Beauty in Beverly MA: Long Hill & The Sedgwick Gardens

August 6, 20180 Comments

Travellers who love beautiful gardens and landscapes will find some of the North Shore’s finest are located an easy 5-mile drive away at Long Hill and The Sedgwick Gardens in nearby Beverly, Massachusetts. Today a property of The Trustees of Reservations, from 1916 to 1979 Long Hill was the summer home of Ellery Sedgwick, an author as well as one-time owner and editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and his first wife, Mabel Cabot Sedgwick, an accomplished horticulturist, gardener, and author of The Garden Month by Month.

Beauty in Beverly MA: Long Hill & The Sedgwick Gardens Massachusetts

Born in New York City in 1872, Ellery Sedgwick was the youngest son of Henry Dwight Sedgwick II and Henrietta Ellery, a granddaughter of William Ellery who was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Rhode Island. Ellery’s ancestors were a prominent literary family of Stockbridge, Massachusetts whose members included author Catherine Maria Sedgwick, one of the most notable female novelists of her time (1789-1867) who wrote works in American settings that combined patriotism with protests against historic Puritanical oppressiveness.

In 1890 Ellery graduated from Massachusetts’ prestigious Groton School, a privately-run college preparatory boarding school which is universally recognized as one of the most selective and elite boarding schools in New England. Graduating from Harvard in 1894, Ellery then returned to the Groton School where he taught classics for a few years before embarking in 1896 on what was to be a preeminent career as a literary editor. He started that career serving as the assistant editor of Boston’s Youth’s Companion, a children’s publication that sought to promote “virtue and piety” as it “warned against the ways of transgression” from 1896 until 1900. After spending a few years each at Leslie’s Monthly Magazine (1900–05), American Magazine (1906–07), McClure’s Magazine for a year and finally the D. Appleton and Company publishing house, in 1908 Ellery returned to Boston where he began his 30-year career with the Atlantic Monthly after purchasing the magazine from Houghton-Mifflin.

Founded in 1857 by a group of writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and James Russell Lowell (who would become its first editor) The Atlantic Monthly was created as a literary culture and commentary magazine that recognized and published new poets and writers. Despite its critical acclaim, at the time that Ellery took over as editor and President, the monthly circulation was 15,000 and the magazine ran an annual deficit of $5000. Working quickly to reverse the trend, by 1928 Ellery had increased the magazine’s circulation to 137,000. The first American publisher to print the works of Ernest Hemingway, Ellery was credited with discovering many writers before he resigned as editor in 1938 and sold the magazine in 1939.

During his tenure at The Atlantic Company, in 1916 Ellery Sedgwick purchased what was then a working farm on 116-acres of hillside land in the rural Centerville section of the town of Beverly upon which to build a summer home. At that time, there were many grand summer homes on the North Shore to which wealthy society would retreat when the heat and humidity would get to be too much in the big cities and though most of those homes were built on the coast where breezes from the ocean would keep things cool, that’s not where the Sedgwicks had their home constructed as what Mrs. Sedgwick really wanted was lots of land upon which to grow things.

The estate house, which was built in 1921, is a copy of a plantation house that was built in 1802 in Charlestown, South Carolina and which belonged to Isaac Ball, a member of the William Ball Family which had been in Charleston since 1699 and owned more than 20 rice plantations along the Cooper River. In addition to looking like the Ball House, the Sedgwick’s new house also contained the original elegant woodwork and mantlepieces from the house which were purchased and reused by the Sedgwicks when the Charleston house was abandoned and demolished. In addition to the reused architectural elements from the Ball House, Mr. Sedgwick also had bricks from an old mill in nearby Ipswich incorporated into the walls of Long Hill giving it the look of a much older home.

To design the interior of their replica Federal-style Southern home in New England, the Sedgwicks hired the Boston architectural firm of Richardson, Barrott, and Richardson and asked them to bring the outdoors in. To do that, the walls of the house were decorated with murals of flowers and garden scenes while outdoors the garden scenes were designed by Mabel Sedgwick herself.

Each distinct in its own way and accented by ornaments, statuary and other landscape amenities, the gardens were laid out in a series of separate garden “rooms” on five cultivated acres which surrounded the brick house while the gardens themselves were surrounded by more than 100 acres of woodland and meadows. Almost a full century later, the gardens which were designed by Mabel Sedgwick and later added to by Marjorie Russell, a rare plants specialist who became the second Mrs. Sedgwick following Mabel’s death in 1937, are renowned for their beauty and innovation as well as their variety of over 500 plants, shrubs, and trees.

In 1979, the property was gifted to The Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts’ largest preservation group, by Sedgwick family members Theodora Sedgwick Bond, Henrietta E.S. Lockwood, Ellery Sedgwick, Jr., and S. Cabot Sedgwick. Another gift of 0.4 acres by Raymond and Linda Gosselin in 1994 completed the property which is open to the public free of charge year-round, daily from 8am to 5pm. Free guided tours are offered in spring, summer, and fall while guided group tours are by available by appointment at the cost of $5 per person; minimum of 20 people for $100. Additional programs are held at the Long Hill Horticulture Center, a listing of which can be found on their website.

The gardens, which can easily be viewed in an hour or so unless you get distracted taking photos, making sketches, or identifying the various plants, are at their peak bloom in May and June but are beautiful to visit anytime of the year. With several walking trails on the estate, including a 1.2 mile main trail that wanders through the quintessential Massachusetts countryside, a visit to Long Hill and The Sedgwick Gardens is a lovely way to wile a few hours enjoying the gardens and landscape that the two Mrs. Sedgwicks carefully designed and cultivated.

When you arrive at Long Hill, enter the estate between the brick pillars and drive past the lower meadows as you approach the main house up a long driveway that first passes by a farmhouse, red barn, and 2-acre organic vegetable farm run by The Food Project as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. The food grown there helps to support TFP’s Beverly and Lynn CSAs, the Lynn Central Square farmers’ market, and several local hunger relief organizations.

Continue up the gradual slope which passes through a meadow lined with apple trees and flowering cherries until you reach the visitors parking area and paths leading off in several different directions. At the kiosk you’ll find several pamphlets that you can take with you to help guide your visit around the estate.

From there, pick a path and start wandering in whichever direction your feet would like to take you! If you walk back towards the main driveway, you can follow it up towards the house being sure to notice the various trees along the way that have been marked so that you know what sort of a tree it is you’re looking at! With more than 500 types of trees, shrubs and flowering plants found on the estate, having them already identified for you is a great thing!

Attaining the hilltop – which is a comfortable walk up a very gradual slope – you’ll come to the circular turnaround of the original driveway and there you’ll lay eyes on a spectacular copper beech tree that’s at least fifty feet in circumference. To be honest, these photos do NOT do this glorious tree justice at all as it is a truly magnificent specimen and quite the beauty to behold in person as you stand beneath it and look up into its branches. Truly it had to be a tree such as this one that inspired Joyce Kilmer to pen his popular poem “Trees” in 1913:

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Walking to the west of the house, you’ll find a former croquet lawn that is enclosed with hedges and arbors, an ironwork pavilion and several gates that lead to various paths and trails. The main terrace garden can be found just off of the large side porch along with a lotus pool that faces the south. The main terrace, which contains various statutes and ornaments, is enclosed with white wooden fences that contain intricate Chinese ceramic tiles with more tiles to be found on the brick wall of the side of the house that makes up the porch.

At the front of the house which faces a southern view, there’s a lovely front lawn as well as a nice spot to sit and take in that view between the front door columns along with an equally inviting view of the gardens and accompanying ornamentation.

From the front lawn of the house, it’s easy to make your way to the Horseshoe Garden where you’ll find more statuary along with a small wooden Chinese pagoda which was actually a wellhead from a Beverly farm in a previous life! Here you can also find a large number of beautiful flowers both enclosed behind the branch fence of the flower garden and artistically arranged to make the garden an inviting place that you’ll long to linger in as you take in the beauty surrounding you.

Nearby is a potting shed where you’ll find a chalkboard that lists the various types of plants that are in bloom as well as laminated cards that you can take with you to help identify the various shrubs, plants, and trees as you walk around the estate. Just be sure to return them when you’re done so that other visitors can make use of them also!

Surprisingly, one thing that I found quite fascinating was the compost pile nearby the shed from which emanated quite a lovely odor! Certainly this was no compost pile like those back in older days nor like any I had ever encountered either as this one made you want to stop and linger in the area for a bit rather than plug your nose and run!

Once you’ve explored the gardens around the house, if time permits be sure to wander down one of the paths or trails that lead visitors towards vernal pools, stone walls, and large boulders amid the peace and serenity of the woods. Picnicking is encouraged – just be sure to carry out whatever you bring in and leave the estate the way that you found it so that others may enjoy it also.

For more information about Long Hill and The Sedgwick Gardens in Beverly, visit About Long Hill where you’ll find directions, information about on-going programs, downloadable maps, and everything you’ll need to plan a visit to the home and grounds of the former summer retreat of the Sedgwick Family and their friends.

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