Gilded Age Tour of the Berkshires
At the turn of the 19th Century, Lenox and the surrounding area was known as “the Inland Newport,” where the New York and Boston Society built “Berkshire Cottages” that rivaled the mansions of Newport. Indeed, many of these part time residents had homes in both locations – Vanderbilts, Morgans, Carnegies and more. Fortunately, preservation efforts are strong in the Berkshires and visitors (May through October) can still experience the splendor of a bygone era.
If you have group looking to explore history and preservation the Berkshires of Western MA should be included on an group itinerary you are creating.
Start your tour at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, an imposing Jacobean Revival-style mansion built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, the sister of J. P. Morgan. Designed by the architects Rotch & Tilden, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and declared an official project of “Save America’s Treasures,” a Millennium program, Ventfort Hall serves as the home of The Museum of the Gilded Age.
Free time in Lenox- Enjoy the dining and shopping in this quintessential New England town.
Less than a mile away, The Mount is both an historic site and a center for culture inspired by the passions and achievements of American author, Edith Wharton. Designed and built by Wharton in 1902. The Mount embodies the principles outlined in her influential book; The Decoration of Houses (1897). Restoration of the estate began in 1997 after years of neglect and daily tours now include the mansion, stables and gardens.
Chesterwood, is a National Trust Historic Site, located in Stockbridge and the country home, studio and gardens of America’s foremost sculptor of public monuments, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) – creator of the Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial and the Minute Man. Situated on 122 acres in the idyllic hamlet of Glendale just outside of town, the property also features gardens and an annual curated, contemporary sculpture exhibit along woodland trails.
Free time in Stockbridge-Stroll the main street of Stockbridge that inspired Norman Rockwell.
Experience Gilded Age style and splendor at Naumkeag. With its gracious house, magnificent gardens, and panoramic views, Naumkeag is a quintessential country estate of the Gilded Age. Bequeathed in its entirety in 1958 – from furniture to garden tools to its intact dairy barn – this National Historic Landmark provides a special link to Berkshires history. More than that, it is a place where you, like the Choates, can find beauty and rejuvenation in a lovely place.
Tour extender # 1 – Museums of north Berkshire. While not directly associated with “the Gilded Age,” two major museums in North Adams and Williamstown show two sides of society from that era – working class factory life and New York arts philanthropy.
Housed on a restored campus of 19th century factory buildings, MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) is located in North Adams, (right across from The Porches Inn) and is the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in North America. Recipient of many prestigious awards for the thoughtful restoration the former Sprague Electric mill, MASS MoCA preserves and reinvigorates the past by displaying the best art of our time in its century old buildings.
Free time in Williamstown- Stop for lunch and then stroll the campus of Williams College.
In 1910, Sterling Clark settled in Paris and began collecting works of art, an interest he inherited from his parents. When he married Francine Clary in 1919, she joined him in what quickly became a shared passion. Together they created a remarkable collection of paintings, silver, sculpture, porcelain, drawings, and prints with complete reliance on their own judgments and tastes. In 1950 the Clarks founded the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute as a permanent home for their collection, and the museum first opened to the public in 1955. “The Clark” has expanded over the last five decades to become the influential institution it is today.
Tour extender # 2 – Artist studios. The studio at Chesterwood is one of three artist spaces that have been preserved in the Berkshires – consider including Norman Rockwell’s studio and the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio for a slightly different experience. More info at www.berkshires.org.
Brian Butterworth is Director of Sales for The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and the Porches Inn at MASS MoCA in North Adams. He is active in the industry, and has held leadership positions in the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, New England Inns & Resorts Association and NTA.