The story of Highfield Hall coincides
with the arrival of the railroad in Falmouth on July 18, 1872.
The ability to reach Cape Cod from Boston or from New York
by train transformed the area from a quiet farming and fishing
community to an exuberant summer community. Middle class families
stayed in inns, many of them homes converted to lodgings to
handle the explosion of summer visitors. Wealthier families eventually
built seaside estates in areas such as Quissett, Chapoquoit
the first newcomers escaping the heat of the city were the Beebes
of Boston. James Madison Beebe, wealthy from various dry goods
and manufacturing businesses, and his wife, Esther E. Beebe,
first converted the Thomas Swift House on Shore Street to a
summer home they called Vineyard Lodge. They subsequently bought
more than 700 acres of land on the hill above the railroad
station, more than half of which has been preserved as Beebe
After the death of James Beebe
in 1875, his children built two grand residences on the hill.
Brothers Pierson and Franklin and sister Emily built a lavish "summer
cottage" in the Queen Anne stick style modeled after the
British Pavilion in the great 1876 Philadelphia Centennial
Exposition. Highfield Hall was completed in 1878, and its sister
mansion, Tanglewood, where the J. Arthur Beebes took up residence,
was finished in 1879. Thus began over fifty years of Beebes
living and entertaining in their "summer cottages" at
Highfield. In its heyday, the hill must have been a bustling
scene. The miles of carriage trails, riding trails, gardens,
two huge homes, and numerous outbuildings required a small
army of servants to maintain. The Beebes even started a farm
on Shore Street to provide produce for their Falmouth and Boston
Highfield Hall, built in 1878
Tanglewood, completed in 1879
The Beebes were undoubtedly a formidable family.
The children made an impact on Falmouth with their financial
support for the building of St. Barnabas Church on Main Street
(1890) in memory of their parents, St. Barnabas House (1890),
a carriage shed (1894) for the church which in 1962 was converted
into a garden chapel, and conversion of the Bodfish House into
the Rectory (1901). For some years in the 1880s, the Beebes
were the largest taxpayers in Falmouth.
Franklin, the last of the Beebe children, died
in 1932. After that, Highfield Hall passed through a succession
of owners, each with a dream for its use. First, in the thirties,
E.H. Bristol wanted to turn it into a health resort. That was
succeeded by two dreams in the forties: J. Elwin Wright, a
religious revivalist, wanted it to become a religious hotel
and retreat. Subsequently, Arthur J. Beckhard ran the two mansions
as hotels and converted the former stable into what is now
The Ter Heuns and Highfield
In 1949, the entire Beebe estate was purchased by DeWitt
Ter Heun, a friend of Arthur Beckhard. TerHeun and his wife loved the theater and the opera and hoped to turn the Highfield estate into a center for the performing arts. They launched a training ground for student actors, inviting first Williams College and then Oberlin College to perform at Highfield Theatre. The couple remodeled Highfield Hall to serve as their summer residence, adding a plantation-style front on the building. A portion of the house was in use as a dormitory by the theater company, while all of Tanglewood was used for that purpose. Mr. TerHeun's daughter, Patricia, converted the Tanglewood stable into an art gallery, showing the works of abstract artists such as Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell. The TerHeun summers were alive with theater, art, and culture on the hill.
The front of Highfield Hall, modified by the Ter Huens
After Mr. TerHeun's death in 1962, the estate was eventually
purchased by summer residents Marjorie Whittemore and Stanley Welsh. They ran the theater and kept up the two houses while considering the options of what might be done with the property. At that time, the Highfield parcel was the largest single plot of developable land on Cape Cod. Welsh and Whittemore, who were siblings, considered creating a planned community on the property which would have featured clusters of houses, shopping, and a school (much like the concept employed a decade later at Mashpee Commons). Up to 500 residential units were considered, but various roadblocks from town officials, along with Whittemore and Welsh's own hesitancy to develop the land, prevented any progress with the concept.
In 1972 the entire estate was purchased by Josephine and Josiah K Lilly III. The Lillys generously
gave the nearly 400 acres of Beebe Woods to the town for permanent
conservation as green space. The buildings and acreage on which
they stood were donated to a local arts organization.
Sadly, on May 20, 1977, Tanglewood succumbed
to the wrecker's ball and bulldozers, and Highfield Hall entered
two decades of neglect and vandalism.
Historic Highfield Volunteers at Work
The Uncertain Fate of Highfield Hall
In 1994, Highfield almost suffered the same
fate as Tanglewood when a demolition permit was pulled by the owners. However, the Town of Falmouth had just instituted
a demolition delay bylaw, which mandated a 90-day period after
application for demolition of any historic building so that
the local Historical Commission could attempt to effect a preservation
compromise This bylaw went into effect two days prior to the permit being issued!. An advocacy group, Friends of Highfield, sprang
into action to save the building. That group became this 501(c)(3)
not-for-profit corporation, Historic Highfield, Inc., in May
Many years of legal disputes followed as Historic Highfield tried to stave off demolition and gain control of the building from its nonprofit owners. Volunteers cleared the lawn, boarded windows, and tried to ward off further decay and vandalism. They also raised money and worked to convince residents that Highfield Hall was worth saving. Eventually, collaborating with Selectmen, Historic Highfield was able to convince the town that Highfield Hall was important to our community and extraordinary measures were warranted to save the property.
In 2000 Town Meeting Members authorized Falmouth
Selectmen to take Highfield Hall and six acres by eminent domain,
and in 2001 the Town signed a lease with Historic Highfield
to renovate and operate Highfield Hall. The extraordinary restoration effort that followed was made possible through donations totalling in excess of $8,000,000 -- almost all of which were contributed by private individuals.