Lenox native James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), was an African-American photographer whose studio portraits and other photographs document the lives of middle-class African-Americans. He gained fame for his photographs taken during the Harlem Renaissance, from 1919 through the mid-1930s.
Van Der Zee was born on Hubbard St. in Lenox on June 29, 1886. His family lived in a house that was eventually razed to make way for the construction of the by-pass. James and his five siblings enjoyed the rural small-town life in a community that showed no prejudice. Van Der Zee learned how to play the piano and violin at an early age. He attended grammar school in Lenox where he enjoyed painting and drawing. This fostered his interest in photography and he jumped at the opportunity to win a camera by selling ladies’ sachets. By the time he turned 14 Van Der Zee had left school and was working. He took a job at The Aspinwall Hotel as a waiter and with his second camera, was photographing family, friends, and wealthy summer guests staying in Lenox.
Van Der Zee had a keen eye and his photography skills quickly developed. In 1905 he left the shelter of the Berkshires and moved to New York. His career progressed in fits and starts but by 1917 he was working out of his own studio, the Guarantee Photo Studio. It was an immediate success.
Van Der Zee’s photographs taken during the Harlem Renaissance solidified his reputation as the most influential studio photographer of that time. Using his elaborate hand-painted backdrops he posed families during celebrations and bereavement, in playful and somber times. Decades later his images, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1969 photographic exhibition “Harlem on My Mind”, would reach millions of people who had never known of his life’s work.
The private school era in Lenox goes on in various forms, but the private boarding school era largely came to an end in the 1970’s. The rise and fall of the private boarding school era — and subsequent re-development – was a great example of Lenox’s ability to re-invent itself.
The prosperity of the immediate post war era presented a unique opportunity to make use of the moribund “cottages” that dotted the Lenox landscape. The expense of maintaining these white elephants, heating them and the economic and social pressures of the 1970’s brought the era to an end.
The Lenox School for Boys (1926-1971)
The Lenox School for Boys will be discussed first because there is extensive historical information available from the school’s alumni association and because it had the most influence on downtown Lenox.
It is described as “loosely affiliated” with the Episcopal Church because the driver of the school’s founding, Rev. Dr. William G. Thayer, was an Episcopal minister and one of his reasons for founding the school was to provide quality education for Episcopal families of modest means. However, religious affiliation was not a criteria for admission and, although the church made some donations, the school was not directly funded by the Episcopal Church.
Vision became reality under the coordination of Trinity Rector, Rev. Latta Griswold, who lobbied the diocese and his parishioners for contributions to purchase what was then called the Huntress Estate(from the name of the most recent owner) but is better known as Sunnycroft, home of GC Haven. It became known as Griswold Hall and would serve multiple purposes for the school until it was torn down in 1938. The school continued to use the various outbuildings of the estate as Thayer Hall, East Cottage and North Cottage.
The school eventually took on:
–Clipston Grange (called Griswold Reading Room/ Library and now a private residence) and its outbuildings used by the school as 1927
–Spring Lawn (called Schermerhorn Hall and now being developed as part of a timeshare estate) was used by the school fall 1957
-the Freylinghuysen home (called Bassett hall and now Kemble Inn) was used as a school residence in 1959 and its carriage house (now a private residence)
-the gatehouse of Ventfort Hall on Kemble St. (now a private residence) which was used by the school beginning in 1959
–Walker House (called Jones House by the school – now being developed as apartments) was the Headmaster’s Residence starting in 1968.
-The Bel Air Estate (on Walker Street…probably where Morgan Manor and private homes are found today across from Ventfort Hall) also known as the Starks House (acquired in 1965 for use by Berkshire Country Day* students; burned in 1965)
Many of the buildings were painted a uniform yellow and white and would have formed an even more noticeable presence in Lenox than than successors do today.
The school also acquired the Lanier farm (Lithgow Estate) on Old Stockbridge Road (1937) and much of the remaining property of Cortland Field Bishop after his death in 1935. Bishop had purchased the 20 acre Lanier Farm which dated from the 1850’s had ceased any active farming and was purchased by Mr. Bishop at Mr. Lanier’s death in 1925. The Lanier’s had lived across the Old Stockbridge Road in the Allen Winden Estate. In the 1960’s the school purchased the Lithgow estate (dating from the 1790’s on Old Stockbridge Road).
Some of the outbuildings of the various estates were used by the school and stand in disrepair today.
Some of the land acquired was used by the school to build new facilities such as Saint Martins Hall in 1938, Lawrence Hall in 1964, the hockey rink (1964) as well as various other sports and classroom facilities repurposed on the estates combined to form a campus.
The school had expanded in the 1960’s at just the time when the desire for private schools was going down and interest rates were going up. The school closed in 1971 touching off a scramble to make intelligent use of the buildings left behind. An organization called Bible Speaks took over much of the campus from 1976 to 1987. After numerous other attempts at development the “new” buildings constructed for the school were bought in 1999 by Shakespeare and Co. which has succeeded in re-purposing some of the buildings for its popular theatrical performances. The fate of the remaining buildings remains in doubt.
*Berkshire Country Day shared facilities and faculty with Lenox School for Boys until 1963 when it moved to Brook Farm (below today’s Kripalu on West St.) where it still operates today.
The Windsor Mountain School (1944-1975)
The progressive Windsor Mountain School targeted a different educational segment. It prided itself on open education and diversity. Discussed in detail elsewhere, it had its own challenges but basically succumbed to the same triple threat as The Lenox School for Boys: declining enrollment, rising costs and over expansion.
Today Groton Place, the former Winthrop estate, is used as a summer music school for high school students. It is run by Boston University (BUTI or Boston University Tanglewood Institute).
Overlee was a private school for a brief period before becoming the Hillcrest Educational Center which it is today. More information on the prior educational institution is being sought.
Foxhollow School for Girls (1939-1976)
Foxhollow had its origins in an earlier school in New York. In 1939, Miss Farrell moved the school to Holmwood, the former seasonal home of Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt. . As the enrollment expanded, the school bought the adjoining estate of Edith Wharton, The Mount.
We have no information on the specific reasons for the closure of Foxhollow. It is likely they suffered the same cost/enrollment squeeze as the other schools discussed.
Much of the grounds of Holmwood (which used to be Erskine Park – the home of George Westinghouse) have been built up with condominiums. The main building was Enlighten Next for some time and is currently for sale. The Mount was used by the school until 1976. Starting in 1978, Shakespeare and Co. performed at The Mount and continued for several years after the buildings were taken over by Edith Wharton Restoration in 1980. Today The Mount is a major tourist draw as a historic house museum.
The Cranwell School (1939-1975)
In 1939 Edward Cranwell gifted the property to the Society of Jesus of New England. With that donation and several other private donations it became
a preparatory school encompassing today’s Cranwell and Coldbrook.
Again, specifics on the reason for closure in 1975 have not been found but are likely similar to that of the other private schools.
Coldbrook became condominiums and Cranwell became a resort and spa affiliated with Fairwynds Condominiums.
Immaculate Heart of St. Mary’s/ Our Lady of Mercy Seminary/ Bellefontaine (1946-1972)
One of the grandest of the “cottages” Bellefontaine was completed in 1898 by Giraud Foster. His son inherited the property in 1945 and sold it in 1946 to various parties. Mr. Cook bought the main house, ninety-six acres of land, the gate-house, the stables, and a green-house for a summer estate. He turned them over to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in 1947. In 1949 much of the main building burned. The library survived and remains today as a reminder of the splendor of the original estate. The owners, the Fathers of Mercy, rebuilt and in 1960, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, acquired Bellefontaine from the Mercy Fathers and they continue to utilize the buildings as a minor seminary for young men interested in the Priesthood and Brotherhood.
In 1972 the Mercy Fathers presumably ran into the same cost problems as the other secular private schools. In addition the 1970’s saw the beginning of declining interest in entering the priesthood.
Today Bellefontaine has been resurrected as a nationally known spa, Canyon Ranch and is soon to add a condominiums complex.
The current beautiful Church on the Hill building was dedicated in 1806, replacing an earlier meeting house. In 1906 a centennial celebration was held and the Hon. Francis W. Rockwell described the men who had been members of the congregation up to 1806.
Early Members Recognized in Dedication Centennial
At the time of the dedication of the new building in 1806 there had been 205 members, 89 men. Many of them were active in early town business and records suggest 61 of the early members were living in 1806. Nineteen or more were in Lenox in 1774 and signed the Non-Importation Agreement. At least 15 served in the militia active in the defense of Boston and the Battle of Saratoga. The initial members and the information available on them(from Centennial Anniversary of the Dedication of the Old Church on the Hill) in the Church Centennial history follow. The tidbits of information paint a picture of a patriotic, peripatetic and ambitious town founders.
Gordon Hollister* lived in the northwest part of town.
Deacon Gordon Hollister, Jr. lived on Stock Street and married a daughter of Enos Stone.
Enoch Hoskins (Haskins) was also a soldier.
Zadock Hubbard owned part of Bartlett Farm (East St.) and built the rear of the house about 1800.
Deacon Nathan Isbell lived in the East St. house built in 1798 by his father as of Noah’s death in 1801. He furnished a room in the second story called “the lecture room,” which was used for neighborhood prayer meetings.
Noah Isbell, came from Salisbury CT in 1770 and was an ancestor of Deacon Isbell. He lived on the corner of what is now East and Housatonic Streets on land owned in 1906 by F. Augustus Schmerhorn. Noah first built a log house and in 1798 built the house where Samuel Howes lived at one time. At the time of its construction, it was one of the largest and best houses on East. St.
John Ives lived on the road from the meeting house to Rev. Samuel Munson’s (modern day Main St.? modern day Cliffwood?)
Uriah Judd came from Pittsfield and was the grandfather of George U. Judd.
Daniel Keeler* came from Ridgefield, CT in 1773, lived on East Street and moved to Manlius, NY in about 1790.
Lot Keeler and his wife are noted as dismissed in 1795; not record of their admission.
Olin Landers was admitted in 1786.
Thomas Landers* was one of the first settlers coming from Kent, CT to Stockbridge. He was a short time in the army and lived near Lenox Dale. (described in 1906 as south of the Sedgwick School House?)
Josiah Lee, whose daughter married Major General John Patterson*, came from New Britain, CT and later moved to New York state.
Dr. Eldad Lewis, a surgeon in the army, was in Lenox by 1776. He published the first Lenox newspaper (“The Lenox Watch Light,”), drew the earliest map we have of Lenox (1792), gave a eulogy on Washington in 1800 (he was a strong federalist), and wrote a hymn for the new church building dedication. He lived on Cliffwood St.
Andrew Loomis lived on the Shattuck property on the old road which ran westerly.
William Lusk came from Wethersfield in 1767 to Richmond and Stockbridge.
Edward Martindale lived in the northwest part of town.
Deacon Charles Mattoon* came from Waterbury, CT in 1768 and served in the Revolutionary war.
Joseph Merwin, in 1775, sold 25 acres in lot 18 in the 2nd division to Stephen Merwin.
Peter B. Messenger was admitted to the church in 1786.
Allen Metcalf lived on Bartlett Farm (East St.) and built the front part of the Bartlett House. He had “The Coffee House” for a time
Josiah Newell lived on the Bourne Farm.
Abraham Northrup* died in 1798.
Job Northrup lived near Scott’s Pond.
David Osborn was a clockmaker and lived in the village.
Rev. Jeremiah Osborn was pastor in the states of New York and Ohio from 1806 to 1839.
Josiah Osborn was, in 1807, associated with the James Porter & Co. saw mill on the Housatonic River in Lee.
Elisha Perkins sold land in Stockbridge in 1779.
Eldad Post came to Lenox in 1803. A prominent man, he was the father of the Hon. Thomas Post.
James Richards* was in Lenox as early as 1764 (and is noted as living in the village), was buried in his farm (smallpox) in 1777. He is also described as living on the road west of Cliffwood St.
John Robinson was first at Stockbridge, then in Lenox living near the Furnace.
Thomas Rockwell, son-in-law of John Whitlock, bought John Whitlock’s coffee house in 1790 and sold it in 1793. He first settled on what, in 1906, was known as the Bartlett Farm on East St.
Joseph Rogers had two acres on East Street next to Philip Sears and Titus Parker* above Yokun Brook.
Issac Sears, born about 1765 lived on East Street and bought the hotel property from Enos Blossom in 1799 and sold it in 1802. His wife died in Lenox in 1799.
Issac Smith lived in a northeast part of Stockbridge that came over the Lenox line.
Jonathan Smith and his wife Rebecca were admitted by letter from Ashfield in 1799. They are marked as dismissed in 1811 to join certain members of the church at Lee who were about to remove to Ohio. (Another Jonathan Smith is shown as admitted in 1803; both are recorded as dismissed in 1811.)
Amos Stanley* came from West Hartford, CT about 1765, was an ancestor of John and Orrilla Stanley, was one of the first selectmen, was a deacon in the church as of 1785 and died in 1811.
Thomas Steel* came to Lenox about 1767 and settled near Jacob Bacon.
Enos Stone was born in Litchfield, CT and is thought to have come to Lenox as early as 1770. He was a captain in the 12th Mass. Regiment in the Revolutionary War and was captured and imprisoned in Hubbardton, VT in January 1777. He had land in Brighton (now Rochester) NY, his son Enos Stone being one of the pioneers there. He kept his residence in Lenox (on Stockbridge Street) until the spring of 1815 when he moved to Rochester and died there that year. His daughter Mary married Deacon Gordon Hollister, Jr.
Deacon John Stoughton, Jr. (known as “Deacon” before coming to Lenox) came to Lenox about 1779 and moved to Troy, NY where he died. He owned a farm on Bourne Road and was magistrate in Lenox.
Jonathan Taylor lived, in 1802, on the north line of Stockbridge (described in 1906 as south of Depot Road)..
Abidjah Tomlin lived in Lee near the Lenox line near what is described in 1906 as below the Porter corner as well as Moses Way.
Thomas Tracey* was first a member of the church at Pittsfield. A soldier of the Revolution, he died of small pox contracted in the service and was buried at his farm in 1776.
Timothy Treat lived in the northwest part of the town.
Deacon James Wadsworth lived, at one time, in the village where Henry Sedgwick lived at the time of the Centennial celebration.
William Walker was a Revolutionary war veteran, Judge of Probate in Berkshire County until he resigned in 1840 and his son William P. Walker assumed the post. He was an investor in Lenox Furnace and other important commercial ventures.
Moses Way (with Abner Way) sold 40 acres in the Hopkins Grant to Timothy Way* in 1786.
Stephen Wells lived in the village.
Deacon Stephen Wells, Jr. was a partner of Rudolphos Colton, a cabinet maker and lived in the village.
Daniel West was a tanner who lived near the Congregational parsonage.
Rev. Elisha Yale, D.D. was born in Lee in 1780 and joined the church October 20, 1799 He died in 1853 and was the pastor an Kingsborough, NY for more than 48 years.
By 1818 the Lenox Anglican community had finally amassed the funds to complete its first church. It was in the center of the village at 33 Church Street.
It was consecrated Sept. 7, 1818 by Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold. The bishop was a nephew of the first Anglican priest to visit Lenox, Roger Viets (probably 1763).
The white wooden church was described as Gothic Revival or Carpenter Gothic. The stylistic indicators include the window shape and the steeple parapets. This may have been an early example of the style common in New England in the 1830-1850 period.
In 1873 a new chancel and transepts were added.
When the new Trinity Church was built at Walker and Kemble, the old church building was purchased by parishioner L.C. Peters and stands (without its spire) on Church St. today.
Trinity became the legal name of the congregation in 1918 but there is reference to “Trinity Church” in the 1819 vestry records.
The Episcopalian Church in Lenox Struggled in Mid 19th Century
The consecration must have had some interesting interpersonal chemistry since the rector at the time, Samuel Griswold was the brother of Bishop Griswold and was dismissed ten days later!
After Rev. Griswold’s departure, only one dedicated Lenox rector for (1840-1844-Rev. George Waters) is listed in John Allen Gable’s history. For the rest of the time, services were shared with other parishes and revenue was supplemented by the missionary society.
In 1832 only 18 adult members were listed. and by 1850 services were only held occasionally. The absence of a regular rector certainly contributed to the fall off in membership but undoubtedly was not the only factor. During the first half of the 19th century, new Episcopal parishes proliferated. Ironically, they included (Pittsfield, Stockbridge, Otis and others) towns that had spun off from early worship in Lenox. At that time the pulpit at Church on the Hill was manned by the very popular Rev. Shephard. Also, it was the era of revivals and new sects to the area — including the addition of a Methodist church that was established down the street on the now aptly named Church St.
As with many churches then and now, the flame was kept burning by a few dedicated volunteers. One, Debby Hewes Quincy, is singled out with a plaque in the current Trinity Church.
Several other factors contributed to turning things around for the little Trinity congregation. Bishop Manton Eastburn wanted a strong priest in Lenox to turn back the tide of Unitarianism. Also, train service was now available and the early generation of wealthy summer visitors (frequently Episcopalians from New York) had started to arrive. Finally, a popular priest, Thomas Pynchon led the congregation from 1850-1854. A quote from Charles Palmer’s early history of Trinity paints a picture of his interaction with a particularly demanding visitor:
“As he went out of the church he (Mr. Pynchon)saw a figure seated on the steps. It arose as he approached, and shaking a forefinger at him said in a very deep and impressive voice: ‘Your music is execrable, execrable! If you will have the organ sent to Pittsfield for repairs and tuning, I will pay for it.’ The seated figure was Miss Fanny Kemble. She became a regular attendant at the services, a liberal contributor, and a warm personal friend of Mr. Pynchon.”
Despite the popularity of Mr. Pynchon and several other well thought of but short term priests (Rev. William Henry Brooks, Rev. Henry Albert Yardley), the Lenox continued to struggle and Lenox again required missionary aid.
Leadership of Rev. Justin Field
The full potential of the resident and visiting Anglican congregation was achieved under the leadership of the long-serving Rev. Justin Field who was rector 1862-1890.
Construction of New Trinity Church, Rectory and Chapel
The first official mention of a new church building is found in 1882. The building effort was led by architect, philanthropist and church warden Colonel Richard Tylden Auchmuty.
The church purchased the triangle formed by Kemble and Walker (known as Lyman’s corner – for – according to maps of the time – the location of the Lyman’s residence/ store).
The building committee hired McKim, Mead and White and, like any other self respecting church committee proceeded to dabble. Five designs later the very handsome result reflect some McKim, some Auchmuty and some Renwick (a friend and associate of Auchmuty’s).
The cornerstone was laid September 8, 1885 by former President Chester A. Arthur. Arthur’s Secretary of State, Theodore Frelinghuysen from New Jersey had built the lovely Georgian “cottage” across the street in 1881. A plaque honoring the 21st President stands in Trinity today.
The new church was consecrated June 19, 1888 and was filled with Tiffany windows and other elaborate furnishings donated by a who’s who of wealthy summer visitors.
The church interior as of 2016 reflects substantial additional decoration and re-staining in the 1920’s
Undeterred by having spent three times their budget on the church, the parishioners proceeded to construct a handsome rectory in 1892 and a chapel in 1896.
At last the wealthy visitors had a place of worship consistent with their gilded age “cottages.”
Originally called the Union Chapel, the New Lenox Episcopal Church was completed in 1893. Later called St. Helena’s, it was donated by John E. Parsons in honor of his daughter, Helen Reed Parsons.
Mr. Rathbun is referenced as the architect in a Pittsfield Sun article. Mr. Rathbun was also thought to be the architect of the Church on the Hill Chapel on Main St.
In the then thinly settled New Lenox, the chapel’s use was highly ecumenical with Rev. Grosvenor conducting services two Sundays a month, the Methodists on another and the Baptists on a fourth.
St. Helena’s remained a part of Trinity Church until 1980 when it was established as a separate parish. The two churches have just completed an agreement (2016) to share services.
Trinity Rectors 1801-1895
Samuel Griswold (1801-1818)
(1819-1820 – Rev. George Thomas Chapman served Lenox, Lanesborough and Great Barrington)
Aaron Humphrey (1820-1825)-one Sunday a month, the rest of the time in Lanesborough
Benjamin C.C. Parker (1826-1832) – also Otis
Samuel P. Parker (1834-1836) – also Stockbridge
(1836 Rev. Mr. Walcott of Stockbridge conducted services in Lenox)
George Waters (1840-1844)
(1845 Rev. George Thomas Chapman – again conducted some services in Lenox)
Samuel T. Carpenter (1846-1847)-of Van Deusenville – one Sunday a month in Lenox
F.A. Foxcraft (1848-1849) – of Van Deusenville – conducted some services in Lenox
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon (1850-1854)
William Henry Brooks (1855-1856)
Samuel P. Parker (1857-1859) – also Stockbridge
Jesse A. Penman (1859-1861) Samuel Parker’s assistant
Henry A. Yardley (1861-1862)
Justin Field (1862-1890)
William Mercer Grosvenor (1890-1895)
Sources of Information
History of Trinity Church, Lenox, Massachusetts, 1763-1895 by Rev. Charles J. Palmer, John Wilson and Sons University Press, Cambridge, 1895
The Goodness That Doth Crown Our Days, A History of Trinity Parish by John Allen Gable, Lamb Printing, North Adams, MA, 1993
The water power of the Housatonic had already been put to work in Lenox Furnace to drive a sawmill, gristmill, fulling mill and iron works. In addition to water power, the nearby countryside also contained high quality raw materials that made glass manufacture a natural next step.
At one time, the Berkshires were ocean front property and – to make a long geological story short – high quality sand was buried and scrubbed in the North Berkshires. As early as 1812, high-quality sand from Cheshire was sent to Boston for glass manufacture. High quality silica was also found near October Mountain.
To this rich mixture, rail transportation and increased money capital could be added by the 1840’s. All the ingredients were in place for glass making in the Berkshires.
In the History of Lenox Furnace and Lenox Dale, Jan Chaque describes the elaborate glass making process and the vagaries of glass making in Lenox Dale. The Lenox Glass Works officially began in 1853, burned in 1854, rebuilt and continued making window glass until 1855. This proved unprofitable – perhaps somewhat of a commodity by this time.
James N. Richmond, who had developed a process in Cheshire for making plate glass, leased the glass works and organized the National Plate Glass company to make rolled glass. This too failed and in 1858 the Lenox Iron Works again took on manufacturing until destroyed again by fire in 1862. It became an independent entity, the Lenox Glass Company and relocated in 1869 to land north of the depot. The new glass works claimed to be – at 600 feet by 100 feet, the largest building in the world and sat next to a Gas Works to heat the ovens. The facility made rough plate glass used used for translucent floors, roofs and tables.
Down the street (where St. Vincent DePaul stands today) the Lenox Crystal Company was built for the more complex manufacturing of fine plate window glass. This too failed but was temporarily rescued by an infusion of capital by the James Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (father of the later to be President Theodore Roosevelt).
Young Theodore visited Lenox with his father, stayed at the Curtis and would return later when campaigning for a fateful accident on the road from Pittsfield.
But, like iron making, glass making was not last in the Berkshires and the Lenox Crystal Company closed in 1872. Why? Shipping charges were high. The cost of shipping from the Berkshires to New York was said to be as much as shipping from Belgium to New York. Also natural gas found in Pennsylvania had proved less expensive than any power source available in New England.
Although other manufacturing businesses would be initiated in Lenox Furnace, none would be of the scale of the iron or glass industries.
History of Lenox Furnace and Lenox Dale, Jan Chaque, published by the Lenox Historical Society
Unpublished manuscript of George Tucker, Lenox Historical Society
Lenox Massachusetts Shire Town, by David Wood, published by the Town of Lenox 1969
The Berkshire Glass Works, William J. Patriquin & Julie L. Sloan, The History Press, 2011
Today (2016), St. Ann’s is the largest church in Lenox. But Catholic settlers were few and far between in the early days. John Grace who bought land in north Lenox in 1783 is noted as a Catholic. It’s not clear how we know that but perhaps it is because he applied for exemption from the requirement to pay tax (required in those days) toward support of the Congregational church.
An early Catholic of some notoriety, Patrick Plunkett, worked as gardener for the important town founder and county judge, William Walker. He came to Lenox in 1794 when it was experiencing one of its early building booms. As many immigrants who came later would do, he rapidly moved from personal service to the wealthy to being a contractor. He and his wife Mary Robinson Plunkett provided a launch point for other Irish immigrants who started coming to Lenox and his descendants became major manufacturers in Pittsfield, Adams and Lee. There were no nearby Catholic churches and the Plunkers and other loyal Catholics went to Albany or Hudson for religious services. He bought Levi Glezen’s home in 1830 and died in 1839.
The pace of Irish immigration picked up through the 1840’s – both because of conditions in Ireland and because of work opportunities in Lenox. The Housatonic River drove sawmills and iron furnaces and ore had been discovered under Lenox and Richmond. Servants were needed to take care of the visitors to Lenox courts (now the county seat) as well as laborers to staff the mills and mines.
Growth in the Catholic Population
By 1846 there were 12 or more Catholic families in town and they convinced Father Brady of Cabotsville (Chicopee) to come to Lenox to say Mass. Services were held in the home of William Gorman who lived on what is now Housatonic Street (near Orbed Road). Father Brady or Father O’Cavannagh (from Pittsfield) continued to visit and hold Mass in Gorman’s home or in the home of his daughter Bridget Gorman Mahanna.
On the Sundays when no priest came to Lenox, the Catholic flock went to Lee, Great Barrington or other towns where Mass was being said.
Father Cuddihy organized Lenox as a mission for Pittsfield in 1852 and said Mass as frequently as he could in Mrs. Mahanna’s home, the Academy building, or the town hall (old courthouse).
By 1856, services got closer with Lee being made a parish with Lenox now a mission for Lee. From that time, Lenox Catholics worshiped once a month in Lenox at the town hall. In 1864, Father Brennan, the Lee priest, started holding Sunday School in the town hall. Wealthy convert Grace Sedgwick had already started conducting catechism classes in her home.
A Church for Lenox
The first step toward having a Lenox domicile – even if still a mission of Lee rather than its own parish – was to purchase property. With the assistance of Miss Sedgwick, Father Brennan purchased property on Walker that was later exchanged for the current Main St. property.
Through the generosity of the town’s Catholics and others, Lenox finally had its own Catholic church in 1870.
In 1885, the northern part of town was annexed to the parish of Lenox so St. Ann’s now covered the entire town.
In 1891 St. Ann’s became a parish with Father William J. Dower as the first resident pastor. Father Dower was active in town activities and fund raising for the parish.
Near the Gorman cottage where early services had been held, a large tract was purchased from the Washburn estate in 1888. William Mahanna, Bridget’s grandson, assisted in obtaining the property and having it set up as a cemetery.
New Building to Accommodate Growing Parish
By 1903 the congregation had grown to 1100 (1500 in summer). The next priest, Father William F. Grace went to work on a church at Lenoxdale. St. Vincent de Paul was dedicated in 1904 and became an independent parish in 1912.
In 1907 the frontage of the St. Ann Main St. location was expanded by purchasing the Willows, a summer rental property.
In 1912 Father Grace started using the Willows as a rectory. (Later the property at 134 Main became the rectory).
On August 26 that same year, the new St. Ann’s, standing today, was completed.
The Countess de Heredia died in 1946 and in 1947 the magnificent mansion, Wheatleigh, that her father constructed in 1895 plus 25 acres was sold to the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a dorm for Tanglewood students. A New York couple, Stephanie and Philip Barber bought what remained of the rest of the estate–outbuildings and about 100 acres — in 1950. The outbuildings were extensive: a barn, carriage house, ice house, potting shed, greenhouse, stables – and more.
Philip was a public relations executive. Stephanie (his fourth wife) had been a fashion journalist before joining Barber and Barr. She stayed at the inn and organized all the day to day operations while her husband commuted from New York on weekends.
They had friends such as poet Langston Hughes and folk singer Alan Lomax. They had decided to refit the space as an inn to accommodate 65 guests. They also had decided they wanted the property to focus on music making and music study.
Audacity of Their Concept in 1950
It’s easy to forget how conformist and conservative Western Massachusetts — and most of the US — would have been at that time. Integration and diversity were concepts of the future– particularly in Lenox at the time. Also Tanglewood was doing fine just down the road limited (at the time) to classical music by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and appropriately sedate audiences. Tanglewood still had a dress code at the time Woman who had neglected to wear skirts were given wraps to cover their shorts or slacks. It was a time when Pete Seeger was turned away from performance venues because he was suspected of being a communist, Jews could not find lodging in the Berkshires, and people of color — forget about it (see Festival House).
In contrast the Barbers, close to the New York world of modern artists wanted to bring jazz and folk music to their venue.
As early as the summer of 1950, the Barbers arranged music symposia at their Inn. Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger performed. Marshall Sterns lead discussions and weeks followed of calypso, African drumming and ragtime.
It is important to clarify that the Music Inn was an umbrella name that covered – between 1950 – 1979 – an inn, a performance venue (sometimes called the Music Barn) and the Lenox School of Jazz. Often the students attending the music symposia and later the School of Jazz or the musicians stayed at the inn and at various points some of the buildings were joined in some way.
The attraction of the artists (many famous now but little known at the time) performances and discussions contributed to the growth. In 1954 they dubbed a three week music season a “jazz festival.” Although a jazz festival seems commonplace today, it wasn’t at the time; 1954 was also the first Newport Jazz Festival.
By 1955 interest had grown and the Barbers converted a barn into and indoor/outdoor space seating 750 (later to be expanded to 900) and expanded their season to five weeks. They called the new venue the Music Barn and readily attracted famous jazz and folk musicians who were often limited otherwise to small club audiences.
In 1956 Louis Armstrong played the opening night at the Music Barn to an overflow crown of over 1,000. He was one of many jazz and folk greats who played at the Music Barn — beautifully described in Jeremy Yudkin’s book The Lenox School of Jazz. Consistent with the Music Inn’s beginnings, performances were accompanied by lectures and symposia. The Modern Jazz Quartet was in residence for the season.
The Lenox School of Jazz and More Expansion
In 1957 the Barbers expanded their operation to include a separate not-for profit to teach and foster the study of jazz. They selected 34 students to study, practice, perform and compose for the summer under the directorship of John Lewis.
The appearances of jazz greats continued along with the introduction of another revenue option – dinner at the Potting Shed set up to seat about 60 indoors and 60 outside.
The same year the Barbers bought the Wheatleigh mansion from the Boston Symphony and offered more luxurious quarters for 50.
In 1959 the Dave Brubeck Quartet also took up seasonal residency.
Too Much Popularity?
In July 1959 the Kingston Trio performed. They had recently hit the charts with “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley,” and “M.T.A” (if this means nothing to you – ask your grandparents).
To all appearances, things had never been better. The Newport Jazz Festival was still only four days; the Jazz Festival at the Music Inn lasted for several weeks and there were 27 events at the Music Inn from June to September. In addition , the Potting Shed now offered live music throughout the season. Courses conducted by Marshall Sterns and others for the general public continued and the reputation of the Lenox School of Jazz grew.
However, the operation that the redoubtable Stephanie had taken on had become huge — accommodating 150 guests, 125 aces of property to be maintained, major touring groups coming to the Music Inn for performances to 1,000 or more, the Potting Shed restaurant and entertainment – and the now world famous Lenox School of Jazz.
Welcome to the 1960’s
Financial pressure meant the Barbers had to sell all but the Wheatleigh mansion to local entrepreneur Don Soviero. They planned to continue the Lenox School of Jazz at the mansion. However they almost cancelled the 1960 session as of July for shortage of funds. Fortunately, Mike Bakwin, owner of the Avaloch (now Apple Tree Inn) chipped in enough to keep them going for one more year.
Soviero focused on leveraging the success of the performance venue. He expanded the capacity to include loudspeakers to the lawn for crowds of 5,000-6,000. The repertoire still included jazz performers but moved more and more to popular folk
performers. The popularity of the venue lead to some neighborhood complaints about parking and noise but these issues were largely resolved and it remained a destination for young people.
However, by the ’70’s other venues had started to offer popular music (including Tanglewood – right next door).
The era of flower power was coming to an end and the ’70’s in the Berkshires, as well as many other areas, spelled the end of good manufacturing jobs.
Soviero went bankrupt in 1967 and the new owners opened shops, movie theatre and continuous live music as well as marquee performers such as Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, the Kinks, and Tina Turner.
As the size and noise of the crowds grew, neighborhood complaints grew. Locals claimed audiences were as large as 15,000.
Matters came to a head at an Allman Brothers concert in 1979. Concert goers stormed the gate and were clubbed by security forces . By the end of the ’70’s the youthful charm of the Music Inn had pretty well ended. It remains a fond memory for many Berkshire County residents.
Stephanie and Philip had continued to run Wheatleigh as an inn. They separated in 1972. Eventually the mansion was sold, significantly upgraded and now operates as a luxury hotel and restaurant. The outbuildings that had been the scene of so much music and magic became the White Pines condominiums.
Despite the dark days of the Depression, conductor-composer Henry Hadley worked with Gertrude Robinson Smith and others to put together the first Berkshire Symphonic Music Festival in August 1934. The three performances – August 23, 25, and 26 attracted about 5,000 including Sara Delano Roosevelt – the President’s mother.
Held in the open, reviews included comments such as “Provision for everything has been made except, possibly, for the distant but luckless chauffeur who fell on his F sharp horn during a passage in D flat major.”* Certainly the atmosphere was more lighthearted than the usual indoor winter symphony performance. Overall reviews were good and Gertrude Robinson incorporated the Berkshire Symphonic Music Festival in the fall of 1934.
In 1935 the three day festival was again held at the Hanna farm. The performance included a larger orchestra and a local chorus of 300. Although it provided scant shelter, the second year included a large tent.
Serge Koussevitzky and Holmwood
Henry Hadley was too ill to continue and the Festival trustees sought a more permanent solution. They had the good fortune to perform a bond with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and their “hot” new conductor, Serge Koussevitzky.
The third summer the performance was held at Holmwood (home of Margaret Emerson ). The famous orchestra and conductor drew an even bigger crowd – the attendance at the three performances was nearly 15,000.
Koussevitzky was lobbying for a longer (six concerts over two weeks) schedule when the group received a remarkable gift.
The Move to Tanglewood
In 1936 Mrs. Gorham Brooks and Mary Aspinwall Tappan donated their summer home, Tanglewood to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The home, outbuildings and 200 acres of lawn, trees and garden overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl provided a permanent home in a beautiful setting for the Berkshire Symphonic Festival.
The Famous Rain Storm
For the summer of 1937 Koussevitzky had expanded the schedule to six performances over between August 5 and August 15.
One of the performances, on August 12, included a downpour so severe that it interrupted – in a moment of perfect dramatic timing – Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,”
The “Boston Globe” reported that “Gertrude Robinson Smith strode purposefully to the stage when the concert stopped and addressed the record crowd of 5,000, haranguing: “Now do you see why we must have a permanent building for these concerts?’’ In minutes, more than $30,000 was raised.” Later the sum would expand to $80,000*
Koussevitzky declared that he wold never again undertake a festival season at Stockbridge with only a tent between his orchestra and disaster.*
The planning began with Eliel Saarinen, the Finnish architect and friend of Sibelius. He proposed a design that proved both too elaborate and too costly. His second, simplified plans were still too expensive; he finally wrote that if the Trustees insisted on remaining within their budget, they would end up with “just a shed.” The Trustees then turned to Stockbridge engineer Joseph Franz. The building he erected was inaugurated on August 4, 1938,
The six 1938 concerts drew 38,000 from all over the country and abroad. The Festival had come of age in four short years with a Western Union Tanglewood telegraph office on the grounds to handle the copy of the numerous newspaper and magazine writers in attendance and a national broadcasting hookup.
Koussevitzky kicked off the new venue with the Bach cantata built around “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” (another moment of drama!)
From the beginning the Festival had set out to expand the reach of classical music beyond the confines of wealthy winter city dwellers. Educating and developing musical talent was an early goal. The informality of the shed and the expansive acerage contributed to this desired spirit of accessibility.
*The Tale of Tanglewood (59-61) describes the result: “in the summer of 1939 there would be found tents in which enterprising members of the orchestra were camping out, chopping wood, cooking their meals…..”
Although it’s been a long time since anyone has seen a tent on the lawn, the effort to be open and democratic continues. Performances are staffed with volunteers and audiences can still get inexpensive lawn tickets and picnic under the stars (or an umbrella if necessary!).
In 1940 the school of music – the Music Center – held its first session with approximately 300 students and the Festival was expanded from six performances over two weeks to nine performances over three weeks. By 1941 attendance had grown to about 95,000.
As the Festival grew to national proportions touched off a rash of renting out rooms and starting up “Tourist Homes” and shops. The peaceful village filled with motor cars and must have touched off all the mixed feelings Lenox experiences today — cheering the business brought in by summer visitors but whining about the traffic.
The War Years
By 1941, the Theatre-Concert Hall, the Chamber Music Hall, and several small studios were finished, and the festival was attracting nearly 100,000 visitors annually. “Gala Benefits” were added that year to raise funds for war-related causes. The benefits included music and famous speakers (including Eleanor Roosevelt).
War conditions forced cancellation of the 1942-1945 full Festival schedule. However the Music Center students performed in 1942 with benefits for Treasury War bonds and Russian relief. With the assistance of some members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Koussevitzky led a Mozart series at the Tanglewood Theatre Concert Hall in 1944 and a Mozart-Bach series at in 1945.
The Festival returned in 1946 with the full Boston Symphony Orchestra and a nine concert schedule.
Growth and Upgrades
In 1959 installation of the Edmund Hawes Talbot Orchestra Canopy, along with other improvements, produced the Shed’s present world-famous acoustics. For its fiftieth anniversary in 1988, the Shed was rededicated as “The Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed.”
Continued musical excellence plus the end of rationing, the post war boom and the completion of the Mass Pike all contributed to growing audiences. Audiences and tourism to the Berkshires continued to expand in the 1950’s and 1960’s
The 1986 addition of the adjacent Highwood estate expanded Tanglewood’s public grounds by 40 percent. The newly acquired property
became the site for a new concert hall to replace the outmoded Theatre-Concert Hall and for improved
Tanglewood Music Center facilities. Inaugurated on July 7, 1994, Seiji Ozawa Hall provides a new venue for Tanglewood Music Center concerts, and for varied recital and chamber music concerts.
Today Tanglewood annually draws over 350,000 visitors and continues to provide education and inspiration for young musicians.
*The Tale of Tanglewood, Scene of the Berkshire Music Festivals, by M.A. DeWolfe Howe, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1946
Today the Tanglewood Music Festival attracts 350,000 visitors a year. Although it is on the border with Stockbridge, it is a major contributor to the Lenox tourist industry as well as a great delight to those of us who live here.
In 1934 – a difficult time – the whole county chipped in to launch the predecessor of the Tanglewood Music Festival — the Berkshire Symphonic Festival. They were inspired by a handful of determined people.
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953)
In 1918, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge put her considerable funds and determination to work to produce the first Berkshire Chamber Music Festival at South Mountain, just over the town line in Pittsfield. She attracted renowned composers and performers. The Berkshire’s reputation as a beautiful place to perform and listen to music had begun. Clearly she had local cachet as the committee trying to get the Berkshire Symphony Music Festival going named her honorary president.
Henry Hadley (1871-1937)
Hadley was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, to a musical family and trained in Europe a for what would become a successful career as a conductor and composer. He conducted in Seattle, San Francisco in New York. The symphony he had been conducting in New York ran into fundraising difficulty with the stock market crash, and he moved to other conducting work abroad. It’s not clear when he visited the Berkshires but he had, for a number of years, a dream of putting on a classical summer music festival under the stars. In spire of a cancer diagnosis in 1932, he decided to pursue his dream in the Berkshires. Fortunately he was directed to Stockbridge’s Gertrude Robinson Smith.
Henry not only worked with Gertrude and her committee to select the site but gathered 65 musicians from the New York Philharmonic and conducted the first concert at Hanna’s farm August 23, 1934 and again in 1935. In 1935 he included performers from other orchestras and expanded the orchestra size to 85.
He remained involved in the success of the Festival’s remarkable first three years despite health problems but succumbed to cancer in 1937.
Gertrude Robinson Smith (1881 – 1963)
Gertrude Robinson Smith was born to a wealthy New York family. Her father was a corporate lawyer and director of Allied Chemical. Her mother had been largely raised in Paris and Gertrude split her childhood between New York and Paris. When World War I broke out, the family purchased a property in the Glendale section of Stockbridge (that would be on Rt. 183 as you pass Chesterwood) and started spending summers in the Berkshires. Gertrude would go on to build (literally wearing a tool belt build) with her friend Miriam Oliver and some local help her own house on the property in the 1920’s.
During World War I, she and her friend, writer Edith Wharton, organized medical supplies for France, even traveling to the country in a blacked-out ship and flying over the front lines. Smith was made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for her efforts. So the girl had some skills that set her up well to make the Berkshire Music Festival happen.
She had the magical combination of a cultured background, a CEO- like personality, money and connections….and beginning in 1934 she focused her considerable energy and skill on establishing a permanent summer music festival in the Berkshires.
She worked with Mrs. Owen Johnson (Stockbridge) and Mrs. William Fulton of Great Barrington to launch meetings across the Berkshires. Everybody was to be involved. They met with a representative for the festival in each of the 200 towns and planned choral training over the winter that all would be encourage to join.
Despite difficult economic conditions, the ladies convinced local residents that this was worth the risk and should become a community enterprise. Remarkably they pulled it off in three months for the first performance in August 1934.
After a particularly dreadful summer deluge in August 1937, she led the successful campaign to construct a permanent shelter – which would become the Koussevitsky Shed.
This video is great. Gertrude Smith sounds just like Eleanor Roosevelt – Another Female Representative of the Greatest Generation
By 1936, Hadley’s health forced him to resign as conductor. Encouraged by two successful years, the trustees sought an orchestra and conductor.
Sometimes its good to know people who know people (presumably) and the Berkshire trustees quickly worked out an agreement with the Boston Symphony trustees and George E. Judd, conductor and manager.
At the time Serge Koussevitzky, was the “hot” new conductor of the BSO, who had been wowing audiences and critics not just with his conducting, but also with his “aristocratic, European” bearing that simply bowled over the Boston Brahmins — so much so that the BSO advertised itself as “the aristocrat of American orchestras.” (Interestingly, Koussevitzky was actually of humble Jewish origins which would become more a point of pride as Israel rose and anti-semitism declined.)
It would, over the long term, become obvious (he was BSO conductor from 1924 to 1949), that Tanglewood was a match made in heaven for both parties. The success of the festival made Lenox/Stockbridge a tourist destination and allowed Koussevitzky to fulfill a dream of establishing a music institute that would foster new composition and train young artists. Leonard Bernstein was among his many proteges.
Mrs. Gorham Brooks ((Hepburn) and Miss Mary Aspinwall Tappan
In 1936, the final piece of the Tanglewood Festival fell into place through a gift from Mrs. Rosamund Dixey Brooks Hepburn (1887-1948) and Mary Aspinall Tappan (1851-1941). They gave the Boston Symphony Orchestra their summer home, Tanglewood, including 200 magnificent acres overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl.
Mrs. Brooks (later Mrs. Hepburn) was the granddaughter of William Aspinallwall and Caroline Sturgis Tappan and Mary Aspinall Tappan was a daughter (Mrs. Brook Hepburn’s aunt).
The Tappan family spanned the 19th century history of Lenox as a resort and added a certain creative pixie dust to Tanglewood. The grandmother/mother was Caroline Sturgis Aspinwall (1819-1888). She was part of a Boston family that had made its fortune in the China trade. She married William Aspinwall Tappan, son of noted abolitionist, Louis Tappan.
They first came to the Berkshires to visit their Boston friends, the Wards, and would rent High Wood before building their own home. When they came to the Berkshires they were a locus point for intellectual conversation, drawing, and musical performances.
Caroline Tappan was part of the literary renaissance sweeping the country in the early 19th century and was a contributor to the Dial and a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Ellery Channing, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau. Notably, this circle also included Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom they let the little red cottage on the drive to High Wood 1850-1851. It was Hawthorne who coined the name Tanglewood.
The Tale of Tanglewood Scene of the Berkshire Music Festivals by M.A. DeWolfe Howe, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1946
Hawthorne’s Lenox, The Tanglewood Circle, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters, The History Press 2008
The summer of 1934 is celebrated as laying the groundwork Tanglewood (even though it was a different orchestra in a different place), but the story really begins earlier. To get the full background we have to move to Pittsfield (after all Tanglewood is technically in Stockbridge so why not be liberal about town lines!)
Pittsfield Philanthropist Brings First Music Festival to the Berkshires in 1918
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was born in 1864 in Chicago to a wealthy wholesale dealer. She studied music and became very proficient. However, it is likely, in her wealthy gilded age home, she would have been discouraged from taking her music too seriously. In fact , she would go on to become a performer, composer, patron – and popularizer of chamber music in the United States. The plaque honoring her at the South Mountain “Temple of Music,” dubs her “The Fairy Godmother of Chamber Music.”
On her European Grand Tour she was enthralled by the musical offerings and was taken by the charm of festivals such as the Salzburg Music Festival.
She married Boston born physician Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge who left his Chicago practice and moved to Pittsfield for his health. They had one child, Albert (who would accompany his mother’s piano performances on the viola).
Her husband died in 1915 and her parents shortly thereafter. She inherited a considerable amount of money which she used to embark on a promotion of chamber music, a mission she continued to carry out until her death at the age of 89 in Cambridge in 1953. Although marked by tragedy, this change of circumstance must have helped Elizabeth liberate herself from the constraints of her Victorian upbringing.
In 1916, she agreed to subsidize Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Hugo Kortschak (1884–1957) and his string quartet provided they would move to Pittsfield.
The Berkshire String Quartet—Coolidge’s “Berkshire Boys”—became the nucleus for her Berkshire Chamber Music Festivals. She built a summer colony for them, with a performance venue known as the Temple of Music, and established a composition award, the Berkshire Prize, for new The Berkshire Chamber Music Festival ran from 1918 to 1924 annually, and thereafter occurred at irregular intervals in 1928, 1934, and 1938. Along with standard chamber music literature, the Festival highlighted Coolidge-commissioned and prize-winning works from the associated Berkshire Chamber Music Competition. During its two decades, the Festival generated 1,284 new works, and attracted prominent composers and performers.
Laid Groundwork for Berkshire Symphonic Festival
When the much larger Berkshire Symphonic Festival got underway in the 1930’s, they must have recognized the credibility Mrs. Coolidge had established for the Berkshires. They named her honorary president.
A spark for further development arrived in the form of Henry Hadley, a composer and conductor enchanted with the idea of an outdoor music performance under the clear starry skies of the Berkshires. He was (fortunately) directed to Miss Gertrude Robinson Smith and Mrs. Owen Johnson of Stockbridge. They, and Mrs. William Fulton of Great Barrington, managed to gain enough local support to pull off the first festival – in what must have been a very challenging time to take the risk of attracting sufficient patrons from New York and Boston.
Residents of Stockbridge, Lenox and Lee provided funds and labor for building stage benches and an acoustical shell with the help of Emergency Relief workers.
With the use of Dan Hanna’s horse ring, they, miraculously pulled it off. Henry Hadley had trained and directed 65 members of the New York Symphony Orchestra who performed August 23, 25 and 26, 1934.
Seating had been constructed for 2,000 and the attendance for all three concerts was estimated at 5,000.
The Tale of Tanglewood, Scene of the Berkshire Music Festivals, by M.A.DeWolfe Howe, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1946