10 Kemble St., Springlawn, 1904

10 Kemble St., John E. Alexandre House - 1904
10 Kemble St., John E. Alexandre House – 1904

From Form B’s Completed by Lenox Historical Commission 2012-2013

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION: This house was constructed in the decorative Beaux Arts style and. It is 2-plus stories in height with an articulated, symmetrically organized 5-bay facade with center entrance. The rear facade is also symmetrically organized. It has a hipped roof now clad in asphalt shingles and with various types of dormers and four interior brick chimneys. The wide overhanging eaves feature large modillions with pairs of smaller, plain brackets between them, and regularly spaced decorative pendants. The house has a stucco finish, with stone quoining and banding between the first and second stories and below the second floor window sills. An elaborately decorated porte-cochere extends forward of the main entrance and has an arched pediment with modillions, egg and dart molding, sheath ornamentation and Greek fret banding. It is supported by banded Ionic columns with flutes between the bands, and extravagant capitals with floral and foliage bas relief. Its coved ceiling has egg and dart molding above dentil banding. The front door surround is a concave arched niche with a fanlight transom within a shallow recess with one Corinthian pilaster on the right side, a plain pilaster on the left. The cornice of this recess is banded by small dentils. The double wood entry doors are intact; each has four panels. Centered above the entry and porte-cochere is a second floor window with quoining tied into a large pedimented front wall dormer above. This dormer has shield and garland decorations, pilasters, a deep architrave, and miniature turned balusters below the 12-light casement windows. Scrolled side braces complete the composition. Arched-roof dormers with oval windows flank the center front wall dormer. Shallow pavilions define the outer bays of the main section, highlighted by the stone quoining. Large first floor 8-light casement windows are set within Roman- or round-arch niches and have quarter-round, 3-light transoms to create round-arch effects. On the front facade the rectangular second floor windows are 6-over-1 double hung sashes aligned above those on the first floor— sets of three in the inner bays, paired in the outer. Those in the outer bays are distinguished with balconettes with turned balusters, and garlanded supports below. A two-story recessed ell off the right side has a slightly lower hipped roof with two hipped dormers on both the front and rear. Like the main section it has quoining at its corners. Stone banding along the bottom of the second floor window sills ties in with the main banding on the main 5-bay section. The second floor has windows both 8-o-1 and 4-o-1 windows. It has a 2-bay-wide shallow pavilion at the far right edge, which has a blind window with pediment on the first floor. Between this pavilion and the main section is a loggia on the first floor with substantial plain pillars and turned balustrades between. A small secondary entrance at the left edge of the ell provides access to the loggia. Off the right rear corner of the ell is a glazed sunporch, below which is the only portion of the basement that is exposed and has at-grade access. The basement/foundation is stone. The rear facade is similar to the front in fenestration and detailing. Dormers on the rear are slightly different. The central wall dormer, aligned above the rear entrance, has French doors accessing a balconette. Brick interior chimneys flank this dormer, while two hipped dormers with flared eaves and modillions, are on each side of the center dormer and chimneys. The central bay features a projecting porch edged by banded piers within which are two Ionic columns. The rear entrance is recessed and arched. A curved balustrade with turned, urn-shaped balusters fringes the upper terrace that projects out from the porch. There are wide side stairs on either side leading to a lower terrace that has a matching balustrade stretching nearly as wide as the main section of the house. Descending from the center of the lower terrace is a grand stairway leading down to an open lawn (originally gardens), which reinforces the axial symmetry of the house. A solar panel has been added to the rear roof. NOTE: The property is labeled “J. E. Alexandre” on the 1905 Sanborn Map. On the 1911 Sanborn, the map is labeled “Helen L. Alexandre” and “Spring Lawn” with a notation on the house, “Plastered outside.”

Architect Guy Lowell (4/6/1870 – 2/4/1927) “One of Boston’s most distinguished architects, and member of a prominent New England family. He was a native of the city, the son of Edward J. Lowell, and a cousin of Percival Lowell, astronomer, the late Amy Lowell, poetess, and A. Lawrence Lowell, former president of Harvard University. “After an early education in private schools the young man entered Harvard where he graduated with the class of 1892. His professional training was acquired at Boston’s M. I. T., and during four years (1895-99) in Europe during which he attend Atliers of the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts, studying architectural history and design, also landscape gardening. Returning to Boston he established an office in the city, launching a career that was to bring him success and many honors. A skilled and versatile designer Mr. Lowell’s work was broad in scope, comprising large public and institutional buildings, many distinctive residences, country estates, and formal gardens. “One of his most important early commissions was to prepare a new building program for Phillips Academy at Andover, Mass., and between 1903 and 1923 he designed a score of new buildings on the campus, all conforming in style to the older structures of Georgian design. Among Mr. Lowell’s other noted achievements in architecture was the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, completed in 1908; the Cumberland County Court House, Portland Maine; State Historical Building, Concord, N. H. Simmons College buildings in Boston; Emerson Hall, a new Lecture Hall, and the President’s House at Harvard University; several units of the State Normal School, Bridgewater, Mass., Memorial Tower and other buildings at Brown University, Providence, R. I., Eden Hall, Bar Harbor, Maine, a new Art School at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (under erection at the time of his death), and his largest and most important contribution to American architecture, the New York County Court House, completed only a short time prior to his death. “Mr. Lowell also won wide recognition in the field of domestic architecture, designing homes of distinction, and large private estates with landscaped grounds for many persons of prominence. Among his clients were Frederick L. Ames of North Easton, Mass., Jefferson Coolidge, Beverly Farms, Mass., Robert Gould Shaw, 2nd of Hamilton, Mass., George C. Knapp, Lake George, New York, Paul Cravath, Locust Valley, Long Island, New York, Richard Sears, Islesboro, Maine, Francis Skinner, Dedham, Mass., B. F. Goodrich, York Harbor, Maine, Cyrus Allen and Thomas McKay, Beverly, Mass., Clarence McKay, Harbor Hill, Long Island, and Harry Payne Whitney, and Morton F. Plant. Mr. Lowell designed formal gardens for their New York city homes, an Italian garden at New London, Conn. for Mr. Plant, and buildings and landscaping of grounds at the Bayard Thayer estate, Lancaster, Mass. “Early in his career Mr. Lowell lectured for a time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the subject of Landscape Architecture. He was one of the first architects to write a book on American Gardens, and traveled extensively in preparation for his “Italian Villas and Farmhouses,” published in two beautifully illustrated volumes. “During the first World War he went to Italy to participate in Red Cross work, and in appreciation of his aid and encouragement to that country in the darkest days of the war, was awarded the Italian Distinguished War Cross. Early in 1927 Mr. Lowell left this country for an extended European cruise, but it was cut short by death while visiting friends on the Madeira Islands. His untimely passing at the age of fifty-seven was a shock to his friends in America, and a distinct loss to the architectural profession. [References: Obit., New York Times 2/5/1927; Architectural Record, April, 1927; American Architect, April, 1927; Who Was Who in America, 1897 – 1942.]”[1]

HISTORICAL NARRATIVE: Spring Lawn was built by John E. Alexandre in 1904 as a summer home. The house was built on the site of the former Sedgwick School for Girls. After Mr. Alexandre’s death, his daughter sold the estate to Mrs. Arthur F. Schermerhorn, who renamed it “Schermeer”. In 1957 the house was deeded to the Lenox School and subsequently became part of the Bible Speaks College. The Bible Speaks College conveyed the property to Mr. & Mrs. Jonas Dovydenas as a result of a lien initiated by Dovydenas. Between the years 1984 and 1985, Elizabeth (Betsy) Dovydenas donated $6.5 million to The Bible Speaks ministry. She also changed her will, leaving her estate to the ministry and disinheriting her husband Jonas Dovydenas as well as her children. In 1986 she and her family brought a lawsuit against Carl H. Stevens Jr. and The Bible Speaks, seeking to recover the $6.5 million. The court found in her favor, and the Bible Speaks declared bankruptcy and lost their property in Lenox Massachusetts. Carl H. Stevens relocated to Baltimore. Elizabeth Dovydenas owned the property from 1987 to 1993. It was owned by the National Music Foundation from 1993 to 1999 and then owned by Shakespeare and Company from 1999 to 2005. It was purchased by James C. Jurney Sr. in 2005.

BIBLIOGRAPHY and/or REFERENCES: 1905, 1911 Sanborn Maps; The Berkshire Cottages, A Vanishing Era. Carole Owens, 1984. P.155; Lenox Massachusetts Shire Town. David Wood, 1969. P.200; American Architect and Building News 10/14/1905; A History of the Lenox School Campus – September 2010 [1] Henry F. Withey, AIA and Elsie Rathburn Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased)(Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970) pp. 381-382.

2 Kemble St., Frederick T. Frelinghuysen House, 1881

2 Kemble St., Frederick T. Frelinghuysen House - 1881

From Form B’s Completed by Lenox Historical Commission 2012-2013


This Colonial Revival style building has two stories, an asphalt shingle roof and is intact. It is a 5-bay, center entrance, wood frame construction with two front hipped roof dormers with scrolled pediments. It has three massive brick chimneys with flared tops, painted white. There are two side wall chimneys on the main building and one center chimney on the left wing. It has wood clapboard siding and has a symmetrically organized front façade on the main section. The center pavilion has projecting pediment with modillions and a fanlight at the attic level. It has frieze windows and a Paladian window on the 2nd floor with Adamesque ornamentation. There is a semi-circular entrance porch with fluted Corinthian columns, and a recessed main entrance with paneled walls and built-in benches on the sides. The porch entry surround has triglyphs, metopes, pillars, consol braces with spindles between pillars at the outer end of the benches. The front door surround has sidelights with Chi noise pattern. The 1st floor windows have multi-paned upper sashes with oval at center, trim with entablature and scrolled pediments with large torch finials and applied garland swags on frieze. There is a large 2-story recessed hipped-roof wing off left side with secondary front entry and shed-roofed porch for the left side entry. The windows and doors appear to be intact. The semi-circular driveway in the front yard has 2 curb cuts and centers on the front entrance.


This house is a notably early example of the Colonial Revival style, predating McKim Mead and White’s “Homestead, built in Lenox in 1885 (demolished). According to a guidebook of the period, it is “of the old Colonial style, and is among the first of that style of architecture in the village, of the later day adaptation of that sort of home”. The house has the central pavilion, palladian windows, attic story windows and roof balustrade that are characteristic of the Colonial Revival. The ornamentation is somewhat exaggerated and less historically accurate than later examples of the style.



Labeled “Frelinghuysen Est.” on 1894 Barnes & Jenks Map; footprint on 1893 Sanborn Map matches the current configuration.

Most recently, in 2010, Scott Shortt purchased the Kemble Inn and has made extensive renovations.

Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, who served as Secretary of Treasury under Chester A. Arthur, built this house in 1881. The house was handsomely furnished, and the Frelinghuysen’s entertained lavishly, with former President Arthur among their many guests. The house was subsequently owned by Thatcher Adams, who renamed it “Sundrum House” R.J. Flick purchased the property in the early 1930’s and lived in it while his estate “Uplands”, was under construction. It was then sold to Mrs. Charles F. Bassett who gave the school to the Lenox School for Boys for use as a dormitory.

The property was purchased by John Reardon in 1993 and converted to an inn. It was purchased by J & N Inn, LLC in 2005 and then by the Frederick LLC in 2010.


1894 Barnes and Jenks Map, 1893 Sanborn Map

The new book of Berkshire Clark W. Bryan, 1890

Lenox- Massachusetts Shire town. David H. Wood, 1969

Berkshire Atheneum – clipping file

Lenox Library archives

Lenox Assessor’s database 2011


65 Walker St., Lenox Brotherhood Club, 1923

65 Walker St., Lenox Brotherhood Club - 1923

From Form B’s Completed by Lenox Historical Commission 2012-2013


This Classical Revival style building has two stories with an asphalt shingle roof. It has been altered. The front has 7-bays with a center entrance. The building is wood frame with a hipped roof and hipped dormers, 1 on the Left ell and 2 on the Right. There is a large brick sidewall chimney on the Left side of the main house in front of the 2-story, 2-bay deep Left side ell. There is wood clapboard siding, dormers clad with wood shingles, and quoining on all the corners. There is a shallow entrance pavilion with pediment, modillions, and an oculus at the attic level. There is an in antis 2nd floor balcony with Ionic columns. The entrance portico extends from the pavilion with Doric columns, intact 8-over-12 windows (1st fl.), 8-over-8 windows (2nd fl.), and molded window headers. The long rear ell extends from Right rear corner and a full width rear porch connects to rear ell. There is “Lenox Community Center” lettering in the frieze. LANDSCAPE: there is a semi-circular drive in front yard centered on the front entrance.

Although built as a clubhouse for the Lenox Brotherhood Club, this building was designed to resemble a large country house, similar in scale and ornament to its Walker Street neighbors. The use of Classical Revival style, popular for civic buildings such as the Town Hall (1901), was a way to have the new building reflect the historic character of Lenox.


The Lenox Club occupied a building on this site until 1921, when it moved to its present location at “Windyside” on Yokun Street. The old Clubhouse was purchased by George E. Turnure, who then built a new community center in memory of his son who had been killed in the First World War. This new community center became the home of the Lenox Brotherhood Club, an organization made up of the union of the Men’s clubs of the Episcopal and Congregational Churches. The community center provided recreational facilities such as a tennis court, billiard room, gymnasium, and bowling alley. The center also has a large hall and stage. Membership in the club expanded in the 1930’s and eventually became open to all. It is currently owned by the Town of Lenox, and provides programs for the community such as the Council on Aging for seniors, youth programs, fitness classes, and meeting space.


The Berkshire Eagle, January 12, 1937

Town of Lenox, Annual Town Report, 2011

Lenox Assessor’s database 2012


64 Walker St., Judge William Walker House, 1804

64 Walker St., William Walker House - c. 1804
64 Walker St., William Walker House – c. 1804
2014-08-06 08.17.54-1
Judge William Walker – Copied from Berkshire County Courthouse

From Form B’s Completed by Lenox Historical Commission 2012-2013


This Federal style building has two stories, a slate roof and is intact. There are 5-bay, and a hipped roof w/dormers. There are 3 large brick end wall chimneys on main house–2 on the left, 1 on the right. The siding is wide wood clapboard with small corner boards and dentils. There is a front gabled entrance porch with 4 Doric columns, pilasters, and barrel-vaulted ceiling. The front door is intact and the full rear porch is intact. There is a recessed left side ell, 2 bays wide, with a hipped roof, and 6 over 6 windows with authentic window blinds. The foundation is stone and the basement is exposed on rear elevation. LANDSCAPE has a wood picket fence.


This house was built for Judge William Walker, a judge in the Berkshire County Courts. The house later passed on to the Rockwell family, which also included a County Judge, Julius Rockwell. The Rockwell family retained ownership until 1906 when the property was acquired by the Curtis family, who also owned the Curtis Hotel. The Curtis’s added a wing and used the house as one of their cottages.

In the 1960’s, the house was given to Bordentown Lenox School by Clinton O. Jones, Mr. Curtis’s son-in-law. It was used as a dormitory until 1973 when it was sold for use as a private residence.    In 1980 it was purchased by Margaret and Richard Houdek who converted the house into a B & B called Walker House.


Registry of Deeds

Lenox, Massachusetts, Shire Town. David Wood, 1969

Lenox and the Berkshire Highlands. R. DeWitt Mallary, 1902

Town of Lenox Assessor’s Data Base

51 Walker St., Harley Procter House, 1912

51 Walker St., Harley Proctor House - c. 1912
51 Walker St., Harley Procter House – c. 1912

From Form B’s Completed by Lenox Historical Commission 2012-2013


This Classical Revival style building has two stories, an asphalt shingle roof, and is intact. It has a 5-bay street façade, wood frame and a flat roof with an encircling balustrade. There are modillions on the overhanging eaves of the wood clapboard siding. There are paneled corner pilasters and wood clapboard siding. There are intact 6-o-1 windows with lipped window headers on 1st floor. There is a 2-story rear ell with a small brick rear wall chimney. The Left side of the house has a flat-roofed entrance porch, with a balustrade, paneled pillars & matching pilasters.


Stanford White died in June of 1906–it is unlikely that he designed any part of this house, though perhaps features of it were based on his earlier designs; there was a previous house located on this site per 1875 Map (labeled “G.O.Peck”) & on 1893, 1898, 1905 & 1911 Sanborn maps; the house could have been constructed as early as 1912, but also somewhat later.

Built as a summer home for Harley Procter, of the firm of Procter and Gamble, the house is said to have been designed to resemble a bar of Ivory Soap. The Procters occupied the house for just a short time, selling it in 1919 to Graham Root, who used it as a real estate office. Subsequent uses included a charm school in the 1930’s, a guesthouse, and office space. In 1942 it became Gateways Inn, by which name it is still known. In the 1970’s and 80’s it was owned by Gehard and Lilliane Schmid and was purchased by Vito Perulli on June22, 1988. Current Gateways Inn owners (as of June, 28, 1996) are Fabrizio Chiariello and Rosemary MacDonald Chiariello.


1875, 1893, 1898, 1905 and 1911 Sanborn Maps

Gehard and Lilliane Schmid (owners of Gateway, Inn)

Lenox, Massachusetts Shire Town. David Wood, 1969

Conversations with local residents

Lenox Assessor’s database 2012

Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Museum


Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Museum at 104 Walker St. was built by George and Sarah Morgan as their summer home. It is an imposing Jacobean Revival mansion that typifies the Gilded Age in Lenox. Sarah, the sister of J. Pierpont Morgan, purchased the property in 1891, and hired Rotch & Tilden, prominent Boston architects, to design the house.

Ventfort Replaces Vent Fort

It replaced an earlier house named Vent Fort (strong wind) on the same location.



The original Vent Fort was owned by the Ogden Haggerty family of Boston.  Their daughter, Annie Haggerty Shaw, married Robert Gould Shaw, who led the Mass 54th (the first African American regiment as portrayed in the film “Glory,”) during the Civil War.


Ventfort Hall - then432IMG_2386

Now on 11.7 acres, Ventfort Hall was originally the centerpiece of a large landscaped garden of 26 acres. The mansion, constructed of brick with brownstone trim, has an impressive porte cochère covering the entrance while the rear of the house, which once had a long view to the south of the Stockbridge Bowl and Monument Mountain, has a wood veranda along its entire length.
Described at the time of its completion as “one of the most beautiful places in Lenox,” the house had “28 rooms, including 15 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and 17 fireplaces.” Typical of the period, the interior features a soaring three-story great hall and staircase with wood paneling detailing. Other rooms include an elegant salon, paneled library, a dining room, a billiard room and bowling alley. It was designed with all the latest modern amenities, numerous ingeniously ventilated bathrooms, combined gas and electric light fixtures, an elevator, burglar alarms and central heating. The property contained several outbuildings, including two gatehouses, a carriage house/stable and six greenhouses.
After the deaths of both Sarah and George Morgan, the house was rented for several years to a young widow, Margaret Vanderbilt, whose husband, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, had died on the Lusitania.

Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Museum

In 1925, W. Roscoe and Mary Minturn Bonsal purchased the house after seven years as tenants. Bonsal, a prominent figure in the expansion of railroads throughout the southeast, built the first cross-state railroad in Florida and served as president and treasurer of the North & South Carolina Railway and the South Carolina Western Railway.
After the Bonsals sold Ventfort hall in 1945, the house had a series of owners and was used as a dormitory for Tanglewood students, a summer hotel, the Fokine Ballet Summer Camp and housing for a religious community.
In the mid-1980s the property was sold to a nursing home developer who wanted to demolish the building.

Screen shot 2012-02-16 at 3_10_39 PMdin61270122

In response to this threat, a local preservation group, The Ventfort Hall Association (VHA), was formed in 1994. On June 13, 1997, with the help of many private donations and loans, and with a five-year loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, VHA purchased the property and has extensively restored the façade, first and second floors.

IMG_8145 gable topScreen shot 2012-02-16 at 3_11_21 PMIMG_2384

(see www.gildedage.org)

Revolutionary War Heroes: Major General John Paterson

More than 225 men from Lenox participated in the Revolutionary War and those they left at home sacrificed as well.  So there was no shortage of heroes from Lenox.  However several stand out — particularly Major General John Paterson.

Sketch of Maj. General John Paterson from the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution Website
Sketch of Maj. General John Paterson from the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution Website; From the Monmouth Battle Monument at Freehold, NJ

John Paterson was born in 1744 in New Britain, CT (then called Farmington) of another John Paterson who died of yellow fever while fighting for England in the Carribean.  His ancestors are said to have fled from Scotland to escape the tyranny of James II.

Son John graduated at age 18 from Yale in 1762 – the same year his father died in Havana.  He came home to settle his father’s estate, look after his mother and sisters and study law.  He became a justice of the peace shortly after he started practicing law and supplemented his income by teaching school.  He married Elizabeth Lee, also of Farmington, in 1766.

It is not clear why John Paterson moved his family (including his father in law) to Lenox in 1774 but here’s what his biographer and grandson has to say (page 7 The Life of John Paterson):

“It may have been that among the people living there was a General Joseph Paterson, whose name appears on the town records of Lenox as early as January, 1765, or it may have been his desire to be on the frontier.  He became at once identified with the interests of that town, and his abilities as a leader of men were soon recognized.  Almost as soon as he arrived he was chosen Clerk of the Propriety.”

This would be the first of a lifetime of civic responsibilities assumed by John Paterson in Lenox and in his future home in New York.  In July 1774 he represented Lenox at the Berkshire convention to discuss the non-importation agreement and to the state government meeting in Salem under the auspices of the Committees of Correspondence — and in protest of the royal government.

By April 20th, 1775, news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord had come to Lenox via express couriers who had ridden all night.  Paterson and the recruits he had assembled from Lenox and the rest of the county were ready — by the next morning they were armed, equipped and on their way to Boston.  They may have been responding to an earlier alarm – but they had certainly been prepared to carry out their role as Minute Men led by John Patterson.

Continue reading Revolutionary War Heroes: Major General John Paterson

New England Town Development

The development of New England towns explains much about their current form.  Massachusetts towns, including Lenox, have unique compactness not seen in other areas.  Although the design included religious elements, it also foreshadowed developments in both populist democracy and modern capitalism.

Community Worship

The original Puritan settlers of Massachusetts had  come, in many cases, from town living in England.  More importantly,  community worship was a critical component of their religion.  And, as a practical matter, an exchange of services was essential for harvesting, childbirth, etc.  Also, although unstated, small populations provided the opportunity to keep an eye on your fellow residents.

Church and Town Administration Were One
Church and Town Administration Were One

A  key component of what was allowed/encouraged was that each town was to have access to community worship.  Generally this meant town boundaries would rarely exceed six miles square,  and that towns were not granted the rights of a town until they had settled 50-60 families.

Early Towns Stressed Equality

Also, Puritanism was theoretically somewhat communal and otherworldly.  Allegedly they were members of the elect who were to be focused on the next world such that display of wealth in this world would have been inappropriate.

Pilgrims on Their Way to Church - Armed Against the Wild 17th Century Frontier
Pilgrims on Their Way to Church – Armed Against the Wild 17th Century Frontier

The earliest  towns were almost socialistic in distributing land based on family size.  By the time Lenox was founded much of the Puritan influence would have faded but the bias toward equality in town design lingered. Initial lots were to be of sufficient size to maintain a family, and often there was a ceiling on how much one family would occupy. This was also practical since (other than some parts of the Connecticut River Valley) the hilly, wooded lands were hard to clear and did not lend themselves to mass, single crop planting.   This equalitarian town design was in contrast to the direct grants of large estates found in New York and most other colonies.

Settlement Encourage for Defense and Income

The Massachusetts Bay Company (and later the Royal Governor) would grant entitlement to settle a new area to person or group of people with enough wealth or motivation to increase the odds of success.  The Puritan (and later royal) English governing bodies would have been motivated to settle new areas to turn raw land into a base for taxation and trade and for defense against Indians and European rivals,

Early Towns Developed Ways to Defend Themselves
Early Towns Developed Ways to Defend Themselves

Set up expenses might include surveying, buying land from the Indians – in some cases paying settlers or giving land away, in some cases (as in Lenox) paying the Puritan Proprietorship (later royal government), etc. Often (and this was true in Lenox)  some of the acerage of the prospective town would have been purchased by or awarded to absentee investors.

The original proprietors (who often became influential in the affairs of the new town) would make profit  later when undistributed lands were sold — presumably at a much higher value when surrounding an established village. Initial investors would have had allocations of undeveloped/unsold equal to their initial investment. Population was exploding and in an agricultural/commodity based economy, land was wealth.  As a result, new proprietorships were something like a modern IPO, even people of modest means wanted to get in on the ground floor to get a piece of the initial allocation – hopefully enough to not only support their current family but to have enough to set up their sons from unallocated lands.  Some proprietors (as was the case in Lenox) were buying land purely for investment, others were buying to settle.  In some proprietary structures, hard-working settlers could get in on this highly desirable ground floor simply by showing up and meeting the requirements to clear land, build a shelter and contribute to hiring a minister and other communal goals–think employee #2 options in modern entrepreneurship. In the early days, proprietors would vote on who could become a new resident both for financial and religious reasons.  By the time Lenox was founded the requirements to be accepted for residency were less stringent and generally were just to prove you wouldn’t become a burden to the town.

Towns Investment Opportunities

In some cases these proprietors/investors were on the general court or other government bodies granting charters and were on the lookout for investment opportunities (apparently conflict of interest had yet to be invented).  They might be wealthy individuals (see  Moving West -William Pynchon) or, much like today’s serial entrepreneurs, holders of unsold land in multiple towns or potential town sites, This was true of several of the proprietors of Lenox – several of whom also appear as proprietors in Stockbridge, Great Barrington, or Pittsfield.

Some early town proprietorships were more communal or religious (i.e. Stockbridge or some towns in Connecticut established by religious groups who disagreed with the Puritan hierarchy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony).  Some new towns were formed, much like a modern co-op, when available land had run out in an existing town and a group split off to en mass move to and form a new town.

However, they came together, these initial proprietors (both resident and non resident) had, like a modern corporation decisions to make about roads, unsold lands, approval of new settlers, building the required meeting house, etc.  So, the original town meetings would have been more like a shareholders meeting – and voting would have been limited to investors.

Town Management

By the time Lenox was founded the functions of town management (of concern to all residents) and land division (of concern to the investor/owners (who might or might not be residents) had been separated and more clearly defined.  The requirements to participate in these discussions and decisions about town management changed over time. Early towns limited town meetings to investors, later to investors and members of the Church, later to large property owners who may or may not have been initial investors.    Eventually town meetings became less focused on investors (who might have shareholder meetings separately) and became more focused on residents with the varying but limited restrictions on who should participate and voila – town meeting the most democratic form of government in America. The town form of government we know today was universal by the days of the early republic.

Although the Puritan influence had faded by the time Lenox was established Puritan influence had faded but the heritage is still visible in the size and layout of the town.  All the other elements of the settlement mix – government sale, previous claims, ambitious settlers with limited funds, town/family groups, and pure capitalist profit motives were at work by the time the Richmond/Lenox land deal came together.


Profits in the Wilderness, Entrpreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century, by John Frederic Martin, The Omohundro Instituute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London, 1991

American History 1690-1740 Provincial America, by Evarts Boutelle Greene

New England’s Generation, The Great Migration and the Formation of Culture and Society in the Seventeenth Century, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Cambridge University Press, 1991


Before There Was Anything

1044883_588260431216173_1382081002_n from Berkshires Daily

So much of Lenox history is driven by the characteristics – good and bad – of our landscape that the origins of our hills seems the place to start a timeline.
This writer knows next to nothing about plate tectonics, Pre Cambrian eras and the lost continent of Pangaea, but fortunately these are others who devote their lives to these topics and write about them in a moderately understandable way. It turns out that the foundations of the Berkshires – the foundations that gave us marble, iron ore, granite, and some of our mountains and bodies of water – are the result of colliding, floating continents and all kinds of other geological excitement .

Millions and Billions of Years

Geological time: it’s long. To try to grasp geological time a standard comparison is to imagine the age of Earth as a single day; then dinosaurs appear after 10:30 at night and humans at one and a half minutes before midnight.

Continental Drift

The punch line of this story is that mineral deposits have been found in Boston that are similar to those of the west coast of Africa. These would have been laid down about 600 million years ago (Pre-Cambrian/ Cambrian Era).
Similar anomalies had been found since the 19th century, but the explanation, although logical in a sci-fi kind of way, did not become generally accepted until the 1960’s. The continents had moved…and they used to be attached to each other!

This continental drift has to do with the composition of various layers of the earth’s crust and of polar magnetism pulling on the iron ore in land masses. Over millions of years, what we know as continents today have drifted through different climates, crashed into each other and pulled apart. The theory is that all our current continents were once part of a mega-continent called Pangaea clumped down at the current South Pole.

For part of the life of that mega continent Africa was tucked up into what is now the American east coast. Among many other tears and collisions of land masses, the Africa/ America portion drifted northward , crossing the equator and pulling apart about 66 million years ago with us curving northwest and Africa curving southeast.

The Impact of Continental Changes on the Current Massachusetts/New York Area
What did our little corner of the world look like as the continents were morphing into their current place and shape?
According to a summary put together by Lincoln Dexter in 1979 , the Berkshires were once close to being ocean front property. In the Cambrian era – 500-600 million years ago – most of Massachusetts was under a deep sea (limestone anyone?). The current locations of the Berkshires included active volcanoes belching fire, smoke and lava. Fossils associated with Africa and Europe have been found in the eastern part of the state but not in the western part indicating they were separated by a deep body of water.
Later – 400 million years ago or so – the continents started to tear creating a rift approximately where the Connecticut River Valley is today. Later collisions raised highlands on either side of the rift.
The earliest mineral deposits are not necessarily at the bottom of the Berkshires because of the continental tears and collisions mentioned above.
Sound like preparing a croissant – folding layers over layers. There have been, over the millennia, several ranges of high volcanic peaks that got crumbled against each other and shoved west forming parallel ranges –including the Taconics and Berkshires.  Wind, erosion and lots of ice wore the peaks down to the modest hills we see today.

Continue reading Before There Was Anything