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Hours of Gold, Hours of Lead

Summer Days

Family patriarch James Madison Beebe made his fortune in dry goods and manufacturing. In 1872, looking to escape the heat and discomfort of Boston in the summertime, he converted the Thomas Swift House on Shore Street into a summer home called Vineyard Lodge. Beebe subsequently purchased more than 700 acres of land in Falmouth, almost 400 of which are known today as Beebe Woods.

Falmouth’s legendary Highfield and Tanglewood Halls set the stage for the rise—and tragic fall—of the famous Beebe family.

Photo Courtesy of Stanford University

James Beebe only spent three summers in Falmouth before passing away in 1875. He left behind his wife and seven children, all of whom shared their father’s love of the town. Two of the sons later built manors on their father’s property: Pierson selected a plot atop a hill where he built sprawling Highfield Hall in 1878, while his younger brother J. Arthur chose an adjacent tract and built an equally grand home named Tanglewood the following year.

Susan Shepard described the architecture of Highfield in a 2003 edition of Spritsail, the Woods Hole Historical Museum’s biannual journal. “Highfield Hall is the earliest known building on Cape Cod to exhibit some of the Pavilion’s neo-Elizabethan elements: the cove cornice, the very large ‘living hall,’ and the imitation half timbering that can be seen on some of the gables. Highfield is one, and perhaps the only remaining, example of the very brief nineteenth century period when Stick Style architecture was being assimilated into American Queen Anne [architecture].”

When creating his own manor, J. Arthur hired architects from Peabody & Stearns, a prestigious Boston-based firm who designed several of the Newport mansions and many iconic buildings throughout New England. The firm is remembered for ushering in the early Queen Anne, Shingle, and Colonial Revival styles, according to Shepard. Elements of each were visible in the design of Tanglewood.

With the exception of J. Arthur, who preferred the sea, all the Beebe siblings cherished the woods that surrounded the two estates. The children spent many happy summer days in the solitude of the woods, exploring, riding horses, and even helping to build and maintain roads and a stonewall that snaked through their land. Frank, the youngest son, planted trees and shrubs, enhancing the property’s considerable natural beauty.

J. Arthur’s brother, Pierson, lived at Highfield Hall with his other siblings, Emily and Frank. Emily was an early Cape Cod socialite, known for throwing fantastic parties at Highfield during the summer as well as at the family’s home in Back Bay. Emily also traveled abroad to many major European cities and spent several winters in exotic Cairo, Egypt.

Of James Beebe’s three daughters, only one married. Emily was the only one to reach old age. Despite having numerous suitors as a young woman, she never found a husband and died alone at the age of 80 in 1916. Younger sister Mary Louisa died young from a rare form of cancer and is buried, with the rest of the Beebe family, in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. The youngest Beebe girl, Frances Lathrop, or Fannie as the family affectionately called her, married George Fiske in 1866. The couple had two children before Fiske became ill and died, just two years after their marriage.

Tanglewood, the second Beebe home, stood a short walk from Highfield. Tanglewood was home to J. Arthur; his wife, Emily; and their three children, Arthur, Emily, and Charles Philip. The couple, married in 1869, entertained their guests each summer with musicals, theatrical performances, and fundraising events. Both shared a love of animals and donated heavily to animal charities. Unlike his brother’s adjacent home, where three sibling adults lived, Tanglewood was filled with the sounds of children, all of whom J. Arthur loved deeply.

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