Places to Roam and Wonder – J.C. Phillips Nature Preserve, Beverly, Massachusetts

About 140 years ago the J.C. Phillips Nature Reserve was comprised of the Phillips family mansion, overlooking a lake and sitting atop Moraine farm. Nowadays, the reserve is managed by both the Trustees of Reservations and the Essex County Greenbelt. The reserve has long since been a farm and homestead, but still overlooks Wenham Lake. Even today, hikers walking past the mansion remains are left to ponder and piece together the history of the Phillips family, and stumble upon what has yet to crumble and become a part of the forest floor.

Gnarled vines find their way into the most peculiar places. Weathered stone that once formed a carved statue, leading the way to Wenham Lake, rests weatherworn in the middle of the trail. On the weathered stone, towards the flat pilar post, you can still make out five toes, once belonging to a nautical creature perhaps. What this statue actually depicted long ago, we may never know. I am left to imagine what that statue once was and what life once was for the Phillips family walking down the same path 140 years ago. The path that leads down to the same lake, under the same perpetual sun. As I walk carefully amongst the fallen pillars and brick decay to closely examine the graffiti art, I am left to wonder. Will our homes look like this one day? Homes that are left to the Earth and inevitable decay?

The only history that has been documented about Moraine Farm and the Phillips Family Mansion is one that was written and taken, by means of photography. Everything else remains a mystery, other than the physical evidence that proves the farm, mansion, and family actually existed. I find myself looking down, standing in what appears to be the original foundation, at what I believe to be a fountain. Often times, I am coherently guilty of thinking everything will hold together forever, static throughout time, to be recognized physically centuries later. The truth is, there will be no handy booklet identifying every crumbling attribute. There will be no obvious answers to those brave explorers who stumble upon the remains. What will they say, about me, about us as a society? How will they know what we did, where we came from, where we went? I ask myself many questions knowing well that I may never know the answers.

There will always be a part of our stories that are secret, parts that never get shared or spread widely. Thoughts that never get written down, ideas that are never shared, and conversations that are never recorded. The best I can hope for, the best we can hope, for is for someone out there one day to wonder about our life, to care about what came before and ask a million questions. Someone to walk down the same path that we wandered down centuries before, breathe in the same air, smile under the same sun and know that they are here because of someones actions years ago. The future will be because of us; what we did, what we will do and what we will become.

Highover mansion in 1913, burned down in 1968. Today, the outer foundation walls, courtyard ruins, fountain and back steps are the only remains.

Parking for the J.C. Phillips Nature Reserve: 853–899 Cabot Street
Wenham, MA 01984
United States


9 responses to “Places to Roam and Wonder – J.C. Phillips Nature Preserve, Beverly, Massachusetts

  1. I love that. It so often when we are hiking out in the woods and we come across an old foundation or cellar hole that we too think about the land and people that came before us settled and had a life on the very land we were standing. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a little pocket diary written in 1882 by Julia Gregory, who was a domestic servant at the Phillips estate in Beverly, apparently working for the caretakers, Mr. William Gray and his wife Mary Bosworth Gray.


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