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The porte cochère at Wyndhurst, the summer home of John Sloane, architects Peabody and Stearns of Boston.

CONNECTIONS: Berkshire road trip! Part II

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By Tuesday, Mar 19, 2019 Life In the Berkshires 1

Leave Route 7 to enter Lenox. Lenox is known as a Gilded Age resort and many of the mansions are restored and open. Offering a glimpse into another century are Cranwell Resort, the Mount and Ventfort Hall.

On the grounds of Cranwell are two Berkshire cottages: Wyndhurst and Coldbrooke.

John Sloane made his fortune with his brother at the W.J. Sloane & Co. furniture store in New York. In 1894, he hired architects Peabody and Stearns and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design Wyndhurst, a Tudor mansion of Perth Amboy brick. The mansion stood in 250 acres—40 acres of lawn, 30 acres of woodland, and the remaining 180 acres divided between farm and formal gardens. The plantings in the formal gardens reflected the philosophy of Frederick Law Olmsted: Shrubbery was massed, lines gently curving, with an emphasis on trees, a natural appearance and harmony with the views.

The stable had 16 boxes; there was a poultry shelter and cow barn. Milk and cream were shipped daily to the family in New York and produce was shipped three times a week. Today it is the main building at Cranwell Resort.

The large white building on the left of the drive was built in 1882 by architects Peabody and Stearns for John S. Barnes. Barnes called it Coldbrooke. His son James described the house as large, rambling and of no fixed style.

Landscape architect Ernest Bowditch found Barnes a difficult man, and his son obliquely agreed: “I avoided my father as much as possible, which became a fixed habit.” There were extenuating circumstances. Earlier in 1882, the oldest Barnes daughter died, and James was expelled from school. John retired into a permanent funk.

At home in Lenox in the winter of 1882, James busied himself with theatricals, bicycling and sledding on Courthouse Hill with the carpenter’s son, Bob Clifford. It was a dangerous run because of the speed achieved with the steep descent and limited vision. During one run, an oxcart appeared from nowhere and a crash was imminent.

James Barnes wrote: “His [Bob’s] quick thinking saved us. He grew up to be a clever contractor.”

The Mount in Lenox. Photo courtesy the Mount

Indeed, regardless of the architect, Clifford Brothers actually built many of the Berkshire cottages. James became a noted writer and editor. Among his friends and colleagues was his neighbor Edith Wharton, who also found sledding on Courthouse Hill very dramatic—t figures prominently in Wharton’s “Ethan Frome.”

The next stop along Route 7 is the Mount, built by Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton in 1902. The house and the grounds is a true insight into the architecture and the lifestyle of the 19th century.

Ventfort Hall was the summer home of Sarah Morgan, sister of JP Morgan. The beautifully restored mansion is home to the Museum of the Gilded Age.

Naumkeag in Stockbridge. Photo courtesy Trustees of Reservations

Return to Route 7 and enter Stockbridge. The Trustees of Reservations care for two national historic landmarks, the Mission House and Naumkeag: the 18th-century home of John Sergeant, and the 19th-century home of Joseph Hodges Choate. Visit both and compare how they lived.

In 1837, an advertisement appeared in the Hartford Courant for stagecoach service: “Safe pleasant and expeditious traveling … through by daylight. Leave [Hartford] at 4 o’clock a.m. and arrive in Albany at 7 ½ p.m.” The 15 ½ hours journey through the Berkshires required a place to stop, rest and change horses; therefore, the Berkshires was filled with stagecoach inns.

Main Street, Stockbridge, with Red Lion Inn. Post card circa 1900

The Red Lion Inn was one. In 1775, Silas and Anna Bingham moved to Stockbridge to open a store. Soon they added an inn and tavern. When Silas died in 1781, Anna became the first female innkeeper in the Berkshires. Anna sold the inn at auction to Silas Pepoon for $12.

Great Barrington has the largest of the Berkshire cottages: Barrington House. Built by the widow of Mark Hopkins, it is visible from the street and sometimes open to the public. W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. Although the house no longer exists, the spot is marked. Turn right off Route 7 toward Egremont and look on your right. You can end the trip there paying respect to one of the civil rights leaders of the 20th century.

Side trip: Artist’s studios

In the 19th century, the Berkshires were known as the American Lake District, home to artists and writers. Today you can still visit the homes of both.

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead. Photo courtesy Berkshire County Historical Society

On Holmes Road in Pittsfield is the home and workroom of author Herman Melville. The 18th-century home is set in extensive grounds and still has the barn where Nathaniel Hawthorne and Melville smoked a pipe and “talked of existential dreams.”

The Frelinghuysen Morris Museum is on Hawthorne Street in Lenox. Built in 1930, it is a copy of the Le Courbusier studio in Paris. Home to artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, the museum features the architecture itself and abstract art.

On Hawthorne across from the Lion’s Gate of Tanglewood is the “Little Red Shanty” where Hawthorne wrote the “House of Seven Gables.”

Also in Stockbridge is the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the seated Lincoln in Washington, D.C.

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  1. Richard Bernstein says:

    Thanks to Carole Owens for providing us with a guided tour rich in history. I have been a second home resident for almost 40 years attracted to the Berkshires for its natural beauty, rich heritage and authenticity. It dismays me when I see certain towns go off course and make improvements that dilute our strong architectural environment. Lenox for example is way off course with its renovation downtown; sidewalks, lighting, buildings that are sided and not kept up with natural materials. We should be demanding to preserve our past which will insure that future generations will stay and others will keep coming.

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