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.
Irish Emigrants and the Catholic Church in Lenox
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.
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.
First Catholic Church on Main Street – 1870
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.
Lenox Catholic Cemetery
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 in Lenox Dale 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 Lenox Dale. 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.
Music Festival Moves 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.
After The Famous Rain Storm Came the Shed
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.
Tanglewood During the Second World War
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
The Cornell house was built in 1888 by the Cornell family, having purchased the property from the MacDonalds, next door. For most of its existence the Cornell Inn has been a lodge, an inn, a bed & breakfast or a way house for weary travelers on the road from Albany to Boston. Eventually, when the last of the MacDonald family passed on, leaving no kin, the then-owners of The Cornell Inn purchased the MacDonald house (built in 1777) adding it to the inn.
In 1902 General Thomas H Hubbard built the elegant Aspinwall Hotel in what is now Kennedy Park (Woolsey Woods). It had
spectacular views, luxurious rooms, guest houses, trails and important guests. It burned suddenly in 1931.
Hillside/ Kuhn Harman House/The Hidden House/ Whistler’s Inn
Hillside was built by Mrs. Hartman (Grace) Kuhn of Boston in 1870, and used by her during the ‘season’.
Mrs. Kuhn, who also purchased Butternut Cottage, owned the entire lot along Main St. from Greenwood to the Kingsland House (at the junction of Main and Cliffwood Streets). By 1890 the house was being rented
to Mrs. Cruger of New York, and around 1911 it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Ross Whistler, who renamed it Hidden House. Mr. Whistler, who had made his fortune in railroads, was a nephew of the famous painter and brother of Joseph of Plumstead on Old Stockbridge Road.
Israel Dewey House/ Hubbard Tavern/ Dana Summer Home/ Birchwood Inn
The original portion of the structure (corner of Hubbard and Main) was the home of Israel Dewey, one of Lenox’s earliest settlers. Dewey, who established a home in the area by 1764, was one of the proprietors of Lenox and served in a number of public positions. Like many Berkshire householders, Dewey was licensed as an innkeeper. He left Lenox for Vermont in the early 1790’s, and after several changes in ownership the property was acquired by Zadock Hubbard in 1798. He enlarged the house and opened it as the Hubbard Tavern. In 1806 the building was sold to Azariah Egleston, a locally prominent man, and converted back to a private residence. The house was substantially enlarged and altered after Mary Loring bought it in 1868. In 1885 it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Richard S. Dana of New York and was remodeled for use as a summer home. Currently it is operated as Birchwood Inn.
Eliza Williams House/ Butternut Cottage/ Garden Gables
The original portion of this house was built by Susan and Eliza Williams on the site now occupied by 101 Main Street. Eliza Williams lived here until 1873 when the house was purchased by Mrs. Kuhn who had built “Hillside” around 1870. Eliza Williams may have continued to live in the house as a tenant,
as she is listed in the 1885 directory as having a house and lot on Main Street.
house. Miss Carey used part of the first floor servants’ wing as a carpentry shop, where she built doll and bird houses. Upon her death in 1945, the property was deeded to Trinity Church, who in turn sold it to Joseph Reynolds. In 1951, it was sold again, renamed Garden Gables and opened it as an Inn and gift shop.
The Congregational Parsonage
This charming Queen Anne style home stands on the site of the original Congregational parsonage, a brick building dating from 1852. By the 1890’s it had fallen into disrepair and the congregation elected to build a new house on the same site. It is included in this description of Lenox as a Gilded Age resort only because it reflects the way the prosperity of the time spread out to effect the lifestyle of even the humble Congregational minister. According to a turn-of-the-century magazine article, “Few Congregational Churches in Massachusetts have so fine a home for their ministers”.
This house was used as a parsonage until 1925, when the Congregational Church was given the Worthington House on Cliffwood Street which became the home of the minister.
Andrew Thompson purchased this lot in 1836, and built this house. In 1850 Horatio Sears purchased the property and resided in the house until his death in 1861. It changed hands several times. When it was purchased in 1872 by Andrew and Harriet Servin it was completely remodeled. Around 1900 it was purchased by B.K. Stevens, who named in Sunnyhome (also “Sunnyholm”). It has been, most recently, a therapeutic facility.
This house was built on the site of an earlier house demolished in the late 1870’s. The lot was purchased from the owner of that house, Lucy Cottrell by Electa Eddy in 1880. In 1886, it was sold to John Egmont
The original temple front structure, which forms the core of the present building, was probably designed as a counterpart to the Second County Courthouse of 1816 (now the Lenox Library).
This corner has been the sight of an inn of some sort since at least 1773 when the tavern standing here served as a stop on the stagecoach route from Hudson, N.Y. to Pittsfield. Traffic in the town increased after Lenox was made the county seat in 1784.
From about 1793 the Berkshire Coffee House operated on this site, and became famous as the gathering spot for people conducting business at the county Courthouse (then located across the street on the present site of Town Hall).
In 1829 a brick hotel was built by Peck and Phelps, “at the urgent request and demand of persons attending the courts for increased and sufficient accommodations.” For short time iw was rented to George W. Platner, and was then purchased by major S. Wilson. According to one mid-century guidebook “ the principal hotel – so situated as to command a favorable view, both of the village and distant scenery – has become, under the care of its efficient proprietor, M.S. Wilson, Esq., a favorite resort for visitors from the cities.”
The hotel was purchased by William O.Curtis in 1853, and has been known as the Curtis Hotel ever since. The Curtis family was responsible for much of the hotel’s ensuing success, and William O. Curtis and his son, William D. Curtis, were active members of the community. The loss of the County Court in 1868 had little impact on business at the Curtis, which by this time was catering to a growing number of seasonal visitors. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, and accelerating rapidly after the Civil War, a stream of visitors came from New York, Boston, and other cities to experience the healthful climate, take in the views from its veranda, and join in the social activities that took place there.
Many guests returned year after year: some, desiring more space and privacy than the hotel rooms afforded, rented houses on Main and Walker Streets, also owned by the Curtis’s. These became known as “Curtis Cottages” and their occupants as “cottagers”; this has been cited as the origin of the term “cottagers” to describe wealthy summer residents in Berkshire. By the final decade of the 19th Century the Curtis served as overflow housing for owners of large estates, or was used by the estate-owners themselves before and after the “season” when their homes were not fully staffed. The building was greatly enlarged in 1883 and again in 1898 to accommodate these patrons.
The Curtis family continued to operate the hotel through the 1930’s, but he decline of summer visitors to Lenox (brought about by the institution of the income tax and the stock market crash of 1929, which made the upkeep of a large estate nearly impossible; and the Depression of the 1930’s which restricted the traveling of most Americans) made the business difficult to keep up, and the building was sold after World War II. Although subsequent owners kept it operational as a marginally successful hotel, the building suffered from some neglect and deterioration. After failed attempts to revitalize the hotel by new owners in 1970 and 1976, the town of Lenox acquired the building in 1979 and converted it to use as housing for the elderly, with retail space on the first floor.
Celebrity guests included US President Chester Arthur, abolitionist Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Sen. Charles Sumner, Gens. George McClellan & William T. Sherman, Newspaper Editor Horace Greeley, Kentucky politician Cassius M. Clay, Robber Baron “Big Jim” Fiske, business magnate John Jacob Astor, poet James Russell Lowell and Curtis’s longtime friend, British actress Frances Ann “Fanny” Kemble, who nicknamed the hotel “The Old Red Hen.” Writers Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) and Herman Melville (1819-1891) said to have dined together in Curtis Hotel dining room, Nov 1851, possibly exchanging advance copies of their latest books, The Wonder Book and Moby Dick respectively
As America moved into the post Civil War Gilded Age, Lenox moved from the atmosphere of Little Women to the atmosphere of “Downton Abbey.” By the end of the 19th century, the visitors came to build and visit their lavish homes and grounds. Further from town (partly to accommodate the 100’s of acres of grounds) and much, much bigger and grander (topping out – Shadow Brook – at 250 rooms), visitors came to hunt, golf and party–sometimes for just a couple of weeks a year (for instance, Margaret Emerson at Holmwood).
Parallel Town Development
Unproven but likely generalization: at the beginning of the century the lives of ordinary Lenox residents were influenced by various local and national trends; by the end of the century, it was all about the estates.
In the early part of the 19th century, the population mix was changing in concert with national trends. The original families of Lenox were almost entirely descendants of The Great Migration (English Puritans). Some descendants of those early families remained into the 20th century(Sedgwick, Egleston, Walker, Tucker, Rockwell), but others had started to move on to better opportunities in the west shortly after Revolution (Paterson). At the same time, European revolutions and hardships were bringing in newcomers from Europe — particularly the Irish.
In the early part of the century, Lenox residents were evolving from strictly agriculture employment to serving the courts, serving the wealthier families or trade. In keeping with the rest of the northeast, employment was also moving into manufacturing (Lenox Furnace) – and particular to Lenox and Richmond – mining. The new arrivals from Europe moved into many of these serving and manufacturing jobs. Over time, they became managers and owners — of stables, of freight handling, etc. New names began to emerge as families of importance in town: O’Brien, Mahanna and others.
By the end of the century, Lenox Furnace manufacturing had
slowed and mining had ceased, but building had taken off. In addition to the Mahannas, some new names (Peters, Clifford, Bull) moved from doing the work to investing in real estate and managing construction, freightage and other industries that supported their fellow residents as well as the coming and goings of the estate families and their retinues. After they were built, the estates employed hundreds to manage their houses and grounds.
Fernbrook was constructed in 1904 for Thomas Shields and Adelaide Knox Clarke. On West Mountain Road it stands today as Hillcrest School.
Valleyhead was built in 1902 for J. Frederick Schenck and Mary Louisa Stone Schenck. It is described as adjoining Home Farm so must have been on Reservoir Road above Undermountain Road. After it passed out of the family it was a therapeutic facility for awhile. It burned in 1987.
Rounding the curve from Cliffwood to Undermountain, there is a beautiful vista across Undermountain Farm. Home Farm looks out over that vista.
George C. Harding built this home for Dr. Henry P. and Caroline Ware Jaques in 1902. It has also been known as Waterford and Highjack Farm.
It was described in David Woods’ Lenox Massachusetts Shire Town (1969) as adjoining the golf course. Something has changed in the terrain since then.
It is still a private home.
Undermountain Farm, across the street, was built, in the 1870’s, by Henri Braem (Stonover) as a model farm.
Hidden deep in the forest off Undermountain Road, Pine Needles was built by Winslow and Bigelow for George Baty Blake (1871-1928) and Margaret Hunnewell Blake (1878 – 1967). Landscape architects Brett and Hall of Brookline laid out the curving driveway as well as the sit of the stable and walls.
To attend to George’s tuberculosis, the couple lived in the house year round. The home is still privately owned.
Woodcliff – Gone But Not Forgotten
When William Aspinall built his gothic, porched house on a hill above Church on the Hill, it was out of the mold of the Wards, Sedgwicks, etc. First, he was from New York (the Pacific Steamship Company) and second he built on a scenic but distant spot. He arrived in town
with a retinue of six coachmen, 21 horses and an army of servants. The large parties of guests often included Edward J. Woolsey who was married to William’s sister Emily. William’s brother John was a business partner. Between 1853 and 1860, the family accumulated 500 acres of the ridge. In a preview of things to come as Kennedy Park, the Aspinwalls and Woolseys allowed townspeople to wander through the scenic woods.
The house faced north – looking at Mount Greylock; the opposite of the Aspinall Hotel which was to follow in the 20th century – facing the southern view over Parson’s Marsh.
The house is no longer standing.
Richard T. Auchmuty was a Civil War veteran and an architect. In addition to designing his home in Lenox, The Dormers, he would become active in the
construction of the new Trinity Church. His wife, Ellen Schermerhorn, daughter of the widow Caroline Schermerhorn had grown up at Pinecroft in Lenox.
The Dormers still stands above Route 20 north of town and is part of the Twelve Oaks condominium development.
For much more on the architecture of these houses and the people who lived in them, see
Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930, by Richard S. Jackson Jr. and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, Acanthus Press, 2006
The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters
The Berkshire Cottages, A Vanishing Era, by Carole Owens, Cottage Press, Inc. 1980
Highwood is now owned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is used for Tanglewood special events.
Tanglewood was built by Caroline Sturgis Tappan (1819-1888) overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl. Caroline and her husband, William Aspinall Tappan (1820-1905) had purchased the property in 1849 next door to their friends the Wards. Until they built their own
property, they stayed at the red cottage that would be home to the Hawthornes in 1850 and then rented Highwood from the Wards.
Given the highly cultural bent of this family, it’s not surprising that Caroline’s granddaughter, Rosamond Dixey Brooks, offered Serge Koussevitsky the family house, gardens, lawns and farm as a home for the summer music festival.
Wheatleigh was initially built for railroad financier H.H. Cook, who may have intended the property for one of his daughters from the start. He gave Wheatleigh to his daughter Georgie who had married Signor Carlos Manuel d Heredia. The groom was originally from Cuba and was sometimes called the Count de Heredia. Wheatleigh
and been designed by Peabody and Stearns with plans for the ground by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Mrs. De Herdia’s husband died in 1918 but she continued to spend part of her year at Wheatleigh, until her death in 1946.
The main house survives as a luxury hotel, but the rest of the estate was broken up and took different directions. Some of the outbuildings were used in the 1950’s and 1970’s for the Lenox Jazz festival which brought a lot of new rhythm and folk music to the
Berkshires. The next step in the evolution of music in the area was Music Inn which drew crowds with acts ranging from Joan Baez to the Kinks.
The outbuildings have now been repurposed as White Pines Condominiums.
The couple that built (the second) Brookhurst exemplified how closely associated the cottagers were – in Lenox and elsewhere. The husband in the couple, Newbold Morris (1868-1928) was Edith Wharton’s cousin and used many of the same designers that Mrs. Wharton had used on The Mount: Ogden Codman and Beatrix Jones (Farrand).
The original Eastlake style Brookhurst (except for the stable and gatehouse) had burned. That gave the couple a free hand in building a new house and they hired Francis Hoppin to design a very different looking Georgian revival house.
The Morris Family
Newbold’s family had roots back to colonial New York and New Jersey. His wife, Helen Schermerhorn Kingsland Morris (1876-1956) was a second cousin with equally deep New York connections.
Of the three sons, one, George Morris, built his now famous modernist home and studio on the property with his wife, the former Suzy Frelinghuysen. It is now a museum open to the public.
Some of the land on the estate was donated to the Town of Lenox for the Morris Elementary School on West. St. As an added gift, George
Morris painted an abstract mural which stands at the school entrance today.
Another brother, Stephen, took over the main house, but had it reduced in size. That house has now been sold out of the family but remains in private hands.
For much more on the architecture of these houses and the people who lived in them, see
Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930, by Richard S. Jackson Jr. and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, Acanthus Press, 2006
The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters
The Berkshire Cottages, A Vanishing Era, by Carole Owens, Cottage Press, Inc. 1980
The Sedgwicks of Lenox set a flavor for 19th century Lenox that lingers to this day, so it is worth reviewing who they were and why they had the influence they had.
Thought of as a Stockbridge Family
One of the earliest Berkshire Sedgwicks and one of the most famous was Theodore Sedgwick (1746 – 1813). Theodore was born in West Hartford, a descendant of Major General Robert Sedgwick who arrived in Massachusetts in 1636 — part of the Great Migration.
He graduated from Yale in 1766 and began practicing law in Sheffield. His career paralleled that of Major General John Paterson and other local Revolutionary War greats in that he participated in the Stockbridge Congress (1774), participated in the expedition to Canada, fought in the Battle of White Plains and was brought back into the fray during Shays Rebellion. As a matter of fact he was famous enough and wealthy enough by that time for his home to be the scene of a raid.
Theodore went on to a distinguished political and judicial career, but he his most remembered for his defense of Mumbet (Elizabeth Freeman). She was being mistreated by her mistress and was hearing all this talk of freedom so she came to Theodore Sedgwick to see if she could get her freedom. He won the case and it was determined that slavery was inconsistent with the just passed (1780) Massachusetts Constitution (which would be somewhat of a model for the national constitution).
Additional Sources of Fame for the Sedgwick Family
In addition to being a brave soldier and an outstanding jurist, Theodore Sedgwick had the wit to produce nine children — six of whom lived to adulthood. And yes, Kyra Sedgwick is a descendant.
With a large and distinguished family you get to have your own section of the Stockbridge cemetery – and get buried as close to the founder as your distinction and bloodlines allow. The children were all the issue of his second marriage to Pamela Dwight. Pamela was the product of a distinguished lineage also — the daughter of Brigadier General Joseph Dwight and the widow – Abigail Williams Sargent.
The seven children that lived to adulthood were:
Elizabeth Mason Sedgwick (1775-1827)
Frances Pamela Sedgwick (1778-1827)
Theodore Sedgwick II (1780-1839)
Henry Dwight Sedgwick (1785-1831)
Robert Sedgwick (1787-1804) who was a lawyer in New York. He married Elizabeth Dana Ellery, grand-daughter of William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1876)
Charles Sedgwick (1791-1856)
The last two – Charles in particular – became the Lenox Sedgwicks. Lenox had become the county seat in 1784 and Charles got a job as Clerk of the County Court in 1821. By this time his sister, Catherine, was a famous author. Although she described Lenox as a “bare and ugly little village,” apparently it grew on her as she spent more and more time at her brother’s home in Lenox.
The antebellum Lenox she experienced is beautifully described in Cornelia Brooke Gilder’s book, Hawthorne’s Lenox. Lenox would have indeed been quite bare since the iron industry was up and
running and using every available tree for charcoal. Charles’ wife, Elizabeth, started a tree planting initiative and Lenox did have some very handsome structures.
Charles’ wife, Elizabeth was apparently no slouch herself in that she ran a school out of her home that was the female counterpoint to The Academy for young men. Her school, founded about 1828, was very well thought of and included distinguished students such as Jenny Jerome – the mother of future Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter. By 1841, a separate building for the school appears on town maps.
Authoress Catherine never married but Charles and Elizabeth had five children:
Kate – 1820
Charles – 1822
Bessie – 1826 (who was to marry the German pianist Frederich Rackemann and become the mother of Charles Rackemann whose diary has been transcribed by the Lenox Historical Society)
Willie – 1831
Grace – 1833
Atmosphere of the Hive
In 1824 the Charles Sedgwicks purchased a home that was to become known as “The Hive”. It was located where Spring Lawn is today.
The combination of a charming couple of famous lineage, the presence of a distinguished female author and famous guests including actress Fanny Kemble, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sophia Hawthorne (the author himself was not particularly sociable) and Henry Ward Beecher, “The Hive” became a magical cultural melting pot.
Between this cultural melange, educated individuals attracted to the courts and the two schools and the clean air and stunning scenery, “The Hive” and Sedgwicks of Lenox played a major role in putting Lenox on the early summer resort map.
For more information on the life and times of these early Lenox intellectuals, see:
The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters, The History Press, 2008