By the late 1800s, Vermonters had left the state in high numbers as agriculture began to sharply decline as a career path in New England, with many leaving to urban centers and manufacturing towns. Vermont politicians responded to the de-population with initiatives to encourage the redevelopment of existing farms by seasonal residents with money who could summer there to escape the hustle and bustle (and dirty air) of urban centers. Towns threw events like “Old Home” days with activities to entice affluent family members to return home and bring their money with them. After 1850, railroads made it easier for urban families to trade the heat and congestion of the city for the beauty of Vermont. One of these wealthy expats was James Hale Bates (1826-1901), who was born in Cavendish, Vermont, and moved to New York and worked in advertising, operating a major firm there. He retired in 1895, after the completion of Brook Farm one year earlier, a gentleman’s farm that he had built in his ancestral hometown of Cavendish. This massive Colonial Revival mansion was the centerpiece among sweeping fields and orchards contained by rustic stone walls. It is believed that Vermont architect, Clinton Smith, designed the estate house and many of the out-buildings on the site from the carriage and cow barns to the caretaker’s house and creamery. In recent years, the estate was operated as a vineyard, but it appears to be closed now. This is one of the hidden gems of Vermont and one of the most stunning Colonial Revival homes I have seen!
Beachmound, a unique summer residence in Newport, was built in 1897 by architect Henry Ives Cobb for Benjamin Thaw Sr., (1859-1933) a Pittsburgh banker and philanthropist. The mansion is Neo-Classical in style, taking cues from Classical architecture, specifically Greek Revival, with the monumental columns, pediments, and pilasters. Benjamin Thaw was the half-brother of Harry Kendall Thaw (known for the 1906 murder of architect Stanford White). The murder took over the press as one of the more salacious scandals of the gilded era. Harry Thaw’s wife, the actress/model Evelyn Nesbit was said to have been raped by Stanford White while 16 year old (White was 47). She later married Harry K. Thaw. Thaw shot and killed White, the internationally famous architect, in front of hundreds of witnesses in a theater during a performance in New York. Following two trials, he was acquitted based on the insanity defense, a stint in an asylum from which he escaped, and eventual court-ordered freedom, Thaw was a celebrity. A comical piece of the story is that when Thaw later visited “Mar-a-Lago”, the Post Mansion in Palm Beach, Florida (now best known as Donald Trump’s home), he gasped, “My God, I shot the wrong architect!” Beachmound remains as a stunning, refined summer estate in Newport, and is comprised of condo units.
While the Breakers Mansion in Newport is one of the most opulent buildings in the United States, a tiny cottage on the grounds always gives me feelings of whimsy. Predating the larger mansion by two decades, this cottage was constructed on the grounds of the original Breakers House, owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, which was destroyed by fire in 1893. The cottage was built as a children’s playhouse around the time the original Breakers mansion was built in 1878. The Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns built the mansion and adjacent cottage for Pierre Lorillard IV, a New York cigar manufacturer and millionaire. The Queen Anne Revival style elements, including the half-timbering and shingles and asymmetry, were in keeping with the style of the original Breakers, and complimented it well. My favorite part of the cottage is the open porch facing the ocean, which has four wooden posts, carved in the shape of figures from Dutch folklore, a sort of caryatid, supporting the roof. The house contains a living room and kitchen separated by a huge red brick chimney, which would be maintained by servants for the children while they play.
“La Rochelle”, one of the many beautiful summer “cottages” in Bar Harbor, Maine, sits on West Street, a well-preserved stretch of mansions that showcase Gilded Age wealth in the town. The cottage dates back to the 1902-3, when George Sullivan Bowdoin, great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, and partner at J.P. Morgan, and his wife, Julia Irving Grinnell Bowdoin, a great niece of Washington Irving) commissioned the Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to design a cottage for them. They hoped to spend their summers away from New York, where they could rub elbows with other wealthy and well-connected summer residents in Bar Harbor. The French Renaissance style cottage, known as La Rochelle, became one of the first Bar Harbor mansions constructed of brick. The forty-one room, 13,000 square foot cottage was built with twelve bedrooms and nine full-bathrooms on two acres of land, which backs up to the Mount Desert Narrows and harbor. The name La Rochelle comes from La Rochelle, a seaport in Nouvelle, Aquitaine, France, where George’s ancestors lived before settling in present-day Maine (later moving to Boston). In the 1940s, Tristram C. Colket of Philadelphia and his wife (the former Ethel Dorrance, daughter of John T. Dorrance, the Campbell’s Soup king) acquired La Rochelle. In 1972, La Rochelle’s owners, the Colket family, donated it to The Maine Seacoast Mission, who then sold it in 2019 to the Bar Harbor Historical Society.
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.
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!
Perched high on Green Hill in Brookline, this house (named after the landscape feature) was built by Nathaniel Ingersoll in 1806. Ingersoll, born in Salem in 1778, was a ship captain and merchant, which perhaps explains why the house was built in the “Jamaica Planters” or “West Indies” idiom, a sub-type of Federal style. The style, fairly unique to this little area of Brookline features an overhanging roof supported by light columns to create a two-story arcade, once covered by climbing vines. The large Federal style carriage house once on the site was moved from its site to the grounds of the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury in the 1990s. In 1842, the estate was purchased by John Lowell Gardner who later willed the home to his son, John “Jack” Gardner and his wife, Isabella Stewart Gardner. The estate served as a summer getaway for the couple, who’s primary residence was on Beacon Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston (since demolished).
One of the nicest examples of residential Greek Revival architecture I have ever seen is the Austin Perry House (c.1830) in the Southport area of Fairfield, CT. Austin Perry (1798-1864) was a member of a prominent merchant family, holding businesses in Fredericksburg, Virginia, before returning to Southport to manage a general store. He retired in his forties and resided at this home until his death. His home is a balanced, symmetrical design with massive Corinthian columns surmounted by a carved anthemion motif ornamenting the gable pediment.