Over the last decades of the 19th century, some of the country’s wealthiest families summered in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, a popular gilded age resort. Prominent financiers and industrialists as well as artists and writers were drawn to the fresh mountain air, natural scenic beauty, pristine valleys, hills and lakes. Several of these gilded age mansions called “cottages” have been preserved and are open to the public allowing your group to experience how these well-known socialites spent their summers.
Naumkeag, located in Stockbridge, is the estate of Joseph Choate, a leading 19th century lawyer. This 44 room “cottage” served as a summer retreat for three generations of Choates. The entire estate including furniture, artwork, and even garden tools was bequeathed to the Trustees of Reservations in 1958. Naumkeag is known for its gracious house, sweeping lawns, magnificent gardens and panoramic views of Monument Mountain. Don’t miss the famous blue steps, a series of deep blue fountain pools flanked by four flights of stairs climbing up a gentle hillside and overhung by birch trees. The gardens are undergoing a fantastic renovation and are sure to impress the gardeners in your group.
The Mount, in Lenox, is the home of author Edith Wharton. Only five percent of National Historic Landmarks are dedicated to women and the Mount is one of them. Built by Wharton in 1902, the property embodies Wharton’s spirt and includes her gracious main house and expanded terrace, historic stable, greenhouse and gatehouse and three acres of formal gardens surrounded by extensive woodlands. The Mount also houses Edith Wharton’s personal 2700 volume library replete with her personal notes, inscriptions and markings in the author’s hands. Guided group house and garden tours and private after dark ghost tours are available.
Ventfort Hall, in Lenox, is an imposing Jacobean Revival mansion with 28 rooms sitting on 11 acres built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, the sister of J.P. Morgan. In addition to house tours, Ventfort Hall is home to the Museum of the Gilded Age that interprets the great changes that occurred in American life, industry and society during the 19th century.
While you’re in the Berkshires be sure to visit the many historic homes open for group tours, including Chesterwood, the home and studio of Daniel Chester French the sculptor of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead where Melville wrote Moby Dick, the Ashley House, the Bidwell House Museum, Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, William Cullen Bryant Homestead, the Edna St. Vincent Millay home and gardens, and Frelinghuysen Morris Home and Studios.
If your bus tour is meandering into VT from the Berkshires be sure to stop at the Bennington Museum, they now have a fantastic exhibit dedicated to the Gilded Age.
Here is a comprehensive list of all historic sites, museums and gardens your group may enjoy.