With many thanks to Cornelia Gilder for this wonderful write up of 17 West Street.
Cozy Nook Built Civil War Era
With its tall proportions, pitched roofs, dormers, gables and multifarious porches, “Cozy Nook” appears to be a “summer cottage” of the 1880s, but actually immured with in it, is a substantial Civil War era house. This year-round dwelling was built in 1862 by the Tuckers, one of Lenox’s leading families associated with the County government. The Berkshire County Court, housed in magnificent federal-style building on Main Street (the Lenox Library), dominated the economic and social structure of Lenox for the first seventy years of the nineteenth century.
Tucker Family Moved from House Built Over the Ore Mines
The house, which would become known as Cozy Nook, was built in 1862 by Berkshire County Treasurer and Registrar of Deeds George J. Tucker (1804-1878) and his second wife Harriet Sill Tucker. The Tuckers previously lived on Main Street opposite the Lenox Academy. That house in November 1862 (while the West Street house was under construction) was undermined by the iron mine tunneled beneath it. George’s lawyer son, Joseph Tucker (1832-1907), came home from Camp Briggs in Pittsfield where he was training with the 49thRegiment, and found the house “sunken down to the second story windows.” (His half-brother, George H. Tucker recounted this in A History of Lenox p. G-4).
The George and Harriet Tucker apparently moved to Pittsfield with the County Court around 1871 and for awhile rented the Lenox house. (Among their tenants was Adelia Taintor (1804-1881) of Hartford a cousin of Adele Kneeland who lived across West Street at Fairlawn.) Then in the second half of the 1870s the family house became known as “Judge Tucker’s House” after Joseph Tucker’s marriage in 1876 to Elizabeth Bishop. The bride, daughter of Judge Henry Bishop and Sarah Bishop, was a lifelong Lenox friend and had been taking care of her elderly mother in the house next door (now site of Paula Almgren’s office). The 44-year-old groom was a Civil War hero having lost his leg in Louisiana in the Union victory at Plains Store. After the war, he went into State politics and in 1873 was appointed judge of the District Court in Pittsfield.
Cozy Nook Robbery in 1878
The Gleanerreported a nighttime burglary at Judge Tucker’s house on May 15, 1878. First drugging the dog and then climbing through the kitchen windows, the robbers “knew exactly where to go and where not to go” and made off with nearly all the Tuckers’ silver and “other smaller things.”
A quiet, evening wedding occurred in the Tuckers’ house in August 1879. Elizabeth Tucker’s orphaned niece, Lucy Pike, who had grown up as Elizabeth’s little sister was married to schoolteacher Harlan H. Ballard in the rooms of the house. Six months later Elizabeth Tucker died. Bereft, Judge Tucker sold the Lenox house in 1882 and moved nearer the Court in Pittsfield, but he remained active in Lenox. He appears in an 1886 photo of men posed on the porch of the Lenox Club.
Helen Parish New Owner
The new owner, a New York heiress of a dry-goods business, Helen Parish (1843-1925) transformed the twenty-year-old Judge Tucker house to its current stately appearance. She named the place “Cozy Nook” and summered here until her death 43 years later.
She was the twelfth and youngest child of Daniel and Mary Ann Parish and bought the house two years after her father’s death. In January 1883 The Lenox Echoreported “ The George Tucker estate recently purchased by Miss Parish will be scarcely recognizable when the house and grounds are finished.” Indoor plumbing was installed, as well as fine woodwork with classical motifs.
Supporter of Library and Lenox Band
Helen Parish was a supporter of two nearby institutions, Lenox Library where she served on the Assistant Board of Managers, and the Lenox Band, which held summertime concerts in front of the Curtis Hotel within earshot of Cosy Nook’s porches.
After Helen Parish’s death in 1925, her neighbor George Turnure purchased the house for his recently divorced daughter, Irene Kissel. In 1940 Norah Codman (1873-1961) bought Cozy Nook with her brother Frederick Chadwick. She was a longtime frequenter of Lenox and widow of lawyer Julian Codman (a glamorous literary and social figure in his Harvard years in the circle of George Santyana, and later during Prohibition of the 1920s, a leading opponent or so-called “Wet”). After selling Cozy Nook, Norah Codman lived on in Lenox, renting rooms at “Heathercroft” on Walker Street, (next to today’s Talbots).
Became Home of Author Robert Smith
In 1945 author Robert Smith bought Cozy Nook, and for the next sixty years his family lived in the imposing Victorian house. Here Smith wrote some six novels and many books in collaboration with sports and military heros. His best known work, entitled Baseball,was published by Simon and Schuster in 1947. When the book first came out, editor Norman Cousins began his lengthy review inSaturday Review, “I dare anyone to meet me under the grandstand who says this isn’t the best book on baseball ever published.”
Ninety-one year old Smith died on a fishing trip in Maine in 1997. His second wife, Jean Kelly Smith (1923-2016), who married Smith in 1955, made Cozy Nook her home for half a century.
- B. Gilder 2017