Berkshires Mansion Preserves the Gilded Age

Built by a sister of J. P. Morgan, paneled in rare Cuban mahogany and spreading over 28,000 square feet, Ventfort Hall was the kind of opulent ”cottage” that a century ago made Lenox, Mass., the Newport of the mountains. But income taxes and World War I consigned some Berkshire mansions to second lives as schools or resorts, while dooming others to the wrecking ball.

In a rare community effort, Ventfort Hall is now a restoration in progress, and is open to the public as the Museum of the Gilded Age. About one-third of the way through an $8 million, 10-year preservation project, the house is receiving visitors for guided tours.

As restorers work on scaffolding that is visible from public areas, visitors learn about the workmanship that went into the nearly 100 estates that were built by New York’s wealthiest families in the 1880’s and 1890’s. As a museum, the Victorian red-brick structure is becoming a center for lectures on the Gilded Age and its architecture.

The house appeared as St. Cloud’s orphanage in the film ”The Cider House Rules.”

Rescued in 1997, only days ahead of scheduled demolition, this gabled and crenelated Elizabethan Revival mansion was designed in 1893 by Arthur Rotch, who went on to run the M.I.T. architecture department and supported the creation of Harvard University’s architecture department. His patrons were Sarah Morgan, a sister of J. P. Morgan, and her husband, George Hale Morgan. The architect adorned Ventfort Hall with stained-glass windows, ornate plasterwork and cherry, chestnut and oak carvings.

”Ventfort Hall was the most elaborate of the cottages,” said Tjasa Sprague, who has helped to spearhead Lenox’s effort to save the house.

Ventfort Hall, at 104 Walker Street, in Lenox, offers four 45-minute guided visits daily through the end of October; a reduced schedule of tours will be offered through the winter. The tours cost $8. Information: (413) 637-3206, or on the Web, at

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