Tag Archives: Hawthorne’s Lenox

The Sedgwicks of Lenox

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

1808 Portrait of Theodore Sedgwick by Gilbert Stuart

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.

Mumbet, Elizabeth Freeman, 1744-1829
Mumbet, Elizabeth Freeman, 1744-1829

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.

The Sedgwick Pie - With Descendants Encircling Theodore and Pamela
The Sedgwick Pie – With Descendants Encircling Theodore and Pamela

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.

Theodore’s Children

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)
Charles Sedgwick and his friend Judge Henry Bishop
Charles Sedgwick and his friend Judge Rockwell-

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

Catherine Sedgwick Wrote Many of Her Most Famous Historical Novels 1820-1850
Catherine Sedgwick Wrote Many of Her Most Famous Historical Novels 1820-1850r.

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 

The Hive - Lenox Home of the Sedgwicks - Now the Site of Spring Lawn
The Hive – Lenox Home of the Sedgwicks – Now the Site of Spring Lawn

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

The Beginnings of Lenox As a Resort Community

Samuel Gray Ward (about 1860)

Several authors count Samuel Gray Ward’s (1817-1907) purchase in 1844 of the original Highwood as the beginning of Lenox as a resort community.  Ward certainly set the mold for others who would follow shortly.  He was the son of Thomas Ward who sought out investment opportunities in the burgeoning American economy for London based Barings Bank.

Young Samuel was a member of Emerson’s circle (a Transcendentalist Groupie?) and he longed to pursue the life of a country scholar.

Time Was Right for an Early Summer Resort

But to understand how this act set off a bit of a ripple of grand summer homes, we should probably consider how the stage was set as New England rolled into the new century.

  • The economy was shifting from agricultural subsistence to a cash based economy with the emergence of wage labor, professional services and trade as increasingly important — particularly in the Northeast.  A mobil wealthy class was emerging.
  • Other areas – particularly the Northwest Territories and  Upstate New York offered better agricultural opportunities than New England.  Starting as early as 1790 with Major General John Paterson moving to upstate New York, the phenomenon of  investing in land for its economic potential was shifting away from New England.  The quality was better and there wasn’t much open land left in Massachusetts
  • Population density (in the 1830-1850 censes Massachusetts had one of the highest densities per square mile) motivated those who were able to seek the health and beauty of the countryside.
  • Transportation improvements were accelerating allowing more people to go where they wanted to go and allowing economic specialization (i.e., wheat from the midwest, dairy and fresh food from New England moved to cities).  Roads had improved steadily since the Revolution and even before rail service was established, there was regular coach service stopping at what would become the Curtis Hotel.   Then several major developments occurred 1820-1850.  The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 eased east west transport through the Great Lakes.  The railroad came to Berkshire County by 1841 providing relatively easy access to the countryside for movers and shakers from Boston and New York.
  • America was just beginning to define its own art and culture and patronage and discussion were eagerly sought by the elite.  Between the courts, the Sedgwicks, and the schools there apparently was enough critical mass to attract a steady flow of artists and literati such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Thomas Cole.


Highroad now part of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Program; Much Altered from the Original Italianate Design

Samuel Ward purchased land from farmer Daniel Barnes’ farm – selected for its beautiful view of the Stockbridge Bowl.  Although their home was famously chilly, the Wards lived year round at Highwood from 1845 to 1849 and quickly merged with the Sedgwick cultural circle for teas, talks, recitations and concerts.  The original Highwood (the one shown above had been considerably altered) was  designed by Richard Upjohn who was, at the time, also working on Trinity Church in New York.  Although the country intellectualism of the Wards and the Sedgwicks was much less pretentious than other what would follow later in the century, the trend of out of town architects and conscious design had begun.

Oakwood, Designed by Charles McKim for Samuel and Anna Ward c. 1870
Drawing of Cottage Rented to Hawthorne in 1850 (Re-creation now on Hawthorne Rd. Across from Tanglewood)

The couple attracted other Boston visitors and, when Sam was forced to return to Boston to take over his father’s business he rented Highwood to the Tappans who would eventually take up residency on what is now part of the grounds of Tanglewood.  In 1850 they rented the little red house at the end of the drive to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family.


Eventually, Highwood was sold to another successful Boston businessman, William S. Bullard.  When the property was turned over to the Boston Symphony Orchestra mid twentieth century,

Oakwood, Built in 1876 for Sam and Anna Ward by Charles McKim, Burned 1903

The Wards had never cut their ties to Lenox and when Sam Ward retired in the 1870’s he purchased a property near Highwood and had Charles McKim build shingle style Oakwood in 1876.  In 1891, the property was sold to Anson and Helen Stokes who would build Shadow Brook up the hill and convert Oakwoods to a stable.  It burned in 1903.

So here was another  pattern of tearing down charming existing homes to put up bigger, grander “cottages.”

For much more information on the early days of Lenox as a summer resort see, The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters