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Butler’s Key Cabinet

Butler’s Key Cabinet

Wood, Glass

ca. 1927

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate Collection, The Trustees

It was a tremendous undertaking for the service staff to run the 59-room mansion at Castle Hill. Like a scene from Downton Abbey, this key cabinet provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes operation of one of America’s great Country Place Era summer estates. The cabinet, built into the head butler’s suite, houses hundreds of keys for the Great House and estate outbuildings. These keys correspond to detailed floor plans on the inside of the cabinet doors, letting the butler know which room or piece of furniture corresponds with each individual number.

The Crane Estate (1909-1929) in Ipswich, is a property noted for its dramatic settings, iconic buildings, and decorative and extensive archive collections. With 2,100-acres of upland, forest, salt marsh, and beach, the Crane Estate is comprised of Castle Hill, Crane Beach, and the Crane Wildlife Refuge. It was once the summer estate of Chicago industrialist Richard Teller Crane Jr., heir to the Crane Co., founded in 1855. Castle Hill, the 165-acre parcel with designed and natural landscapes and 24 estate buildings, is a National Historic Landmark.

In the decades following Richard T. Crane, Jr.’s purchase of the property in 1910, Castle Hill came to exemplify the American Country Place Era. The Cranes hired some of the century’s most notable architects and landscape architects. An Italian Renaissance Revival villa was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. It was razed and replaced in 1928 with the 59-room Stuart-style mansion designed by architect David Adler. Landscape architects Olmsted Brothers, Arthur Shurcliff, and rosarian Harriett Risley Foote, created Italian-style grounds.

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