September 26, 2018 – Groton, Massachusetts
Length: Approximately 1 mile
Map: Gibbet Hill Trails
Trailhead parking: Gibbet Hill Grill – 61 Lowell Rd, Groton, MA 01450
Gibbet Hill in Groton, Massachusetts offers an interesting story, as well as nice views. In 1645 the hill was named for the English “gibbet” (pronounced JIB-bet), a gallows generally situated on a hill for public executions. Although there are some local legends and rumors, there are no substantiated claims of executions on the hill.
Gibbet Hill was more likely named after a hill in England by Groton’s English settlers when they first came to the area in the 17th century.
In 1906 General William Bancroft, a Groton native who became head of the Boston Elevated Railroad and Mayor of Cambridge, began building a retirement home called “Shawfieldmont” at the crest of Gibbet Hill. Beginning with a modest bungalow, he planned to add a castle-like mansion and a stable, but ran out of money before the project was complete.
In 1918 the property was sold to Harold Ayres, a prominent physician who turned the bungalow into a private sanitarium, which accepted “all but insane or contagious” patients for $20 per week. In the 1930’s, the Groton Hunt Club uses the bungalow for fox-hunting parties, dinners, dances and nature outings. In 1932 “careless fireworks” are blamed for a fire that destroyed most of the bungalow, leaving only the remains of a stone observation tower intact.
In 1947 After World War II, Marion Campbell, a Vassar graduate who had written for the Washington Post and whose father owned Atlantic Monthly, purchases the rundown farm. Campbell hires local farm manager Bill Conley to help her breed Black Angus cattle. By the 1980’s, the herd producing “superior meat” had grown to 600 head and bloodlines have been tracked as far as Australia and Zimbabwe.
In the late 1990’s the Marion Campbell Trust put the property up for sale. In the summer of 2000, they reached the final stages of an agreement with the construction company Modern Continental, which approved plans to develop 78 houses on the property. In 2000 Geotel Communications founder Steven Webber, a Groton native, purchased the 338-acre farm, plus an adjacent 188-acre orchard, to prevent the imminent development of the property. He vowed to prevent any future residential development. The farm had long been home to a renowned Black Angus cattle breeding operation but was changing hands upon the death of its owner. Over the ensuing years the Webber family worked to transform the barns on the property into the Gibbet Hill Grill and the Barn at Gibbet Hill event facility.
Know before you go:
Please park at the designated end of the restaurant parking lot (until 4:00 PM) or at the other indicated parking locations; parking along Lowell Road is not recommended.
Trails are open until dusk and are marked with green-on-white “Groton Trails Network” markers.
The “Castle” and hilltop park area inside the fencing are open to the public; please enjoy them!
Walk down the hill from the restaurant and bear right, heading towards Lowell Road. Follow the mowed path between the fence on the left and a pond on the right.
The trail reaches Lowell Road and turns left, closely paralleling the road.
The trail comes out to the shoulder of the road and continues through two stone pillars.
The trail skirts the fence that keeps the cattle enclosed in the pasture, passing a sign warning visitors to stay on the other side of the fence. The trail now gradually ascends Gibbet Hill
In about 0.5 mile from the start, the trail reaches the ruins of Bancroft’s Castle.
General William Bancroft led an accomplished life. He rose to the rank of brigadier general during the Spanish-American War, before going on to become the first president of the Boston Elevated Railroad.
He also served a term as mayor of the city of Cambridge in the 1890’s. During all that time away from Groton, his hometown, Bancroft dreamt of retiring to Gibbet Hill.
He built his retirement home on Gibbet Hill in 1906 and called it Shawfieldmont.
He built the tower, and a house, but ran out of money before he got to the mansion and horse stable he had planned.
He kept at it, for twelve years, when, discouraged, he sold the property to Harold Ayers, a well-known physician who converted it into a sanatorium.
Experts of the day touted the Groton Private Hospital as “unique” and raved how its absolute quiet, pure air, and atmosphere of home embraced the open air treatments so popular during that era.
Ayers called his sanatorium the Groton Private Hospital, where, for $20 a week, sick, rich people could take in the spectacular views while they languished through ailments such as TB, or what the 1920’s called insanity.
The sanatorium too, met an early end. By the dawn of the 1930’s, it too was gone.
The property was then used by the Groton Hunt Club for dances, social events, and to host fox hunts until 1932 when it was destroyed by a fire.
The trail continues past Bancroft’s Castle and opens up to scenic views over the Groton countryside and beyond. It is a one mile round trip to the castle, but if a longer hike is desired, one can continue on. Otherwise just retrace your steps back the way you came to the parking area.