Two House Tours with a Focus on History
To get the most out of a historic house tour, it’s crucial to use your imagination, to “be there” at every stage in the property’s development. Same building, 100 years later, is never the same, even when it has been preserved in amber as a house museum. Ventfort Hall, where the Lenox house tour begins this weekend, was saved from the wrecking ball in 1997 through the heroic efforts of the Ventfort Hall Association, a consortium of neighbors and historic preservationists from Lenox headed by Tjasa Sprague. At the time, the massive, 35-room brick edifice was so engulfed in vegetation, a visitor had to be within inches of it even to know it was there.
Ventfort Hall (above, as it was in its heyday and is on its way to becoming again) was built in1893 in the Elizabethan-Revival style as a summer cottage for a Morgan. Today, this restoration-in-progress is The Museum of the Gilded Age, presently featuring, among other exhibits, a show of vintage and antique wedding gowns, on loan from the Berkshire Museum. Like Ventfort, the other properties on the tour reflect aspects of Lenox’s varied history, from farming community, through Gilded-Age resort, and right up to the present digital age (there is even one contemporary house on the tour), when it has become a viable home base for artists, writers, retirees, and anyone who can “commute” via the internet.
Among the other properties on the tour, Stonover Farm (above) was built in 1890 as a gentleman’s farm, today, it is a B & B stylishly outfitted with contemporary art and furnishings. Hotchkin House (below), on Cliffwood Street overlooking the Triangle Park in the center of town, was built in about 1805 by the father of John Hotchkin, who continued to live there for his entire life, for a time serving as principal of the Lenox Academy, a boys school. Now, the recently renovated house is the well-appointed family gathering place for a semi-retired couple from Washington, D.C. The original portion of the modern “cottage”, Foothill Farm, is a fine, brick, federal-style farmhouse, built in the early 1800s, and known for it’s first century as Belden Farm, for the owners, who were one of the founding families of Lenox. Later generations of Beldons sold portions of their land to their new, wealthy, gilded-age neighbors, the Tappens, who named the estate they built on it Tanglewood. In 1928 the Belden’s brick house and fifty acres were transformed into a fashionable sportsman’s domain, renamed Foothill Farm. Thanks to subsequent remodelings and substantial additions, the property remains fashionable to this day. Another house on the tour, built c.1820 as a modest two-story colonial, was later updated in the Victorian Eclectic style. For a while, the “dean of Lenox barbers” lived there; later it was an inn. Now it has been restored to its single-family Victorian splendor, and it houses the current owners’ fine collection of early American decorative arts and furnishings. In an adjacent barn, there is another collection of vintage model trains.
And so it goes; each house adapted over the decades and centuries, as the times, the town, and the owners’ needs and aspirations changed.
Lenox House Tour, 5 Private Homes plus historic Ventfort Hall
Saturday, August 8, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tickets $30 after 9:30 a.m. at Ventfort Hall
104 Walker St, Lenox; 413.637.3206
And Coming Up: Another House Tour in Hillsdale
We strongly advise that you not keep your options open for Saturday, August 22. Just this once, plan ahead or miss out on the First Annual Hillsdale Historic House Tour and Picnic. The tour is comprised of four open houses, all in the hamlet, all within easy walking distance of one another. There is also a History of Hillsdale Exhibit in another historically significant building. All ticket holders are invited to gather at noon for a box lunch and live music in a private garden. Lovely. The only hitch: The deadline for ordering tickets is August 12. In other words, the time to commit is now.
The houses on the tour are worth waiting for. They include a distinctive, intact 1865 example of the picturesque Italianate style, an 1855 house reflecting both the Greek Revival and Italianate styles and a 1917 Craftsman that is in the process of being restored, using original blueprints. The church, a classic example of rural religious architecture in the Greek Revival style, was dedicated in 1847. A house built in 1783 in the Classical style by one of the most influential early settlers of Hillsdale will be the location of the History of Hillsdale Exhibit, organized by the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society. The building’s facade is little changed from the day it was completed, 227 years ago.
“The Hillsdale hamlet contains an extraordinary number of nineteenth century buildings that have retained their historic character and represent the area’s commercial and social history”, says Hillsdale Preservation Committee’s Matthew White, an interior designer named one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers in the world. “The exteriors of the buildings on the tour look much as they did when they were built, while the insides combine modern comforts with original detail. We chose them for their historical significance.” White’s house, designed by the architect Dennis Wedlick, will be the site of the patron’s cocktail party on the 23rd.
1st Annual Hillsdale Historic House Tour & Picnic
August 22, noon - 4 p.m.; 518.325.1498
Tickets: $35/general admission, includes tour and picnic; $100/patron, includes tour, picnic, and on Sunday, August 23rd, a patrons cocktail party 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Also available at B&G Wine & Gourmet and Passiflora in Hillsdale, and the Rocky Field Farm booth, Hillsdale Farmer’s Market.
Deadline for ordering tickets, August 12. No tickets will be sold the day of the tour.