IPSWICH — It cost $7.7 million to purchase part of the original Crane Estate, a land transaction that only comes around "once in a lifetime," and its new owners say they will keep it the way it is.

Lanse Robb, a principal and director of the North Shore for LandVest, a real estate firm, helped the descendants of the well-known Crane family put the large, 284-acre expanse of land off Fox Creek Road up for sale.

Richard T. Crane originally bought 800 acres in 1910 and eventually the family owned 2,100 acres of property there. Since then, the estate has been parceled out. The nonprofit Trustees of Reservations own and preserve the Great House, the 350 acres around it, Castle Hill, and the 680-acre Crane Wildlife Refuge. This includes most of Crane Beach.

Last year, the Trustees succeeded in securing Steep Hill, a 20.5-acre parcel next to Crane Beach and the Grand Allee.

This latest transaction was years in the making. The family has been working for the past two decades on moving on from the estate, but also keeping the land intact "as long as they could," Robb said.

The land includes a variety of assets. There are 113 acres of meadows plus 170 acres of salt marshes, according to LandVest's real estate listing.

A mansion built in 1965 stands on a hill, and from there residents can see Castle Hill, Crane Beach and Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester.

There's also a home for the caretaker — three bedrooms and three bathrooms — plus a 3,000-square-foot barn.

"I've been all over the property," Robb said. "It's one of the most amazing places I've been. It's quite special that it still exists, that you can be in the property and not see anyone for hours."

The new owner — Jeffrey Watkins, according to online deed records — intends to keep the property as is. Robb said he is "not a development buyer" and that it's "going to be a conservation-minded ownership."

The Crane family had held the property since the early 20th century. The family wanted to find a buyer who would keep the land as is.

"This is one of the last great estates that exists that will be privately held, and we believe conserved," Robb said. "You never say never, but the intent of it was to preserve it."

At one time, the Trustees of Reservations had spoken with the family about acquiring the land, according to David Santomenna, the organization's associate director of land conservation.

"They nicely gave us the opportunity to purchase the whole thing," Santomenna said, explaining that this included the 284-acre parcel along with a 220-acre plot.

But the two sides didn't reach an agreement. The smaller of the two parcels was sold last September to Marshview Farm LLC, which has an address in Denver, for $4.65 million. That land featured an antique colonial home plus other buildings, like the larger parcel.

Purchasing Steep Hill, however, was key for the Trustees, Santomenna said.

The land involved in the latest sale doesn't have beach access, but is on a salt marsh. It abuts one side of Fox Creek; the Trustees' land borders the other side.

For Ipswich, having the land preserved is "very beneficial," said Town Manager Robin Crosbie. 

In terms of flooding, she said, it's important to maintain flood plains, noting that with development comes runoff from roofs and driveways.

The town had spoken of potentially trying to buy a part of the parcel, but has only limited open space money available.

"I think keeping it generally as it is, that's a great asset to maintain on the North Shore and in Ipswich," Crosbie said.

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at amacneill@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.