About a month ago Mimsy (whom I have known since before kindergarten) emailed and said, “I will be crossing Massachusetts in August, and it would be fun to meet and catch up.” I offered some ideas of places to meet, and sadly (HA, HA!!!) she choose The Red Lion Inn. I arrived and checked in, and when I went to get my things she was at her car with Annie, her poodle. Of course with dear friends, it was just like yesterday, but it has been about seven years since she and her late-husband had visited Cathy and me. Her and Annie’s room was not yet ready, so we began on my traditional arrival walking tour of Stockbridge.
But, on my last visit I had read a small notice about an exhibit in the Town Office building, so we headed there first. What a little known hidden treat. Lining the walls are Norman Rockwell’s photograph studies of models in poses for his artwork. It was sometime after relocating from Arlington, VT that he started posing his neighbors for photographs rather than having them endure long live poses for sketches. In many of the offices are fantastic prints which have also been provided by the Norman Rockwell Museum for rotating display. We had a lovely chat with the assistant Tax Collector and learned that 75% of Stockbridge’s homes are second homes (amazing) and the location of Norman Rockwell’s grave. I strongly recommend you duck in the Town Offices to see the photographs and artwork to evoke strong memories. And, in all likelihood you will have the place to yourself.
Walking then towards the south end of town, below the turn of US Route 7, we came to the cemetery, but did not find the graves. But, from now on my ritual will include walking this route too and exploring the homes and cemetery.
Before we arrived I had suggested we tour Edith Wharton’s home, THE MOUNT in Lenox on Wednesday. It has been on my list for years, and Mimsy was there about 30 years ago and got a private tour before any of the restoration had begun.
Both Edith and her husband were from prominent wealthy families. Her maiden name
was Jones, and “fast fact,” “Keeping up with the Joneses” is said to refer to her father’s family. Built between 1901 and 1902, this was Edith Wharton’s summer home for ten years, and where she wrote THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. Her husband suffered severe depression, and they divorced in 1913 and she later moved to France.
We arrived shortly before 11 AM in time to take the garden tour, which is given at 11 AM and 2 PM. House tours are given on the hour, so our timing was perfect – keep this in mind when planning your visit. An excellent young guide, very knowledgeable toured us, and upon conclusion we only had a few moments to wait for the house tour, again by a well-versed guide. THE MOUNT, which she designed along with the gardens, is an excellent representation of her design principles (as discussed in her first published work in 1897 – THE DECORATION OF HOUSES).
These principles are still adhered to. Small in comparison to Newport’s “Cottages” the practicality of the rooms and layout, including the servant’s areas, is impressive. Following the tour we watched the introductory video (something I always recommend as you know), and then took our “self-guided” tour back through to be able to read all the exhibits about her writings, influential friends (including: Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Bernard Berenson, and Kenneth Clark). Of real interest was her charity work in France during World War I. A late lunch followed on the patio, and by the time we left five enjoyable hours had passed – keep this in mind when planning your visit.
Would you believe Mimsy then suggested some Shunpiking, “I can handle that,” I replied. I drove past Tanglewood on an approach I had not previously taken, and then seeing the back road returning to Stockbridge we turned the other way. Up over mountains, beautiful back country roads, meandering through Alford for the first time, and all of a sudden I realized that what I saw ahead was US Route 7 in Great Barrington. Wow, all new territory, and worth repeating.
For dinner I thought to try something new in town, a restaurant extant for 32 years and reportedly nice – Michaels of Stockbridge was not my kind of place, and we politely left and walked back to The Red Lion Inn for another elegant dinner.
On the front porch Thursday, Mimsy concluded filling me in on classmates from high school. By default she has become the keeper of contact information, and has a wonderful memory. In addition she and a few others arrange class reunions. Something I am not particularly big on (always looking forward rather than back), but plan to attend the next one in Wilton, CT (didn’t you say it was 30 years, Mimsy? – again laugh) as long as I have enough notice so not to plan a trip elsewhere.
After breakfast, Mimsy headed to visit friends in the Adirondacks, and my plan was to visit the Bennington Battlefield in Walloomsac, NY which took place 236 years ago today on August 16, 1777. This was but an hour trip for me up NY Route 22 (another great road), but why not hit some back roads to the west of Route 22, I may even find the Model A Ford Tudor Sedan I am looking for. I didn’t, but covered “new” old roads for 2 ½ hours before
arriving at the battlefield site on top of a small hill. This was a small battle, but one of the very important ones leading to and contributing to the defeat of the British at Saratoga and eventually their loss of the colonies. With thinning supplies the British were advancing to Bennington where they believed there was a storehouse of supplies. Camped on this small hill, colonial troops attacked and won. An important victory because Brigadier General John Stark (whose famous battle call was “There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”) and Colonel Seth Warner, with their untrained militia defeated some of Europe’s best regular soldiers, capturing them and their supplies.
Heading into Old Bennington I stopped at the gift shop at the Bennington Battle Monument and saw a new $35 book on Ethan Allen that I did not know about. My copy, purchased on line for $5.35 plus shipping, has already been shipped to me. I then crossed Vermont Route 9, picking up another set of candlesticks in a Wilmington shop, and sidetracked to see the campus of Marlboro College for the first time.
Not sure what I will do next, but I do know that in the Berkshires (even with decades of visits behind me) with everything else to do there I will have many years of visits before I can say “done it all” which you know I would never say.
1) See the Norman Rockwell exhibit in the Stockbridge, Massachusetts Town Offices
2) Visit Edith Wharton’s THE MOUNT in Lenox, Massachusetts
3) Study Rocking Chairs