All Ipswich school children enjoy a wonderful tradition each spring thanks to the generosity of Mr. Richard Crane and his family; a picnic on Crane's Beach. How did it all begin?
The first people who lived on the land now known as The Crane Estate were first inhabited by the Agawam Native American tribe. They chose the hill because it was the highest point in the area, gave good protection and smoke was easily seen from the top by other tribes. Governor John Winthrop had the state purchase this land from the Agawam tribe and set aside in 1637 for "common use". After the Revolutionary War, Ipswich sold Castle Hill to help pay the town's assessment for the costs of that war, and kept the beach for the town. The hill wasn't named Castle Hill at the time of the sale, but later after Mr. Crane built his house there, the name was changed.
John Brown, son of the farmer Manasseh Brown from Chicago later bought the hill and beach property. He ran a fence around it to the low-water mark on the beach. Town officials were angered by this bold move to keep the beach to himself and cut the wire fence, daring Mr. Brown to arrest them for trespassing. Mr. Brown never rebuilt the fence and later sold the property to Richard T. Crane who was also from Chicago.
While Mr. Brown owned the land, he had it farmed. He grew and harvested salt marsh hay. The farmers would cut the hay, put it on carts pulled by oxen and drive the carts into Boston to Haymarket Square, hence the name! The blowing, shifting sand dunes covered the farming area over the years and farming became impossible.
During the shipping years in Ipswich, a lighthouse was built on the beach. The lighthouse keepers lived in a cottage beside the lighthouse. Later this lighthouse was converted to electricity and the keeper was no longer needed. The cottage was used by different groups such as the Scouts for campouts, community picnics and other events. Later the cottage burned down. The lighthouse was no longer needed after the shipping & ship building industry ended in Ipswich so it was dismantled and moved to Cape Cod where it still stands today.
Mr. Crane bought the hill property from Mr. Brown around 1903. Mr. Crane was a wealthy man thanks to his father's successful plumbing business, The Crane Company. It was well-known for its valves and fittings for ships. A lot of people think Mr. Crane invented the bathroom! But that isn't accurate. Bathrooms were "outhouses" and Mr. Crane decided it would be easier if the bathrooms were inside the house complete with bathroom fixtures that would be asthetically pleasing. He wanted to make America want a better bathroom. So he made models of these indoor bathrooms and put them on railroad cars to be shown around the country. The idea caught on and he became rich for making beautiful bathroom fixtures that made bathrooms pleasant and beautiful as well as convenient.
Mr. Crane married Florence Higinbotham and they had 2 children, Florence and Cornelius (named for his father's very wealthy friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt). The Crane family chose Ipswich as the spot to build their summer because they loved to sail. They even installed wind speed and direction gauges in most of the rooms of their house. The other reason they chose Ipswich was because it was connected to Boston not only by roads and the ocean, but also by the Boston and Maine Railroad.
The Crane's had their own railroad car which would bring them to Boston then North to Ipswich. Mr. Crane named the car "Nituna". After Mr. Crane died, Mrs. Crane changed the name to "Lone Tree". The car is still in use by executives of the Boston and Maine Railroad. They could easily travel from their residence in Chicago with friends by their own railroad car. It even had a kitchen, a dining room, 3 bedrooms and a sitting room. They could also bring their friends arriving in Boston Harbor to their summer home on board the Nituna. Ipswich was enough like living in the country for a summer "camp", but still convenient to the world.
The house you now see at Castle Hill is not the original house. Mr. and Mrs. Crane had built an Italian Villa originally. Later Mrs. Crane decided she didn't like how the house looked, that it didn't fit the area. The Cranes had the first house completely torn down and built the present house in the same location. It was designed after a home in England that they both liked. Outside the house, 2 griffins stand guarding the property. As employers, the Cranes were very generous and kind. The griffins were given to the Crane family as a gift from their employees as a thank you.
Cornelius wasn't very strong or well as a child; he had severe asthma. His parents would make "appointments" (now referred to as playdates) ahead of time to come to their house because of his health. He didn't go to school in Ipswich because it was only a summer home so he didn't have many playmates in Ipswich. In order to cheer him up, his parents decided to have a birthday party on the beach for him. They invited all the school children in Ipswich to join "Corny's" birthday party. This was such a success for Corny and the town children they decided to hold the party every year. The school children would each bring a shoe box for their lunches (box lunch?) and walk down to the town wharf where they would be met by men in rowboats. The children would climb into the boats and be rowed out to the beach past Ring Rock and the salt marshes. You can still see the iron rings to which the fishing boats were tied to in Ring Rock. It's the big rock directly across from the town wharf on the right side of the river facing out to the ocean.
When they got to the beach they would wade ashore and be met by Cornelius and his family. The boats would return to the wharf and pick up the next group of children. This continued until all the town's children were together on the beach for the party. On the beach there were large tents set up for shelter from the sun. The children would play games, eat food and help Corny celebrate his birthday. After the party the children were given candy for their families, mints and chocolated to be put in their shoe boxes and carried home safely. They would be rowed back to town wharf to walk home.
Cornelius lived to be about 57. Before his death, he bought Hog Island as well as the beach asa way to preserve the beauty of the area. But, Hog island was also bare when he purchased it, just like Castle Hill. So, he ordered trees to be planted on the island that can be seen from the house. Cornelius is buried in the "dent" at the top of the island.
Because the town's children shared in Cornelius' birthday celebration each year and were so kind to him, the family left the town a trust to pay for a picnic each year so that future generations of Ipswich school children could enjoy a day at the beach. The tradition continues to this day.
Ipswich is a magical place full of beauty and history making it an amazing place to call home.