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Delight in the Historic Homes & Gardens of The Berkshires

Posted on July 07, 2022Written by Nancy Macy

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For anyone interested in architecture, interior design, significant art collections, and beautiful outdoor spaces, a visit to the historic homes and gardens of the Berkshires is a delight. 

Many of the lavish estates and gardens of the Berkshires were once country homes of some of the most notable writers, artists, and wealthy industrialists of the last century. Those that are now open to the public as museums often offer performances, exhibitions, and special events along with tours of the house and grounds. Here we offer a sampling of what you can see and do this season at some of these historic properties. 

The Mount

We begin with The Mount, home of Edith Wharton (1862-1937), author of such literary classics as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. In 1902, five years after collaborating with architect Ogden Codman on her first book, The Decoration of Houses, Wharton designed and built a spectacular estate in the heart of bucolic Lenox. In addition to tours of the elegant European-inspired mansion and gardens (we recommend the ghost tours if you dare), the 2022 season features The Mount’s summer lecture series and SculptureNow, a juried, mixed-artist show of 30 large-scale outdoor contemporary sculptures (through October 19).

Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

Also in Lenox, bordering Tanglewood, is the 46-acre estate and Bauhaus-inspired modernist home of American Abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen. On view along with their own paintings, sculptures, and frescoes is their impressive collection of original artwork by Cubist masters such as Picasso and Brancusi. Tours and woodland walks are self-guided. Friday morning painting demonstrations by visiting artists are free with admission. 

Naumkeag

For a superior example of a Gilded Age Berkshire ‘cottage,’ visit Naumkeag in Stockbridge. The 44-room, shingle-style house designed by Stanford White was built in 1884 as the summer home of diplomat and New York lawyer Joseph Choate. Landscape architect Fletcher Steele created the acres of elaborate gardens and terraces surrounding the home. Visitors can take a yoga or meditation class with views of the Housatonic River Valley, share a sunset picnic on date nights or enjoy this season’s indoor/outdoor retrospective of works by kinetic sculpture artist George Rickey (1907-2002) with a tour through the house and grounds. Visit The Trustees of Reservations website for event times and reservations.

Chesterwood

Sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) created more than 75 public works and over 100 memorials and monuments throughout his career. Many of them, such as the seated Lincoln statue in Washington, D.C., were first imagined and modeled in his studio at Chesterwood in Stockbridge. Two special exhibitions, Elemental Matters: The Sculpture of Jonathan Prince and Beth Galston’s Ice Forest, are at Chesterwood through October 24. A third, the Lincoln Centennial Celebration Exhibition featuring more than 50 artists and illustrators who have featured the iconic Lincoln Memorial in their work, is on display until September 4 at the Norman Rockwell Museum, located less than a mile north of Chesterwood on Rt. 183. Note the main house at Chesterwood is closed in 2022 for renovations. 

Additional not-to-be-missed historic Berkshire destinations include Ventfort Hall in Lenox. Built by Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan, by architects Rotch & Tilden in 1893, Ventfort is home of the Museum of the Gilded Age. The Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail meanders through 29 towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and includes W.E.B duBois’ childhood home among the 48 key sites along the way. A bit further north in Adams, the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum illustrates its namesake’s passionate work in social reformation as a feminist, suffragist, and abolitionist.  The Bidwell House Museum in Monterey represents life as it was in early New England, and includes tours, trails, and gardens to explore and enjoy.  Arrowhead, also known as the Herman Melville House, was a working Pittsfield farm built in the 1780s, and sold to Melville in 1850. Melville crafted the name Arrowhead based on the native artifacts found on the grounds. 

There is so much more to see and do! Discover more extraordinary places you can visit in the Berkshires at berkshires.org. 

Photos: The Mount, Susan Herzfeld; Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

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