In 1915, writer Ellery Sedgwick and his wife Mabel bought a 114-acre parcel atop a hill in Beverly. The first thing they did was plant a purple beech at the center of the property, a signal of their determination to turn the land from a patchwork of cow pastures into a welcoming summer home surrounded by scenic vistas and inspired gardens.
Today, the beech tree is a towering presence, with thick gray roots rippling out of the ground, practically begging children to come play in the shade. And the farmland surrounding it has transformed as well, becoming over the past century an idyllic estate featuring orchards, meadows, rambling gardens, formal plantings, and wooded trails.
Last summer, Long Hill, which is now owned by the Trustees of Reservations, took another step in its ongoing evolution, debuting an outdoor wedding venue, adding new formal gardens, and opening the historic home to visitors. It’s 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.
“It is a really tremendous and very special property,” says Long Hill director Jared Bowers. “There’s lots to see and do here.”
When the Sedgwick family bought the property, Ellery was well known as the editor of the renowned Atlantic Monthly (today known simply as The Atlantic). But, says Cindy Brockway, director of cultural resources for the Trustees, the story of Long Hill really belongs to his wives: first Mabel, an accomplished horticulturist, and later Marjorie, a rare plants expert.
Mabel, the author of the 1907 book The Garden Month by Month, envisioned a landscape that merged formal gardening with native and wild growth.
“Her idea was to build a garden underneath and within the landscape that was already there,” Brockway says. “That’s why it’s hard to tell where the garden ends and the woods begin.”
The Trustees acquired Long Hill in 1976, and the property served as the headquarters of the organization until four years ago. Because of its administrative function, the property was not heavily promoted to visitors, though those who discovered it quickly became devotees of the wooded paths and lush, meandering gardens.
Over the past two years, the Trustees have executed major renovations and restorations—both indoors and out—intended to turn the property into a more prominent destination and a resource for gardeners of all levels.
The house, a stately, Federal-style brick home, has been carefully 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 crafted by enslaved people in the early 1800s. The Sedgwicks paid $600 to buy the pieces, which were removed from a Charleston, South Carolina, plantation house and shipped to Massachusetts. An architect was then charged with designing the Long Hill house around the woodwork.
The wallpaper that lines the front hall and stairway features birds and flowers hand-painted in China in the early 1800s, then purchased for the Sedgwick house in London in 1926. The Trustees had the wallcoverings restored over the past year, illuminating their brilliance and artistry.
The house’s music room invites visitors to sit, take in the surroundings, and perhaps browse a replica issue of Atlantic Monthly from Sedgwick’s time as editor. A library welcomes the horticulturally curious to browse a selection of gardening books.
“We’re really hoping people will take these books off the shelves,” Brockway says.
Historical research discovered that the property originally enjoyed unimpeded hilltop vistas, so trees were cleared from four targeted areas to reopen the view of the horizon. A new formal garden was created, expressing the combination of Asian and European influences that have been part of the property since the Sedgwicks’ purchase.
A wood-framed tent decked with crystal chandeliers was constructed adjacent to the house to serve as an event venue. The first weddings in the space were scheduled for last fall.
Alongside all of the changes, the property is also lining up a robust slate of events to encourage people to discover Long Hill. A series of afternoon teas in the garden was inspired by photos discovered during the renovation process of the Sedgwicks enjoying outdoor teas. Forest bathing walks and yoga classes invite visitors to deepen their connections with their surroundings.
In keeping with the goal of encouraging gardeners, Long Hill will also be hosting expert lectures on horticultural topics, garden tours, and practical classes. Indeed, this attention to nurturing a love of plants and landscape is 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 this is the great legacy they’ve left behind.”
576 Essex St., Beverly, 978-281-8400, thetrustees.org/place/long-hill