Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

History Detective at Bidwell House

Yes the Bidwell House is in Monterey, but like many historic homes in Lenox it requires intelligent intervention to remain standing and to be true to its historic heritage.    Not an easy task as we learned  at a June 13, 2015 presentation at Bidwell House on how its preservation plan was developed.

Bidwell House Background

Bidwell House, 1762 (?), Monterey, MA
Bidwell House, 1750 (?), Monterey, MA

Bidwell House had the good fortune to be left relatively undisturbed as a farm house until 1911 and then, in the 1960’s to have been meticulously restored by James Hargis and David Brush (who donated the property for its current use as a museum). The result is that 90% of the house is thought to be original.

Bidwell House Executive Director Barbara Palmer
Bidwell House Executive Director Barbara Palmer

Nonetheless, it needed a new roof this year and the Bidwell House Museum Association used this opportunity to get an extensive historic survey and preservation plan done through a Mass Preservation Plan grant.

Difficult Restoration Choices

The Birthing Room, Bidwell House - Original Fireplace and Paneling
The Birthing Room, Bidwell House – Original Fireplace and Paneling

The dilemma in stabilizing and fixing a 250+ year old house is to identify what the original design, colors and materials were.

To make the right choices, the Great Barrington architect Steve McCallister brought in historic preservation expert Bill Rose of Rose and French–really a history detective.

Preservationist Bill Rose Showing One of the Places Where He Obtained a Color Sample
Preservationist Bill Rose Showing One of the Places Where He Obtained a Color Sample

The materials available for this detective work included photos from the early 20th century when the Carrington family sold the house, some photos from the 1920’s era as a summer art school and from the 1950’s when the house was a summer home for a Minnesota family and a recorded interview with the late Jack Hargis who had done the 1960’s restoration.

Much as in “CSI” and “Bones”, samples of wood planing are compared against the output of saws and planers from different eras.  Also nail technology has changed over the years and can give a good indication of age.  Sometimes Bill Rose was using indentations of former nail holes to make a determination.  Dendrochronology, tree ring dating, has not been very helpful in this area because comparative data is limited.

Again similar to modern forensics, a pinpoint drill of wall is taken and sliced so the paint can be viewed under a microscope.

Deduction and comparison are also tools of the history detective.  Bill was able to the date of the El addition based on the weathering of the shingles where the addition overlapped the original house.  Deductions can also be made based on the appearance of new styles and technology in other houses.  Much as we see today, kitchens tended to be renovated every 20 or 30 years as new ways to heat food were developed.

17 Franklin St., George Walker House – c.1840

17 Franklin St., George Walker House - c. 1840
17 Franklin St., George Walker House – c. 1840

From Surveys Completed 2011-2012 by the Lenox Historical Commission

NoteThis house as well as       are examples of another historic preservation problem — the house remains but is altered in such a way as to no longer have any historic integrity.


This Greek Vernacular style building has 1.5 stories, an asphalt shingle roof and has been significantly altered. It has a 3-bay, center entrance, wood frame and full front porch with hipped roof. Changes include: 2 sets of 3 6-o-6 windows on 1st floor front façade; small fanlight attic window in front gable added or replaced original window; handicapped access ramp to right side entry.

A low stone wall along front property line is an extension of stone wall in front of 15 Franklin St.

This 1 ½ story gable-front house is an example of a vernacular form found throughout the country. The 6/6 window sash indicates that this house was probably built before 1850, although houses of this type were built through the end of the 19th century.


In the 1840’s Henry Cook divided up some meadow land to sell as house lots. In 1848 he sold this lot to George Walker and in the deed it was noted that the house was then occupied by Rev. Henry Nick, who may have been the Methodist minister. The Methodist Church at that time was located at the corner of Church and Franklin streets, so this house may have been used as a parsonage.

The lot also had an early system of water transportation through subterranean pipes, which carried water from a spring-fed cistern on Cook’s property. The deed for this house mentions these pipes and notes that the buyer of the house was responsible for helping to repair and rebuild them is necessary.

  • 1848 George Walker
  • 1856 0gden Haggerty (150,52)House lot with house.
  • 1863 Nora Kelly (176, 45)
  • 1906 Mary O’Dea (331.471)
  • 1946 Donald Page (519,580)
  • Page family received house in a will
  • 1964 James E. Nolan (791,139)
  • 1969 Bartholomew & Margaret Casey (872,347)
  • 1969 David Silverstein (882,335)
  • 1973 Ella Lerner (942,509)
  • 1988 Ella Lerner
  • 1999 Judith Lerner
  • 2001 Antonio Gallo


Registry of deeds, Pittsfield Mass.

Tucker Manuscript (Lenox Library)

Old maps

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)