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.