Tour Eight Historical Massachusetts Sites for Free This May
Calling all history, architecture, and design buffs—and anyone who likes free fun.
Seeing the way someone else lives is part of the vicarious fun of attending an open house. Even better? If those homes are some of the state’s most historical mansions, farmhouses, cottages, and homesteads. This May 18, the Trustees are opening up eight of their preserved places free of cost, for their annual Home Sweet Home open house day.
Expert-led tours will educate visitors on the design of the homes and the stories behind them, in honor of the theme “Makers, Masters & Craftsman.” Though of course, guests can also take a self-guided approach to wander around the grounds. From Ipswich to Stockbridge, the open house day spans the state, offering tantalizing options for history lovers, design enthusiasts, architecture buffs, and anyone who loves free fun. Assemble your best picnic, and from 10-4 p.m. fill up on history while also enjoying lawn games, curated crafts, and other quintessential spring activities the Trustees have in store.
Below, peruse the the eight properties you can explore this May 18. Pick the one closest to home, or pack your day bags for a scenic road trip—there are no bad choices here.
1. The Great House at Castle Hill, Ipswich
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a mansion, this palatial property is your chance. The 59-room estate sits at the peak of the fittingly-named Castle Hill, and looks over a precipice onto Crane Beach. Amble through the Italian Gardens and be among the first to see “Spirit of Place,” a 6-month sculpture showcase that will premiere the same day, spotlighting 32 creations by New England artists.
2. The Stevens-Coolidge Place, North Andover
The sweet aroma of flowers fills the air around this farmhouse-turned-exquisite country home. Walk through the same grounds once cultivated by John Gardner Coolidge, who had familial ties to Thomas Jefferson and Isabella Stewart Gardner. After an inspiring garden stroll, head to the greenhouse to pick out some blossoms for your own plot, while the kids make kites at the craft table.
3. The Old Manse, Concord
Built by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather and situated next to the Old North Bridge (the site of the Revolutionary War’s first battle), American history hounds and literary aficionados alike might feel starstruck by this National Historic Landmark. Ruminate on nature with “Transcendentalism 101,” an exploration of Emerson’s writing room, or get outside with a guided walk through the landscape where you’ll learn about current restoration efforts.
4. Fruitlands Museum, Harvard
What started out as a utopian experiment is now home to the country’s first Shaker museum, a Native American museum, and 210 incredible acres of prairie and woodland trails. View two new exhibits in the Art Gallery, take in some live tunes at the World Fiddle Day celebration, or simple wander the grounds once home to Little Women author Louisa May Alcott and her family.
5. Naumkeag, Stockbridge
The grandeur of the Berkshires is impressive on its own, but this so-called Gilded Age “cottage” is worth a special day trip. Traipse up the iconic “Blue Steps,” track down a rainbow of butterflies in a garden scavenger hunt, or pen an ode to peonies in an artist-led journal-making session.
6. The Mission House, Stockbridge
If you plan your day ahead, you can hit up the Mission House right after you see Naumkeag, which is just a two minute drive down the street. The comparatively modest home dates back to circa 1740, and will be open for self-guided tours all day. Inside, learn about the Mohican tribe that was native to the area, and pore over eighteenth-century objects and art.
7. The Folly at Field Farm, Williamstown
Feel like making your day excursion into an overnight adventure? Book a room at the Trustees-owned Guest House, a mid-century modern B&B that shares the property with The Folly. Three bedrooms branch off of a central cylinder in this playful example of post-WWII architecture, which is also the region’s most youthful house museum.
8. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead
It’s easy to see why the pastoral backdrop of this dwelling inspired poet William Cullen Bryant. The farmhouse was once the writer’s childhood summer home before he renovated it to become the expansive Victorian cottage that stands today. Each room will feature an authentic period activity, such as Bryant’s mother’s room, where homestead-goers can take motivation from pieces of her knitting before trying their hand at the craft using provided miniature looms.