Travel 2022: Small-town feel, big-city culture in Lenox, Mass.

The dining room at Ventfort Hall
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The dining room at Ventfort Hall

SUMMER TRAVEL 2022 The town of Lenox swells during the summer months as Tanglewood ushers in thousands of music lovers from all around the tri-state area.

“Twenty-thousand people at Tanglewood are going to see James Taylor, so even over that weekend 60,000 people come to town,” said Jenn Nacht, executive director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.

While the venue’s season is packed with performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, along with popular artists such as Taylor, Brandi Carlile, Judi Collins, the Black Crowes and others, there’s much more to the small town than Tanglewood.

One of the main attractions, perhaps especially this year, is Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum.

The imposing Jacobean Revival mansion was built by George and Sarah Morgan in the late 1800s and was used as their summer home. It has a soaring, three-story great hall and staircase with wood paneling detailing, as well as a paneled library, dining room, a billiard room and bowling alley.

“It’s just like walking in ‘The Gilded Age,’ ” Nacht said. Many visitors from the Capital Region will be familiar with the HBO show, which was partly filmed in Troy and released earlier this year, featuring opulent homes and costumes of the era.

While the mansion currently sits on 11.7 acres, it was originally the centerpiece of 26 acres of landscaped gardens.

Made of brick with brownstone trim, the mansion has a porte cochère covering the entrance while the rear of the house has a wooden veranda along its entire length.

Upon its completion, the house boasted 15 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and 17 fireplaces. “It was designed with all the latest modern amenities, numerous ingeniously ventilated bathrooms, combined gas and electric light fixtures, an elevator, burglar alarms and central heating,” according to the museum, which opened in 2000.

Ventfort has undergone major restorations in the past two decades and hosts ghost tours, plays and discussions, and more. This summer there will be several talks about HBO’s “The Gilded Age” including one titled “Before HBO’s ‘Gilded Age’ ” with Jennifer Huberdeau on June 21, and “The Gilded Age Rises Again in Troy, NY with historian Kathy Sheehan” on July 19, among others.

Ventfort has seen an uptick in visitors, though according to marketing director Linda Rocke it’s unclear whether that’s directly because of the HBO show. The hall is open year-round for self-guided tours every day except Wednesdays and select holidays.

Not far away is another treasure trove of sorts. The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate, is lush with acres of gardens, including an Italian-style garden, a formal French garden and a rock garden. Visitors are free to roam the blooming greenery from dawn to dusk.

At the center of it all is Wharton’s classically inspired main house, which dates to 1901. With classical Italian and French influences, the home is where Wharton wrote some of her most famous works, including “The House of Mirth” and “Ethan Frome.” It’s kept as an autobiographical house today, paying homage to the author and featuring exhibits dedicated to her life. This season, that will include an exhibition exploring Wharton’s life in France.

“She cultivated this really beautiful property … where she grew these incredible gardens and had opened them to the public,” said Jennifer Beeson, communications director at The Mount. “We have some artifacts, including clothing, some of her personal things like glasses.”

Throughout the season, The Mount will also bring in contemporary authors such as Grace M. Cho, Ravi Shankar and Susan Branson, among others, for discussions on their work.

There’s also plenty to do in downtown Lenox, especially with events like the Lenox Art Walk and a car show, both of which are planned by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce. The art walk is slated for June 11-12 and is expected to bring in 60 to 70 artists from around the tri-state area. The juried show features quality work that isn’t exorbitantly expensive, according to Nacht. The car show, which is slated for June 18, will feature an array of classic and vintage cars.

For theater lovers, Nacht recommends catching a Shakespeare & Company show.

“The campus is beautiful and it’s just a little bit out of town,” Nacht said. This season the company is presenting “An Iliad” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” among other programs.

Nacht also suggests visitors take a walk to see a few hidden gems.

“We’ve got Kennedy Park, which has all different walks that have really great vistas,” Nacht said. “You can choose the level of walk that you would want, and there’s one [called Overlook] that’s on the easier trail that gives you the beautiful vista [of the] valley. It’s kind of a hidden secret.”

Lilac Park, toward the center of town, is another park Nacht recommends exploring, especially when there’s live music.

For those seeking even more natural vistas, the Mass Audubon is a good bet.

“[It’s] always a really fun place to go walk around. We have lots of animals in addition to seeing birds and things like that, so you’ll likely see a beaver,” Nacht said. “There’s biking trails. You [can] come up and you rent a bike, and go biking all around.”

Lenox is about an hour’s journey from the Capital Region. For those looking to spend the night, here’s where to stay, according to Nacht:

The Whitlock B&B on Church Street is a good option for those seeking to stay downtown. It also has a restaurant called Ophelia’s with a fire pit and live music on select days.

The Apple Tree Inn, located near Tanglewood, is another option. “It’s beautiful. They’ve got apple trees and they have music outdoors in the summer. So people like to bring their chairs and just plop down, and listen to music and have drinks,” Nacht said.

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Categories: Life and Arts, Summer Travel 2022

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