History, Art & Culture

Castle Hill Tours

Take a guided tour of the Great House and its walled gardens at Castle Hill

After Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., purchased the property in 1910, the former farmland of Castle Hill came to exemplify a European-inspired country estate of the era, with its farm and estate buildings, designed grounds and gardens, and diverse natural areas. The first house built atop Castle Hill, an Italian Renaissance Revival villa designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, was razed and replaced in 1928 with the Great House, the 59-room Stuart-style mansion designed by architect David Adler that you see today. The grounds and gardens would be molded by the talented designs of the Olmsted Brothers and Arthur Shurcliff. Castle Hill would become the centerpiece of an estate encompassing 3500 acres, emphasizing the natural landscapes, their stewardship, and protection. 

In 1910, the same year they purchased the property, the Cranes amended their wills to reflect that The Trustees would be bequeathed this astounding property. They understood the value of land preservation. Castle Hill comprises 365 acres of the 2100 currently stewarded by The Trustees, and captures the essence of summer living at a grand gentlemen’s estate. 

With wonderful walking and  hiking paths, curated gardens, 360-degree views, and glorious architecture, there is something to interest everyone. Choose from six guided tours of the house, gardens, and grounds with our expert interpreters, or plan a day of your own devising. Group rates are available, as are private tours. 

Grounds admission is included in tour ticket pricing, or available a la carte, and covers a 3-hour visit. Masks are required inside the Great House. 

Tours of Castle Hill
  • Guest of the Cranes
  • The Cat’s Meow
  • Cupola with a View
  • Servant Life in a Tech-Savvy House
  • Highlights on the Hill
  • Within the Garden Walls

Guest of the Cranes

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It’s 1929 and you’ve just arrived after a long journey to see the Great House at Castle Hill and to visit your friends, the Crane family, of Crane plumbing fame. You are greeted at the door by household staff and your adventure as a “Guest of the Cranes” begins. A tour through the house will show you the luxury and conveniences that will be at your disposal during your summertime visit to Ipswich. An invitation from the Crane family is a coveted prize. Welcome to Castle Hill!  

Our hourly tour is a time capsule experience that takes you back to 1929, the Crane family’s first summer in brand new Great House. It is the second one the Cranes built at Castle Hill and it’s a stunner! The tour includes the family bedrooms, bathrooms, and guest rooms.   

Tours leave on the hour and have a run time of approximately 50-60 minutes. Tours run from 10AM-3PM. Tickets can be purchased in advance, or first-come-first-serve on property.  

 Accessibility: The Grand Stair has 30 steps. We’re sorry, but there is no elevator. Headset amplifier available upon request. 

The Cat’s Meow

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Our imagination is one of our greatest assets. Imagine living in 1929 and visiting the Crane family at their summer home in Ipswich. The house is so big and Mrs. Crane’s kitty, Ptolemy, has gone missing just before the party! Can you help a family servant find our mischievous Siamese? Once he’s found, we’ll have just enough time to dress for the party!   

This tour has a run time of approximately 50-60 minutes and is recommended for children 3-8 and their families. It takes you through the family and guest living spaces of the Great House.   

Accessibility: The Grand Stair has 30 steps. We’re sorry, but there is no elevator. Headset amplifier available upon request.  

Cupola with a View

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This is our most Instagram-able tour experience and a particular treat for those interested in the architecture of the Great House and its surrounding property. You’ll gain insight into the architectural choices made by David Adler as he designed and built the Great House, the second home the Cranes built atop majestic Castle Hill. The exterior and interior spaces are a feast for the eyes. Learn how this architectural feat fits into the history of the property even beyond the Crane family, peek into servant life in the house, but most importantly – you will get to step out onto the roof and take in the panoramic views of Castle Hill!  

Accessibility: This tour climbs 3 flights of stairs. We’re sorry, there is no elevator. Headset amplifier available upon request.  

Servant Life in a Tech-Savvy House

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To be “in service” for the Cranes is different than you might imagine. It’s because the house has been built to incorporate the most innovative concepts and technology of its day. Take a step back in time, enter the year 1929, and gaze behind-the-scenes led by the Crane’s own household staff who offer insight and, perhaps, entice you to join their ranks. Everywhere you look, there is plumbing at work. The tech is the bee’s knees and what is a patent pending electric wind indicator anyway? You’ll learn about what it takes to keep a house like the Great House running in top notch fashion, how tech and people work together, and how living in staff housing is a step up in the world. In short, get a first-hand look at some of the most marvelous technological innovations of the era, those that the staff of the Cranes use every day.  

This tour has a run time of approximately 50-60 minutes.

Accessibility: This tour utilizes several staircases and is not accessible to those with mobility issues. We’re sorry, there is no elevator. Headset amplifier available upon request. 

Highlights on the Hill

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Join us for a leisurely tour of the Castle Hill grounds from our comfy eco-friendly electric cart. You will hear the rich history of the estate while enjoying the breathtaking views of the gardens, marsh, and water. This is the perfect way to get a comprehensive overview of the Crane Estate, where the family summered year after year. Bring your camera. There is a picture postcard around every corner!  

This tour has a run time of approximately 50-60 minutes. Tickets can be purchased in advance, or as available on property.  

Accessibility: The cart has a single step to its seating, hand holds, seat belts and seats 6. It cannot accommodate a wheelchair. Headset amplifier available upon request.   

Within the Garden Walls

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Explore the estate’s “outdoor rooms” on this NEW guided garden tour. You’ll visit the Italian and Rose Gardens, some of Mrs. Crane’s favorite places to spend time. Travel through time with your interpreter as you learn how these gardens came to be and how they have morphed over time to become what you see today. You’ll learn about what’s in bloom and what it takes to keep these restored gardens both eco-friendly and tied to the original landscape design and intent. Bring your camera, your curiosity and your plant ID app!  

This tour has a run time of approximately 50-60 minutes. Tickets can be purchased in advance, or as available on property.  

Accessibility: This tour includes multiple staircases and is not accessible for those with mobility issues. Headset amplifier available upon request.