Ventfort Hall Drawing Room, Lenox, Mass

The drawing room at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, probably around the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Lenox Library Association.

The room in 2018:

Although the term is rather archaic now, a drawing room was essentially a living room, functioninging as a place that guests could “withdraw” to after a dinner party. Here in Ventfort Hall, the drawing room is located in the northwest corner of the first floor, next to the main entrance and across the entry hall from the grand staircase, which can be seen beyond the doors in the present-day photo. The first photo shows the room at some point around the 1890s, probably soon after the house was completed in 1893.

Ventfort Hall remained a summer home for more than 50 years, and the drawing room was likely used for its original purpose throughout much of this time. However, the last private owner sold the property in 1945, and the house subsequently became, at various times, a dormitory, a hotel, a ballet school, and a religious school. By the late 20th century, it had deteriorated on both the interior and exterior, and it was nearly demolished in the 1990s. It was ultimately preserved, though, and the house was restored to its original appearance and opened for public tours starting in 2000.

Today, the property is the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, and the historic home is still open for guided tours of the interior. Here in the drawing room, the furnishing is not identical to the first photo, and plain white walls have replaced the busy Victorian wallpaper, but otherwise the room is easily recognizable from the first photo, including the restored ceiling and the ornate mantelpiece. Because of its location adjacent to the front door, the drawing room now serves as the museum’s gift shop, as shown in the present-day scene.

Ventfort Hall Grand Staircase, Lenox, Mass

The grand staircase in Ventfort Hall in Lenox, around the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Lenox Library Association.

The staircase in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, Ventfort Hall was completed in 1893 as the summer home of George and Sarah Morgan. Sarah was the sister of financier J. P. Morgan, and she constructed this house soon after receiving a $3 million inheritance from their father, Junius Spencer Morgan, upon his death in 1890. However, she died only three years after the house was completed, and George died in 1911, but the house remained in the Morgan family until 1925, when it was sold to railroad executive William Roscoe Bonsal.

The house was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Rotch & Tilden, with a brick, Jacobean Revival exterior. The interior consists of 28 rooms, but perhaps the most impressive space in the house is the grand staircase, shown here in this scene. It is located just inside the main entryway on the north side of the house, and it features a carved oak banister and oak paneling, matching the Jacobean style of the house. The second floor is decorated with arches, and above them is an ornate plaster ceiling.

Ventfort Hall remained a summer residence until around 1945, and during the second half of the 20th century it was used for a variety of other purposes, including a dormitory, hotel, and ballet school. From 1976 to 1987, it was part of the Bible Speaks College, but it subsequently sat vacant and was threatened with demolition. However, in 1997 it was acquired by the Ventfort Hall Association, which restored it and opened it as a museum.

Today, the appearance of the grand staircase has hardly changed since the first photo was taken some 125 years ago. Much of the interior suffered from neglect in the late 20th century, but the staircase remained well-preserved, and it remains one of the highlights of the building’s interior. Ventfort Hall is still open to the public for tours, and its restoration marks a major accomplishment for historic preservation in the Berkshires.

Ventfort Hall, Lenox, Mass

Ventfort Hall, on Walker Street in Lenox, around 1893. Image courtesy of the Lenox Library Association.

The scene in 2018:

Ventfort Hall is one of the many large summer homes that were built in the Berkshires during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The region, particularly the southern part in and around Lenox, was a popular resort destination during this period, and some of the nation’s wealthiest families had estates here. Ventfort Hall, shown here in these two photos, was owned by George and Sarah Morgan, of the prominent banking family. Sarah (1839-1896) was the sister of J. P. Morgan, and her husband George (1840-1911) was a New York banker. Despite having the same last name even before their marriage, George and Sarah were only distantly related, having been descended from two different brothers who came to America in the 17th century.

Sarah’s father, the prominent financier Junius Spencer Morgan, died in 1890, leaving her with an inheritance of $3 million, equivalent to about $85 million today. Soon after, she purchased this property on Walker Street, which at the time was occupied by another house. This house was demolished, and the Morgans hired the Boston-based architectural firm of Rotch & Tilden to design a new one. These architects had previously designed several other estates in Lenox, including the nearby Frelinghuysen House, which the Morgans rented while Ventfort Hall was under construction. However, Ventfort Hall featured a very different architectural style, with a brick, Jacobean Revival exterior, as opposed to the wood-frame Colonial Revival-style Frelinghuysen House.

Ventfort Hall was completed in 1893, around the time that the first photo was taken, but Sarah Morgan died only three years later. George continued to own the property until his death in 1911, and his two children, Junius Spencer Morgan II and Caroline Morgan, subsequently inherited it. However, the house was often rented out to other affluent families. During the late 1910s, Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt spent several summers here while her own estate, Holmwood, was under construction here in Lenox. She was in her early 30s at the time, and had been widowed in 1915 when her husband, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt – son of wealthy businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt II – died in the sinking of the Lusitania.

The house was then rented by William Roscoe Bonsal and his wife Mary. William was a railroad executive who was originally from South Carolina, and he and Mary rented the house for seven years, before purchasing it outright from the Morgan family in 1925. He died in 1933, and Mary in 1940, and the Bonsal family sold the property in 1945. By this point, though, the age of large summer estates in the Berkshires had passed, and, like many of the other nearby properties, it was converted into institutional use.

During the second half of the 20th century, Ventfort Hall was used for a variety of purposes, including as a dormitory for Tanglewood, a hotel, and a ballet school. Starting in 1976, it was one of several historic mansions owned by the Bible Speaks College. However, this school closed in 1987, and the building subsequently sat vacant for about a decade. It was threatened with demolition by a developer who wanted to construct a nursing home on the site, but it was ultimately sold to the Ventfort Hall Association in 1997, and it has since been restored to its original appearance.

Coming after many years of neglect, the restoration of Ventfort Hall was a major project, but the house opened for public tours starting in 2000. Around this same time, the house made an appearance on the silver screen when the exterior was used as a filming location for the 1999 film The Cider House Rules. Since then, the house has remained open to the public as the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, and it is one of several historic 19th century mansions in the Berkshires that have been converted into museums.

Frelinghuysen House, Lenox, Mass

The house at the corner of Kemble Street and Walker Street in Lenox, around 1890. Image courtesy of the Lenox Library Association.

The scene in 2018:

This house is often identified as having been the summer home of Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, a former U. S. Senator from New Jersey and the Secretary of State under President Chester A. Arthur. However, it appears that the house was actually built in 1888 – three years after Frelinghuysen’s death – by his widow and three of their adult children. Either way, though, the house is a very early example of Colonial Revival architecture, and it was the work of the Boston architectural firm of Rotch & Tilden, which designed several other grand summer homes here in Lenox.

The three Frelinghuysen children who owned this house were Frederick, Jr., Lucy, and Matilda. They lived here at various times, but they also rented it to other families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These included George and Sarah Morgan, the brother-in-law and sister of financier J. P. Morgan, who lived here in the early 1890s while their own house, Ventfort Hall, was being constructed nearby. About a decade later, the Alexandre family similarly lived here while awaiting the completion of Spring Lawn, which is located immediately to the south of here.

By about 1909, the Frelinghuysen house had been named Sundrum, and it was occupied by Thatcher M. Adams, a New York City attorney who served as president of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Sources provide conflicting information about whether he owned it, or simply rented it from the Frelinghuysen family, but either way Sundrum was his summer home until his death in 1919.

Subsequent owners of this house included the Bassett family, who were here for many years during the mid-20th century. However, they would be the last private residents of the house, as by this point the era of grand Berkshire summer homes had passed. Like a number of the other estates in the area, it was converted into institutional use, becoming a dormitory for the Lenox School for Boys. This school closed in 1971, but the former Frelinghuysen house was subsequently acquired by the Bible Speaks College, used the property from 1976 until 1987.

In the early 1990s, the house was converted into a hotel, which opened in 1995 as the Kemble Inn. Although millionaires no longer built massive summer estates here in the Berkshires, the region remains a popular destination for tourists, with a number of hotels and resorts, particularly here in the Lenox area. The Kemble Inn is still in business nearly 25 years after it opened here in the former mansion, and the exterior of the house remains well preserved, with few noticeable differences between these two photos except for the missing balustrades on the roof.

Chateau-sur-Mer, Newport, Rhode Island

Chateau-sur-Mer on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1903. Image from Seventy-five Photographic Views of Newport, Rhode Island (1903).

The scene in 2018:

Beginning in the mid-19th century, Newport underwent a dramatic transformation from a sleepy colonial-era seaport into one of the most desirable summer resort communities in the country. Bellevue Avenue, and the surrounding area here at the southern end of the island, would eventually become famous for its many Gilded Age mansions, which served as summer residences for prominent families such as the Astors, Vanderbilts, and Belmonts.

Among the first of these grand mansions was Chateau-sur-Mer, which was located on the east side of Bellevue Avenue, near the corner of what is now Shepard Avenue. Its Italianate-style design was the work of local architect Seth Bradford, who designed several other mid-century summer homes in Newport, and the exterior was constructed of granite from nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. The original owner of the house was William S. Wetmore, a prosperous merchant who had made his fortune in the Old China Trade. Wetmore had retired from active business in 1847 when he was just 46 years old, and by this point he had accumulated a net worth of around a million dollars, or about $27 million today.

Wetmore lived here at Chateau-sur-Mer until his death in 1862. He and his wife Anstiss had three children, although their oldest, William, Jr., had died in 1858. Of their two surviving children, their son George inherited this house, while their daughter Annie received a parcel of land on the southern side of the estate, where she and her husband William Watts Sherman would later build a house of their own.

George Peabody Wetmore married his wife Edith in 1869, and beginning the following year the house was renovated and expanded by prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt. His work was inspired by the French Second Empire style, which was popular in America during this time, and it reflected his training in France at the École des Beaux-Arts. By this point, Hunt was already a well-established architect in Newport, but he would subsequently go on to design some of its largest, most opulent mansions, including The Breakers, Marble House, Ochre Court, and Belcourt.

Wetmore went on to have a successful career as a politician. Unlike most of the other wealthy Newport residents, who only lived here during the summer months, he was a year-round resident, and was a prominent figure in Rhode Island politics. He served as governor from 1885 to 1887, and represented the state in the U. S. Senate from 1895 to 1907, and 1908 to 1913. In addition, he was involved in a variety of civic organizations, including serving as a trustee of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and the Redwood Library and Athenaeum here in Newport, and as president of the Newport Casino.

In the meantime, Chateau-sur-Mer would continue to see renovations to both the interior and exterior, including work by noted architects Ogden Codman and John Russell Pope in the early 20th century. George Wetmore lived here until his death in 1921, and his wife Edith died in 1927. Their two daughters, Edith and Maude, also went on to live here for the rest of their lives. Like her father, Maude was also involved in politics, and although she never held elected office, she was very active within the Republican Party, including serving as president of the Women’s National Republican Club and as a delegate to several National Conventions. She and her sister Edith were also advocates for historic preservation here in Newport, and worked to help preserve several important historic buildings.

Chateau-sur-Mer was one of the first of the grand mansions, and it was also one of the last to still be owned by its original family. Maude Wetmore died in 1951, leaving the house to Edith, who died in 1966. Neither of the sisters had married, so there were no other Wetmore heirs to inherit the property. Even if there had been, these types of summer homes had long since fallen out of fashion, and were generally regarded as expensive white elephants from a bygone era.

Many of the grand Newport mansions were demolished during the mid-20th century, while others were converted into institutional use, such as the nearby estates that now form the campus of Salve Regina University. However, Chateau-sur-Mer was ultimately preserved in its historic appearance, both on the interior and exterior, and in 1969 it was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County. It is now one of nine historic properties that are owned by the organization and open to the public for tours, and, as these two photos show, very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken nearly 120 years ago. Because of its historic and architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, becoming one of 18 individual buildings in Newport to be recognized as such.

Audrain Building, Newport, Rhode Island

The building at the northeast corner of Bellevue Avenue and Casino Terrace in Newport, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The building in 2018:

This block of Bellevue Avenue, from Casino Terrace north to Memorial Boulevard, consists of a row of buildings that were designed by some of the most prominent American architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On the northern half of the block is the Travers Block, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, and the Newport Casino, which was one of the first major works of McKim, Mead & White. These were completed in 1872 and 1880, respectively, and they were joined several decades later by the Audrain Building, which is located at the southern end of the block. It was completed in 1903, and it was designed by Bruce Price, a New York architect who was perhaps best known for designing the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

The Audrain Building was one of Price’s last commissions before his death in 1903, and its design reflected the popularity of Beaux-Arts architecture at the turn of the 20th century. Its most distinguishing exterior feature is the extensive use of multi-colored terra-cotta around the windows and on the cornice and balustrade. The building also has large plate glass windows, in contrast to the much smaller windows of the older commercial buildings on this block.

Upon completion, the Audrain Building had six storefronts on the ground floor, along with space for 11 offices on the second floor. At the time, Newport was one of the most desirable resort communities in the country, and the ground floor housed shops that would have catered to the city’s affluent summer residents. The first photo was evidently taken soon after it was finished, as most of the storefronts appear to still be vacant. However, at least one business seems to have moved in at this point, as the corner of the second floor features advertisements for Morten & Co., wine and cigar merchants. Other early 20th century tenants included Brooks Brothers, which opened a location here in 1909.

Newport’s status as a resort destination began to fade by the early 20th century, particularly after the Great Depression, and the Audrain Building likewise saw a decline. Perhaps most visible was the loss of the balustrade, with its distinctive terra-cotta lion statues, which was damaged in the 1938 hurricane and subsequently removed. The ground floor continued to be used for retail space, with a 1970 photo showing tenants such as a ladies’ apparel shop and a bridal shop, but these storefronts were eventually converted into medical offices.

In 1972, the Audrain Building became part of the Bellevue Avenue/Casino Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark. However, the exterior remained in its altered appearance throughout the 20th century. Finally, in 2013, the building was sold for $5.5 million, and it then underwent a $20 million renovation and restoration, including creating replicas of the original balustrade and statues. Following this project, the second floor continues to be used for office space, but the ground floor has been converted into the Audrain Automobile Museum, which has a variety of rare cars on display inside the building.