Hotel Aspinwall, Lenox, Mass (3)

The west side of the Hotel Aspinwall, around 1902-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

This view shows the opposite side of the hotel from the photos in the previous posts, and this post gives more details on the history of this hotel, which stood here from 1902 to 1931, when it was destroyed in a fire. The fire was believed to have started on the veranda on this side of the building, and although the exact cause was never determined, contemporary newspaper reports indicate that it was probably from a carelessly discarded cigarette.

The site of the hotel is now Kennedy Park, which has hiking and cross country skiing trails and several scenic overlooks, including this one. In the foreground is the Kennedy Park Belvedere, which was built in 2011 in memory of Dr. Jordan Fieldman, a physician at Berkshire Medical Center who died of cancer in 2006. It became the subject of controversy, though, when a group of local citizens objected to it and filed lawsuit against the town. The suit was ultimately dismissed, and the memorial is still here, in approximately the same location where guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John D. Rockefeller, Sr. once enjoyed the view from the hotel’s veranda.

Hotel Aspinwall, Lenox, Mass (2)

Another view of the east side of the Hotel Aspinwall, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

This scene shows the main entrance to the Hotel Aspinwall, where its many distinguished guests would have arrived. The previous post, which provides more details about the hotel’s history and destruction, shows the building from the same side, just facing the opposite direction. The site of the hotel has been undeveloped since it burned down in 1931, and today the property is Kennedy Park, a public park owned by the town of Lenox.

Hotel Aspinwall, Lenox, Mass (1)

The east side of the Hotel Aspinwall, as seen around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

As mentioned in the post featuring the hotel’s entrance, the Hotel Aspinwall was built in 1902 by lawyer, businessman, and Civil War officer Thomas H. Hubbard. It was located on over 400 acres of land atop a hill just north of the center of Lenox, and with 225 guest rooms accommodating up to 425 people, it was among the largest hotels in the Berkshires.

The hotel attracted a number of notable guests over the years. As the Berkshire Eagle described it in a 1956 feature article, “If the millionaires who used to summer in Lenox during the early 20th century were not among those owning estates here, they probably stayed at the old Aspinwall Hotel.” The article identified guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, actress Lillian Russell, Senator and railroad magnate Chauncey Depew, Massachusetts governor James Michael Curley, New York mayor Seth Low, and Austro-Hungarian ambassador Konstantin Dumba. Another news article, published in the North Adams Transcript, indicated that John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was also a frequent guest at the hotel.

By the early 1930s, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and many historic grand hotels were struggling. However, here in Lenox, the Hotel Aspinwall was expanding. They had recently added a baseball field and a 9-hole golf course, and they were working on adding more trails and bridle paths on the property when a fire started early in the morning on April 25, 1931. The hotel had not yet opened for the season, but the secluded location was reportedly popular for “petting parties,” as contemporary newspapers described it. The exact source of the fire was never identified, but most likely theory seems to be that it was started with a carelessly disposed cigarette from one of these parties.

The fire was already well underway by the time the fire department learned of it, and at that point there was no way to save it. The hotel’s own firefighting systems had been shut down for the winter, and the closest fire hydrant was nearly a mile away. There was not enough water pressure in the 4,000-foot hose from the hydrant to effectively fight the fire, so most of the firefighting efforts were on preventing the fire from spreading to the other buildings or to the forest.

The rest of the property was saved from the fire, but the hotel was never rebuilt, and the forest soon began to reclaim the property. In 1956, the land was sold to the town for just $12,000 and converted into a public park. Now known as Kennedy Park, the hotel’s former driveway and trails are now used by hikers and cross country skiers, and there is little sign of the hotel that once stood here. Based on maps that showed the hotel, this clearing appears to be approximately the center of the building, although without any identifiable landmarks left from the first photo, it is impossible to recreate the exact spot.

Breezy Corners, Lenox, Mass

Looking north on Cliffwood Street toward Greenwood Street in Lenox, with the Breezy Corners house on the right, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The street in 2015:

As mentioned in previous posts, Lenox was a popular summer resort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the house on the right side of the road was one of many summer “cottages” in the area. It was built around 1860, and in 1882 it was sold to Emily Meigs Biddle, a member of the prominent Biddle family in Philadelphia. She and her three adult children spent many summers here, and after Emily’s death in 1905, her youngest daughter, Emily Williams Biddle, inherited the property and kept it until she died in 1931. Over the nearly 50 years that the Biddle family owned the house, they made a number of additions to the original structure, including a third floor, a tower, and a larger servant area. Only part of the house is visible from this angle, but there are not many differences in these two views. There have not been any dramatic changes since the first photo was taken, and the historic home is still standing at the corner of Cliffwood and Greenwood Street.

Hotel Aspinwall Entrance, Lenox, Mass

The entrance to the Hotel Aspinwall, looking up the driveway from Main Street around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

The Hotel Aspinwall was one of many popular hotels in the Lenox area during the early 1900s. It was built in 1902 by Thomas H. Hubbard, a New York lawyer and businessman who had served as a colonel in the Civil War many years earlier. Located at the end of this long driveway, it was on top of a hill that offered views of the Berkshires to the east and the west, and as the signs indicate in the first photo, it was approved by both the American Automobile Association and the Automobile Club of America. However, as was the case with so many wooden hotels of the early 1900s, it caught fire and was completely destroyed in an early morning blaze on April 25, 1931. The hotel was never rebuilt, and today it is a public park with. In this scene, the only remaining signs of the hotel are the stone pillars on either side of the driveway.

Church on the Hill, Lenox, Mass

The Church on the Hill, as seen from Main Street around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:

This historic church in Lenox was built 1805 as the town’s second meeting house, replacing a smaller church building that had been built on the same site around 1770. The building’s design is an excellent example of the traditional late 18th and early 19th century New England church architecture, and some sources, such as the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, credit Isaac Damon with its design. This seems doubtful, though. While Damon designed many churches in Western Massachusetts, he was still living in Weymouth when this church was built in 1805, and he would not begin his architectural career until he moved to Northampton six years later.

Regardless of who designed it, though, this picturesque church has long been popular among visitors to Lenox. The first photo was taken at a time when Lenox was a popular resort town, and for the many wealthy New York City residents who spent their summer here, the church would have contributed to the town’s appearance as a quaint New England village. Not much has changed for the church since then. Other than different windows and the addition of shutters, almost everything else on the exterior is the same from the first photo. Even the tree in the background to the left appears to be the same one. Based on its size in the first photo, it is probably at least as old as the church itself, if not older.