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.
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.
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!
Located on the idyllic Main Street in Stockbridge, MA in the Berkshires, this stone church marks the emergence of the once sleepy town into a summer retreat for wealthy citizens, escaping the cities in the late 19th century. This building is Charles Follen McKim’s first church design, a building reflecting his early training in the office of H. H. Richardson with the use of Romanesque detailing, though with a hint of Norman design. St. Paul’s Church is constructed of gray Berkshire granite with stained glass windows by John La Farge. The church replaced an older wooden church building designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style. The church was almost entirely funded by Charles Butler, a New York lawyer who wanted to honor his late wife Susan Ridley Sedgwick Butler, a descendant of Theodore Sedgwick, whose home I featured not long ago.
The largest building on Main Street in Stockbridge has to be the Red Lion Inn, a regional institution and one of the best places to rest your head in New England. The inn got its start just before the Revolutionary War. According to tradition, Silas Pepoon established a small tavern on the corner of Main Street in 1773, under the sign of a red lion. A year later, angry citizens gathered at the tavern to boycott English goods and to pass resolutions protesting the oppressive Acts of Intolerance levied against the colonies. Since its earliest days, the inn was a vital gathering place for locals and has continued to play an important role in the life of the community ever since. In 1862, the inn was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Plumb, avid collectors of rare and fine items, who became renowned for their impressive compilation of colonial antiques. A fire in 1896 destroyed the building but its remarkable array of collectibles was saved and the inn was rebuilt within a year by designs from Harry E. Weeks, a Pittsfield-based architect.
In about 1825, Francis and Clarissa Dresser built this charming brick Federal house in the rural town of Stockbridge, MA. Just 25 years later, the railroad arrived to town, connecting it to Connecticut and New York to the south, opening the town up as a leisure destination for wealthy city dwellers looking to escape the noise and congestion of the city. The period following the Civil War through World War I saw the Gilded Age reach the Berkshires. With artists, writers, financiers, and industrialists flocking to the rural hills of western Massachusetts for seasonal escapes. In 1875, William and Elizabeth Doane, wealthy New Yorkers, purchased Merwin House from the Dresser family to use as a summer retreat. As the Doane family grew to include two young daughters, Vipont and Elizabeth, they added a Shingle Style side addition to the original brick structure. The home became known as “Tranquility”, even after the home was willed to daughter Vipont. After a couple marriages, Vipont married Edward Payson Merwin, a New York stockbroker. Historic New England acquired Merwin House in 1966, shortly after the death of Marie Vipont deRiviere Doane Merwin, known as Vipont. It was her desire to leave Merwin House as a museum, as her will states, “as an example of an American culture which is fast becoming extinct.” The space is occasionally open for tours and is partially occupied by the Housatonic Valley Association.
Built in 1785, the Sedgwick House on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA, is the oldest of several Federal mansions built in town after the Revolution. Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), one of the early lawyers of Berkshire County, moved to Stockbridge in 1785 and built this house. From 1796 to 1799 he was a Senator in the federal government, and declined a position of Secretary of the Treasury offered by George Washington. Before this, when a House Representative, he was nominated the fourth Speaker of the House. An ardent Federalist, Theodore retired from the national arena upon Thomas Jefferson’s election. Sedgwick was also a member of an early abolitionist society organized in Pennsylvania in 1775 and played a key role in abolishing slavery in Massachusetts by his win in the case of Bett v. Ashley. In this case, Sedgwick served as attorney of Mum Bet (also known as Elizabeth Freeman) an enslaved woman in nearby Sheffield and argued that slavery was inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution, and won. Bet became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts, effectively abolishing slavery in the state. She was later buried in the Sedgwick Family burial plot in Stockbridge. The home was later owned and occupied by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Theodore’s daughter, who became one of nineteenth-century America’s most prolific women writers. She published six novels, two biographies, eight works for children, novellas, over 100 pieces of short prose and other works.