Long Hill

Just to the north of Salem, over the Danvers River, is the city of Beverly, of similar size demographically but much larger geographically.  Beverly has a vibrant downtown, which is surrounded by lots of neighborhoods which are quite distinct: Ryal Side on the river, the historic Cove, the affluent coastal communities of Beverly Farms and Pride’s Crossing, inland Montserrat and Centerville, and North Beverly.  This is not an exhaustive list; neighborhood identities are well-established in Beverly. There are amazing Gilded Age mansions in the Farms and Pride’s Crossing, and the entire North Shore coast achieved an even more gilded reputation after President William Howard Taft made Beverly the site of his “Summer White House” in 1909, first renting the Stetson Cottage at Woodbury Point in the Cove and then “Parramatta”, a house in Montserrat.

President Taft’s first Summer White House in Beverly; after 2 summers here, his landlady, Mrs. Maria Evans, informed the President that she was replacing the house with an Italian garden (still there, in the now-public Lynch Park)!  The house was cut into halves, put on barges, and floated across the water to Peaches Point in Marblehead.  You can see all the pictures at the digital exhibition of the Beverly Historical Society.  Paramatta, the second Taft Summer White House, is below.

By way of introducing I am digressing!  Suffice it to say that Beverly had a well-established reputation as the site of a wealthy and politically-connected summer society before and after the coming of President Taft, and the architecture to prove it.  I’m going to take on a few of the greater North Shore’s more famous (and interesting) summer “cottages” myself this summer,but in the meantime you can satisfy any curiosity you may have with the wonderful book by Pamela W. Fox, North Shore Boston: Country Houses of Essex County, 1865-1930, or Joseph Garland’s Bostons Gold Coast: The North Shore, 18901929.

One theme that emerges from both books is the difference between the simple wooden structures built by the Boston Brahmins before Taft’s time and the more elaborate mansions built by non-Bostonians after.  That trend does not quite apply to the house that I am writing about today, Long Hill, built by Atlantic Monthly editor-owner Ellery Sedgwick and his wife Mabel in then-rural Centerville, away from the maddening crowd on the coast.  Sedgwick’s Massachusetts (western Massachusetts) roots go way back, but he did not choose to build a restrained Yankee cottage; instead he and Mrs. Sedgwick copied (and mined) a dilapidated Southern house:  the Isaac Ball House (1802) in Charleston, South Carolina. I tried and tried to find a photograph of the original Charleston house in situ, to no avail (only turning up images of the Ball family’s several plantations, all in sad states, and a few references to the “town house”) but Long Hill, completed around 1921, is supposed to be a close copy.

When I visited Long Hill the other day, I ran into some architect friends of mine, who pointed out details that I would have not seen on my own:  the perfect proportions (sadly missing in modern “Georgian” Mcmansions), the old, weathered, mellowed brick, certainly not circa 1920 brick, the very delicate columns, the classical details.  It is a charming house, well-situated, but it still looks a bit out-of-place to me.  I’m more impressed with the gardens, and all the surrounding woodland.  I never really understood why the Sedgwicks wanted to be so far away from coastal “society” (and breezes), because I never really knew about Mrs. Sedgwick’s horticultural interests—and achievements.  The author of The Garden Month by Month (1907, lots of illustrations and a pull-out flower color chart) wanted land, not ocean views, and she and her husband acquired 114 acres in Centerville on which to build not only their house but their very cultivated garden, even more impressive because of the contrast between it and the woodlands beyond.  Mabel Cabot Sedgwick died in 1937, but her husband remarried another horticulturalist, Marjorie Russell Sedgwick, who continued to improve the gardens at Long Hill.  The property was transferred to the Trustees of Reservations in 1979, and remains a peaceful, pastoral retreat.

The gardens at Long Hill:  woodlands surround the manicured lawns and garden “rooms” adjacent to the house:  blooming Solomon’s Seal, wisteria & peonies.


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