation, land management, and planning. To find out more or to become a member or volunteer visit www.thetrustees.org.