Much of the 1200 acres of dunes at Castle Neck along Crane Beach were forested with pitch pine in 1634 when European settlers arrived. The people of Ipswich realized that it was a special place, and the selectmen decreed that “The Neck of Land whereupon the great Hill standeth which is known by the name of the Castle Hill shall remain unto the common use of the Towne forever” and that no tree may be cut with a diameter less than 12.”
Of course, exceptions were made and in 1682 it was ordered that blacksmiths should have liberty to fell trees for charcoal. Symonds Epes bought a large tract in 1726 and built a substantial farm and orchards at Wigwam Hill, named for a group of destitute Indians who briefly camped there. The land was passed down through two or three generations, and the husband of one of his descendants cut the protecting scrub pines for lumber. This removed a barrier to wind, and the thin layer of topsoil blew away. Without the protection of the trees and grass, the farm quickly fell victim to the drifting sand
A house (probably built by the Cranes) was built on the trail to Wigwam Hill, and the same fate befell it. All that remains visible is the top of a chimney protruding from a large sand dune which enveloped the house.
Crane Beach and all of Castle Neck are now protected by the Trustees of Reservations, which maintains over 5 miles of trails through the dunes. A sign on the far right of the main parking lot indicates the trail entrance. Head in and take a right at the first fork. You’re immediately in the dunes, but after a while the trail takes you through a forest of pitch pine. At the next fork continue right onto the Red Trail. Wigwam Hill rises before you with a steady climb. Near the top you’ll see a narrow trail on your left that takes you to the chimney, all that can be seen of a house long ago buried by the sand.