From Manse to Copse: The Ruins of Hightower Mansion

September 11, 2021 —
Ask me if I want to go on a hike in the forest with you and I’ll point at the mound of my gut and limp a few steps across the room to illustrate my plantar fasciitis (“You can just say no, jerk”). But if you tell me we’ll get to see ruins while we’re there, I’m suddenly an ultra-miler.

In this case, the forest was the 85-acre J.C. Phillips Nature Preserve in Beverly, Massachusetts. Named for John Charles Phillips, a businessman who bought up a bunch of land there during the 19th century and had the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead design a farming estate on it called Moraine Farm.


These days, Moraine Farm has been divvied up. The preserve itself was the site of a mansion built in 1913 by Phillips’s son William. It burned down in 1968. These are the ruins that made me get out of my easy chair and brave mosquitoes and sore feet and whatever that liquid that comes out of people’s pores is called. Skin spit?

The ruins are a straight shot from the small parking area on Cabot Street. Paths branch off along the way, but the center one took us right to the ruins and still has strips of asphalt evident from back when it was a driveway.


In less than a mile, we arrived at the entrance to the estate—a set of tall brick gateways, one of which was topped by a crushed urn. Before heading through the gates, though, we saw ruins to the right up a short path. We found a small outbuilding fronted by arches that faced the remains of a large fountain, which was boiling with jumping frogs and toads on our visit.

Through the gates, there’s a walled expanse of grass that was the front courtyard of the building. Walking across the courtyard and the ghost of the mansion, we found a set of short freestanding steps, a back entrance to the mansion, I guess.


The last ruin I found, either on site or online, was farther down the path and right in the middle of it: A small headless statue on a pedestal. It was graffitied in pinks and purples and looked kind of liked a baked chicken due to the weathering of the stone. When it was whole it could have been a person or, judging by what seemed to be cloven feet, possible a satyr.

The path continues to a Wenham Lake at the other end of the preserve, and I got the impression that’s the big destination here because of the half-dozen people we saw walking the paths, nobody stopped at the ruins except for us. They had flat stomachs and didn’t limp.


Morale of the story: What Jimi Hendrix said about castles made of sand and don’t ask me on hikes unless there are ruins to explore.

You stopped reading this piece at skin spit, didn’t you?

Beware the Dirty Ham Man.