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In This Place

Discoveries in a land "far, far away"

highfield hall
Liz Lerner
Highfield Hall in Falmouth.

A Yarmouth friend was recently worried about her aging grandmother.

It’s hard, she said, she lives so far away.

“That is tough,” I sympathized and asked where her grandmother lived, expecting the answer to be Los Angeles or Dubuque.

“Falmouth,” she replied.

With apologies to those of you who actually live in Falmouth, most of us who live in the Mid-and Lower Cape, believe that although you are only 25 miles from Yarmouth’s center, you live on another planet.

You know those ancient maps that show ships falling off the edge of the world as they try to cross the Atlantic? We are all pretty sure that’s exactly what happens just beyond the Mashpee Rotary. And that whole section of Route 28 from the Bourne Rotary to Falmouth center, well, that’s a total mystery. It’s better to stay east of the Cotuit line, unless you have to pop up to Mashpee Commons for a fleece from L.L. Bean or catch a ferry. My 30-something daughter, who grew up in Yarmouth, calculated that pretty much she’s only been to Falmouth for the Barnstable County Fair and her two trips to the Vineyard.

So you can imagine my surprise when she suggested a spring outing to Highfield Hall and Beebe Woods. The last time I was at Highfield, the mansion was still in disrepair and the only reason to go was to see the latest troupe of college students singing their hearts out at College Light Opera Co. We were stunned to discover the restored house, manicured gardens – albeit still recovering from winter – and more than 300 acres covered with walking trails.

For those of you who live east of Mashpee, Highfield Hall was the former 19th-century summer home of the Beebes, a family of merchants from Boston. The Highfield Hall property was originally 700 acres and was one of two summer houses the family owned in Falmouth.

When the last Beebe died in 1932, the property was sold. Over the years, attempts were made to run it as a hotel or retreat house, and the stables were turned into the theater. Finally, in 1972, the Lilly family bought Highfield Hall and donated it along with 400 acres to the town. It took another generation or two of wrangling for the house to be saved and restored – at a cost of over $8.5 million, most of it private donations. Landscape renovations began about 12 years ago.

Besides the gardens, the property has seven miles of walking trails that encircle a couple of ponds and ramble into another town-owned property, Peterson Farm. We were there on a sunny spring day that held the promise of warmth and set off on the path that led to Ice House Pond, where they actually used to harvest ice. We didn’t have a map and just kept following our noses, figuring someone would set us right if we got too lost. The trail led through woods until we came to a small clearing on the pond where a young family was throwing pebbles in the water and offering their dog a romp. We passed a couple of more serious hikers with sticks and daypacks – and were only slightly concerned that we might not make it back in time for dinner. For those of you who are better planners, you can download a map of the trails on the Highfield website.

We did about a three-mile ramble and then toured the rest of the gardens, admiring the seahorse-shaped wind sculpture made from shells, the aforementioned fairy houses, and the possibilities of the garden beds in full bloom. You’d think we’d discovered the moon by the number of times we kept asking each other, “How did we not know about this?”

It always astounds me how parochial we can get on Cape Cod. Many years ago, I chatted with a member of a long-time service club in Yarmouthport. She told me that members were from the north side of Yarmouth and Dennis but that “we even have some members from the south side of Yarmouth.” That would be about 4 miles away, closer than most of Dennis.

Ironically the limitations of the pandemic actually encouraged me to explore or rediscover parts of the Cape I’d forgotten. It just means driving a little further down the road, and maybe turning left instead of the usual right. I plan to keep it up. And in the meantime, I might write to the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce suggesting my new slogan: Falmouth, Who Knew?