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By Mary Lhowe
Frequent visitors to New England’s Gilded Age mansions – think of Newport’s Breakers or Ipswich’s Castle Hill on the Crane Estate – are braced for massive stone structures, dripping gilt, vast lawns and formal gardens, all of it designed to be overwhelming.
Sitting on the same economic and social pedigree of Gilded Age mercantile wealth, Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth, on Cape Cod, is very different.
The 1878 Stick-style Queen Anne dwelling is open and airy, looking very much like a home to live in; the lawns flow irregularly among charming gardens; and fantastical sculptures and dozens of artful fairy houses are scattered all over the property and along wooded trails. Map.
Whatever the tone of its founders and early decades, this is a property that evokes a sense of fun with a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland whimsy that is obvious from the moment you roll onto the property.
This summer, the mansion and gardens are open public Wednesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Masks and social distancing are required. Learn more.
Like last year, the fanciful Stickwork sculpture by artist Patrick Dougherty, on the front lawn, has curious people wandering within it, taking photos of its otherworldly shapes.
When you enter the bright, spacious foyer of the house, you may notice, first, the grand piano, but soon your senses are pulled into paintings and sculpture of this year’s exhibit “60/60: Over Sixty Pieces of Art by Women Over Sixty.”
On the porch, in the gardens, and scattered among the walking trails are two dozen intricate fairy houses that assuredly were not made at a Brownie meeting.
One room in the mansion, just off the entrance, is a heavily illustrated history of the Beebe family, founded by James Beebe, an Irish immigrant who worked his way into the ranks of the Boston Brahmins by the mid-1800s through his business ventures. The family began summering on Cape Cod and selected Falmouth as the centerpiece of their summer fun and largess.
James Beebe and his children ultimately built Highfield Hall, Falmouth’s St. Barnabas Church, and a second mansion, Tanglewood, which was torn down in the 1970s. The family history provides lots of stories of Gilded Age high society and largess, which was received in Falmouth with mixed feelings over the four decades, until 1932, that Beebe descendants lived here.
The property is hosting some virtual events – including online dinners in which registered guests receive a package of ingredients at their homes and then follow along with the cooking and dining over the Internet. So keep an eye on the Highfield calendar. Live events on the property schedule for this summer include:
August 12 – Fairy Tea Party on the Lawn. Children, dolls, and parents are invited to an English garden tea party to celebrate the opening of “Lessons from the Fairies.” The tea party will also include doll-related activities so make sure to bring your doll with you. 3-4:30 p.m. $30-$40. 508-495-1878
August 12 — Sizzlin’ Summer Fare. Enjoy a cooking lesson from instructor Kay Benaroch. This week brings marinated lamb, a chickpea curry and deviled eggs. Recipes and tastes are provided. Register online. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $60-$70. 508-495-1878