One of the most stunning and unique summer “cottages” in Stockbridge, Massachusetts has to be “Oronoque”, an eclectic Shingle-style home constructed of course ashlar blocks and shingle siding. The home was constructed around 1886 for Birdseye Blakeman, who lived in Stratford, CT. The home’s name is somewhat a mystery, but was possibly the name of his ancestral home in Connecticut. Just a few years after the homes completion, Blakeman died, and his widow continued to summer at the home until her death in 1912. The home was purchased by Norman H. Davis, a U.S. diplomat who later served as President Wilson‘s chief financial advisor at the Paris Peace Conference after WWI. Davis also served as Chairman of the American Red Cross, under three presidents. Under his direction, the Red Cross greatly expanded by thousands of volunteers and blood banks were established. The home was later owned by Boston University, who used it as lodging for students visiting the Tanglewood Festivals. It was later sold to a developer who appears to have converted it to a multi-family property.
Designed in 1893 by the Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, Wheatleigh is an early example of Renaissance Revival architecture which became popular for country estates in the early 20th century. The estate was constructed for Henry Harvey Cook, who purchased over 250-acres of forest and lawns overlooking Lake Maheenac for his summer “cottage”. Cook was a New York-based businessman who made his fortune in the railroad and banking businesses, and he wanted a summer house to escape to every year. He named his home “Wheatleigh” as an homage to his family’s ancestral home, Wheatley, Oxfordshire. The mansion is approached by a circular drive that terminates in a formal entrance court partially enclosed by a buff brick wall and evergreen trees, centered on an octagonal marble fountain decorated with a shell and leaf motif. Upon Cook’s death in 1905 Wheatleigh passed to his daughter, Georgie, the Countess de Heredia. Under her ownership the formal garden was opened for evening worshipping services and musical events. Following de Heredia’s death in 1946 the property was divided and changed hands numerous times. In 1976 the mansion and 22 acres were opened as a resort hotel, known as the estates historic name. The Wheatleigh remains one of the most esteemed luxury hotels in the country.
“Highwood”, was completed in 1845, and is likely credited to architect Richard M. Upjohn the son of Richard Upjohn Sr., who was known best for New York City’s Trinity Church, who was building a church for the Episcopal congregation in Stockbridge at the time. The home sits near Tanglewood, both since being absorbed into the Tanglewood Music Center campus today. The home was built for 27-year-old Samuel Gray Ward (1817-1907) an American poet, author, and minor member of the Transcendentalism movement. He was also a banker and a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among his circle of contemporaries were poets and writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller. He desired country living with his family and became a “gentleman farmer” while he wrote in his home, overlooking the large lake. The family lived here year-round until he was called back to Boston to assist his father in business ventures. In 1857, the Wards realized their time at Highwood had come to an end and sold the estate to another Boston couple, William Story Bullard and his wife, Louisa Norton Bullard who settled into their new home, which they were not afraid to alter, including the addition of a mansard roof. The home was occupied by the family 1960. The home was later acquired by John Mason Harding, a New York lawyer and his wife, Mary Riker Harding. Idyllic summers did not last long for the Hardings as in the late 1970s, Tanglewood and the BSO sponsored rock concerts began playing. Mr. Harding complained that he didn’t expect to have Woodstock in his backyard and brought suit against the BSO to limit the length and noise level of the concerts. The home was eventually purchased by the BSO in 1986.
The 200-acre campus of Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra spends its summer months, spreads the grounds of two historic summer cottages in the charming town of Stockbridge, MA. One of the summer “cottages” Tanglewood, where the music center gets its name, was constructed around 1865 for Caroline Sturgis Tappan, husband William Aspinwall Tappan and their two daughters, Ellen Sturgis Tappan and Mary Aspinwall Tappan. Mary, with her niece Rosamund Hepburn, donated the family summer home, Tanglewood in 1937 to Serge Koussevitzky, a Russian-born conductor, composer and music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. The campus has since grown astronomically as it hosts musicians and tourists from all over the region and globally to experience the arts in the charming town in the Berkshires. The Tanglewood house retains much of its historic architecture and siting, overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl (lake).
The Mission House, erected by the Reverend John Sergeant in 1739 on Prospect Hill in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is an excellent and little-altered example of Georgian architecture as constructed on the New
England frontier. The home is a lasting remnant of early missionary efforts toward the local Mohican tribe. Reverend John Sergeant, the first missionary to the Housatonic Indians, moved to Stockbridge and preached to the native people here and at the Congregational Church. Sergeant and his wife Abigail moved to town, but she had made it clear that she wished to live on the hill, away from the village and the native people. Sergeant then built this home, a spacious and distinguished house for its frontier location. Though covered in part by a grant from the General Court, the cost of constructing such a house must have been a severe strain on Sergeant’s slender financial resources, as his salary at that time was 100 pounds per year. The home remained in the family until the 19th century. In 1928, long unoccupied and badly in need of repair, the house was purchased by Miss Mabel Choate, daughter of noted lawyer and former Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph H. Choate. The house was taken down piece by piece, moved and reconstructed, on Main Street, in its current location. The Mission House was furnished with pieces appropriate to Sergeant’s economic status and his wife’s taste, many of them dating from the 1750’s or earlier. Since 1948, the home has been owned by the Trustees of Reservations.
The Stockbridge Casino was built in 1887-1888 according to the design of Stanford White, a principal architect of the firm McKim, Mead & White. The building was not what we think of casinos today, it was a ‘casino’ in the older sense of the term, having been established as a place for a reading-room, library, and social meetings, for the richest in town to hang out. For forty years, it offered its members tennis, billiards, dances, theatricals, and lectures throughout the summer seasons. After a period of decline after WWI, the group sold the property to Mabel Choate, who wished to move the Mission House (home of the first missionary to the Stockbridge Indians) from up on Prospect Hill to Main Street. There was reluctance to see the casino torn down, so a group of local citizens — led by Walter Leighton Clark, President of the Grand Central Art Galleries of New York; Austen Fox Riggs, psychiatrist; and Daniel Chester French, sculptor — acquired land at the end of Main Street and moved the Casino to its present site, saving it from the wrecking ball. The building was renovated and reopened in 1928 as the Berkshire Playhouse, and was later renamed the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, a theater run by the Berkshire Theatre Group.
Chesterwood is the former summer home, studio and gardens of American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850–1931), who is best known for creating two of our nation’s most powerful symbols: the Minute Man (1871–75) at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, John Harvard in Harvard Yard, and Abraham Lincoln (1911–22) for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Daniel Chester French was one of the most successful artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, producing more than 100 works of public sculpture. In the fall of 1895, he and his wife drove by horse and buggy and discovered the resort town of Stockbridge. They returned the next summer and purchased the Marshall Warner farm from the family who had purchased the land from Mohican Native Americans. The French family and two maids moved into the white clapboard farmhouse the next summer. To ensure that his summer would be productive as well as restful, he improvised a studio in the barn. He asked his friend and colleague, architect Henry Bacon, to design a studio for him (Bacon would later work with French on the Lincoln Memorial). Soon, in spite of renovation, the original farmhouse was deemed inadequate and French commissioned Bacon to design a residence, completed in 1901. The family owned the home for decades, even after Daniel Chester French’s death. Much of the credit for Chesterwood’s preservation and metamorphosis from summer retreat to public site belongs to Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), the sculptor’s daughter. After her parents’ death, she maintained the property and began to use it year-round, assembled the work of her father, and established the estate as a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Citizens Hall, which was built in 1870 in a small village within Stockbridge, MA, is a small-scale version of the civic buildings constructed in the Second Empire in American towns and cities following the Civil War. The building is the architectural epicenter of Curtisville (now sometimes referred to as Interlaken), a small community within the Town of Stockbridge, which grew up around twelve mills. The mills are gone but several significant structures remain, also retaining their rural character. Citizens Hall was designed by Charles T. Rathbun, and inside, the two rooms on the first floor housed the public school and the second floor was the community assembly hall. The building was threatened with deferred maintenance in the mid-20th century and its future was uncertain until 1975 when a local group worked with the State Historic Preservation Office and acquired a grant to make needed repairs on the building. Today, the structure is maintained and houses the Art School of Berkshire (now known as Interlaken School of Art). Look at that historically appropriate paint scheme!
At 55,000 square feet and 106 rooms, the Elm Court mansion retains the title of the largest American Shingle Style home in the United States. The structure was built for William Douglas Sloane and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt) as their summer “cottage” in the Berkshires. The home straddles the towns of Stockbridge and Lenox and sits on a massive parcel of land, giving the owners space to breathe the clean countryside air. Emily’s brother, George, built The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina and her sister, Eliza (Lila), constructed Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. The home was constructed in 1886 from plans by the great Peabody & Stearns architects. Shortly after the turn of the century, ca. 1901, the couple commissioned Peabody and Stearns again, to vastly enlarge their original house. The additions used both Shingle Style and Tudor Revival motifs, and the result is a structure highly reminiscent of an English country house. William Sloane died in 1915, and Emily Vanderbilt continued to use the summer cottage, and in 1921, she married a summertime neighbor, Henry White, a career diplomat. While Henry White died in 1927, Emily retained the house and kept the grounds running until her death in 1946. The property’s use evolved into an inn in the late 1940s. During the 1950s, it embraced the public for dinners, overnight accommodations and events. Eventually Elm Court’s doors closed, and for approximately 50 years the mansion succumbed to significant theft and vandalism. The property has been listed for sale numerous times in the past decades, after a renovation by the last owners in the Sloane family. It is now listed for $12,500,000!
The historic Stockbridge Railroad Station was built in 1893, replacing an original wooden structure, with funds partially furnished by the Laurel Hill Association, the nation’s first village improvement society. The society was instrumental in preserve the attractive character of Stockbridge, which appealed to many New Yorkers, who began to construct homes in the Berkshires as summer retreats. To welcome many visitors to the quaint town, a more appropriate train station was needed to replace the decrepit wooden station there previously. Architect Frank Waller designed the station, which was owned and used by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad until the early 1960’s. Soon after the station was occupied by a small bar/club and a kitchen fire almost destroyed the building. Today, the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum has control of the historic structure and hopes to utilize the space for events and detailing the rich history of Stockbridge.