Chapter 29

Chapter XXIX

Lenox in 1883

Lenox lies in the heart of the Berkshire Hills, two miles and a half from railroad and river, and very far away from any literary or commercial center; yet within a radius of two miles of the village green are between fifty and sixty elegant country seats, each surrounded by a large, well-kept estate. Fair equestrians and glittering equipages are familiar objects on the mountain roads. At the intersection of the two principal streets stands the hostelry of my friend Curtis, substantially built years ago of brick, whose great fires roar up its chimneys through autumn days with hospitable sound. it has entertained in its day Kossutb, Sumner, Channing, McClellan, Fanny Kemble, Charlotte Cushman, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Bret Harte, and, indeed, nearly all the notables of two generations. The town has been called a second Saratoga, the springs and the great hotels excepted a most inapt comparison, since Lenox is almost wholly devoted to the cottager, and its society is exclusive to a degree. It is rather a continuation of Newport. The season usually opens about the 15th of August, and closes by the middle



Lenox in 1883

of October, it being the fashion to flit with the leaves. Many of the visitors own cottages at Newport, which, as summer wanes, they close to finish the season at Lenox.

We one day inquired of Mr. Curtis, an unquestioned authority on all matters pertaining to Lenox, as to the special attractions which have drawn the wealthy and distinguished in such numbers to the village, but he evaded a reply by inviting us out to drive, wisely assuming that that would be the only method of imparting to a visitor the charm of natural beauty and literary association which has made Lenox the fascinating spot it is. We drove southeast along the crest of the long undulation dominated by encircling ranges on which the town is built. On a side street, almost hidden by a copse of pines, he pointed out a pretty cottage. "In the ‘L’ of that cottage, built especially for her," he remarked, "behind that green blind, Catherine Sedgwick wrote most of her later tales." Then, in the hollow at the foot of the hill, he pointed out the localities of the former homes of two other famous women, Fanny Kemble and Charlotte Cushman. "These three ladies spent many years in Lenox when it was entirely unknown to fame," he continued; "and their enthusiastic descriptions of it, with both tongue and pen, first made its beauties known. Miss Kemble, in particular, was fascinated by it. I was a lad of twenty when she first began spending her summers here, and was often em-



Lenox in 1883

ployed to drive her in her excursions about the country. What beauty, what genius, what a presence she had. I don’t suppose there’s a mountain peak or a lake in this region that I haven’t piloted her to. Sometimes she went alone, but oftener Miss Sedgwick or Miss Cushman or the young ladies of Mrs. Sedgwick’s school made up the party. She then appeared at her best. To hear her recite Shakespeare on Greylock, or Bryant on Monument Mountain, in the midst of her friends, was to gain a new idea of her powers."

At this moment we turned into a drive that led through spacious grounds to the front of a well-kept country seat. "This," said Mr. Curtis, "is the Haggerty place, leased the past summer by Robert C. Winthrop, Jr. Col. Robert G. Shaw, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers, married a daughter of the owner and brought his bride here for the honeymoon, leaving her here after a few weeks, to march to his death in the assault on Fort Wagner, where, as you will remember, he was buried by the enemy under the bodies of his men. Mrs. Shaw, after her husband’s death, resided here many years, and here entertained one summer Christine Nilsson, of whom I shall have something to say when we reach Echo Lake. Perhaps you would like to see the house where most of the ‘Star Papers’ were written. Here it is, this plain little cottage under the hill. When Mr. Beecher owned it, however, it stood on the hill instead of under it, on the



Lenox in 1883

site occupied by the fine villa yonder. Mr. Beecher spent several summers in Lenox, and, like Miss Kemble, was fairly fascinated by it; so much so that his congregation began to fear they would lose him entirely, and finally prevailed on him to allow his place here to be sold, purchasing for him instead his present farm at Peekskill. The farm is now owned by General Rathbone, of Albany."

From this point we drove down to and partly around Laurel Lake, a lovely sheet of water, a favorite haunt of Miss Kemble, which called out many interesting reminiséences of her from my companion. Returning villageward by another road, we passed the cottages of Dr. William H. Draper, of New York, and of Professor Rachemann, who married a niece of Miss Sedgwick, and drove by a private road through spacious grounds to one of the old-time mansions of Lenox, formerly owned by Judge Walker, a gentleman as much honored in Lenox as the Sedgwicks were in Stockbridge. "His son, Judge William, had a beautiful daughter, Sarah, who became the first wife of Senator David Davis. It came about in this way: at the time Senator Yancey and Josh Billings were wild boys at Lenox Academy, Mr. Davis was studying law in the village with old Judge Bishop, and being captivated by the lady, wooed and won her before his studies were completed." A short distance above the Walker place, Mr. Lanier, of New York, has chosen the site of a pretty modern villa, one



Lenox in 1883


Lenox in 1883

of the most commanding and beautiful spots in all Berkshire. The hill slopes down to the shores of the fam6us Stockbridge Bowl. Southward the view is partly closed by the jagged pinnacles of Monument Mountain, and far below that by the blue dome of Mount Everett, the loftiest peak of the Taghanics, while on the north the view ends with the double peaks of Greylock. Near by, on the bluff-like north bank of the Bowl, stands the little red cottage where Hawthorne wrote his "Tanglewood Tales" and "House of Seven Gables." We drove down, making quite a detour to reach it, and saw on a closer inspection a small, one-story cottage, half farmhouse, with green blinds, and a long "L" on the west, adjoining a barn. The author’s study was in the southeast room, and commanded a beautiful view of the lake and the mountain vista described on the south. "Many a time," said Mr. Curtis, "I have come down the road yonder and stopped for a chat with Hawthorne. With me he was always cheerful and sociable, though some have called him misanthropic. He always had a sad look in his eyes, and often in conversation would fall into a reverie from which he would rouse himself with an effort. His life here was a very lonely one; he rarely called on any of the neighbors and had few visitors excepting children, of whom he was very fond, and who were drawn to him instinctively. The financial difficulties which clouded so much of his life bad not then been removed.



Lenox in 1883

I think he had, too, a feeling that his talents were not fully appreciated."

Echo Lake was the next point of interest included in our drive. The roads of this region are excellent, and the black and bay bore us around the west shores of Stockbridge Bowl with a rush. From the south shore we had our best general view of this justly famed sheet of water. The reader may imagine it as the pit of a great amphitheater whose outer rim is eight or nine miles in diameter, and its walls at first the green foothills, covered with country seats, which constitute Lenox, above them rising the craggy and wooded spurs of the Taghanics, the whole forming a landscape that for striking contrasts and concentration of detail has few equals. A mile south of the Bowl we came to a new road opened only last June for the sole use of pleasure parties, which led us west for nearly half a mile, until at the base of West Stockbridge Mountain we came upon Echo Lake. To my mind it is the prettiest of the twelve or fifteen lakes that lie within easy distance of Lenox. Its shores are delightfully irregular, abounding in sheltered nooks and coves, and are shaded in places by open groves of pine much sought by picnic parties. On the west it is overhung by the black, grim mass of the mountain; its chief feature is a double echo which repeats and repeats all sounds given it with astonishing accuracy and volume. Midway of the east shore is an overhanging boulder canopied by a young



Lenox in 1883

oak, which at the time of our visit hung an oriflamme of color over the lake. It was on this rock that Christine Nilsson sang, while visiting in Lenox, to a select company of friends who had accompanied her to the lake. As described to me the scene must have been one of the most dramatic ever witnessed. Standing on the rock, the great singer threw across the water to the mountain the choicest notes in her repertoire, and these were caught by its subtle spirits and thrown back in double measure and with perfect accuracy. By and by, as the singer’s ardor grew, the notes were echoed and reechoed with equal spirit, until it seemed that scores of celestial choirs must be hidden somewhere among the recesses of the crags.

Echo Lake was the limit of our drive. As we drove back into the village street, Mr. Curtis inquired if my question had been satisfactorily answered, and I admitted that the answer was all-sufficient.