Archive for September, 2010

Got to sleep a little later this morning since we were already in the area of our first sight. I forgot to include in yesterday that we also went to Canyon Ranch & Spa. I just wanted to look around since I have heard so much about it. Right at the entrance was a guard house. We asked if we could just drive in and look around. He said no. They needed to protect the privacy and security of their guest. So that is as far as we got. I wonder who might be staying there.  I think some celeb’s stay there from time to time.

The trees seem to have changed overnight. There is a lot more color today. Driving the side roads it is just what you picture fall to look like in New England. Even on the highway the vistas are beautiful. The reds, yellows and oranges of the leaves, mixed in with the green trees on the hills, is a sight to behold. The white trunks of the birch trees add to the picture. I know it will be hard to capture what I am seeing in a picture.

Another Berkshire “Cottage”, Naumkeag, was our first stop today.

We got there before it opened but the help was there and said we could walk around the grounds and enjoy the gardens. They provided a self guided audio tour which was very interesting.

Naumkeag was originally purchased in 1884 by Joseph Choate, a lawyer from New York. Before he could afford such a beautiful piece of property he and his wife and 5 children would often come to this hill and picnic under giant oak tree and enjoy looking at Monument mountain in front of them. When they were able to afford the property they hired an architect and built their summer home. Their first architect, Olmstead who designed Central Park in New York, wanted to cut down the big old oak tree and place the house there. The tree meant to much to them so they fired him and hired another architect. As you come through the front, in a large entry hall at the other end is a large window with a beautiful view of the distant mountains.

While most families summered at their cottages for only a couple months the Choats loved it here so much they were in residence from April until November. A farm, greenhouse, and vegetable garden provided food for the household. They would also ship some of their food they grew on the farm to their home in New York during the winter.

Naumkeag is a 44 room cottage with 4 stories. The first two floors being the family’s living area. The third story was for the help and the younger children until they were old enough to live with the rest of the family. Going through the house gives you a good idea of how the wealthy lived during the Gilded Age. There were the buttons in each room to summon the help. Also their guest would bring along their help when they came to visit. They didn’t travel lightly as you would need many changes of clothes throughout the day. So the help was very busy. As I said the help lived on the third floor and our guide said it can get very hot up there in the summer. That a lot of times they don’t bring tours to the third floor because of the heat. The head maid had the largest room and even a fireplace. In Sept and Oct. the nights can get very cold. But the other help didn’t have a fireplace, so I guess they were pretty uncomfortable.

The youngest daughter Mabel, inherited the house in 1929, and is the one who left it as we see it today. Over times things were changed. They added more baths and enlarged some of the rooms. Mabel never married and when she died in 1958 she gave the home and land, with all its furnishings to the Trustees of Reservations. Mable not only inherited the house but a fortune and she knew how to spend money. She traveled extensively and brought back many treasures.

The decoration as a centerpiece on her diningroom table are tiles (the yellow objects) from the roofs of a chinese building.

Plates she collected in her travels.

The house is large but seems very livable. It is not the marble showcases of the Newport Mansions.

Mabel is the one, along with her landscape architect, that designed the various gardens. There is one garden room, off the family room, where there is a design of short boxwoods and four low fountains within. In Mabel’s time there would also have been flowers within the boxwoods. This was to make it look like a Persian rug.

Surrounding this garden are brightly painted Venetian gondola poles. I loved these stone chairs in this garden although I don’t know how comfortable they would have been to sit on.

There is also a Chinese garden that I’m sure looked much better in her time. It is still nice today but a lot of the plantings are gone and things need painting. It includes a Chinese style temple and a moon gate. That flat stone, which has designs on it, that is on the steps is like the stone work they have on the steps in the Forbidden City in China.


At the bottom of the hill Miss Choate had her cutting garden. She tired of climbing the hill so she asked her architect to build her some steps. He went all out and created what they call the blue steps.

In her time the steps were painted blue. The architect thought this would tie in with the sky. There is a fountain flowing down which I ‘m sure use to flow better than it does today. It has to be a major expense to keep everything up and do all the necessary repairs to this type of place. However the stairs shaded by the white poplar birches is a pretty sight.

There were also a rose garden, Italian style garden, a linden walk, peony terrace and arborvitae walk.


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Our next stop was Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Mass. This was the country home, studio and gardens of Daniel Chester French.
He is the sculptor of many public monuments the most famous being the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial in D.C. His first commission was the Minute Man statue in Concord, Mass.

The model for the Lincoln memorial

and many other of his sculptures are on display in his studio.


An interesting tidbit about the Lincoln statue is that when it was placed in the memorial at certain times of the day, when the sun cast shadows on his face, it made him look like a deer caught in the headlights. To remedy this problem they installed lights above the statue. Another interesting thing I did not know, was that the sculptor makes the cast but it is actually the stone cutters who make the finished statue. The statue of Lincoln was installed in several pieces.

There was a reception area in his studio, where clients would come to see the finished product.  The picture on the wall is that of  Daniel Chester French.

This was also a place where he did a lot of entertaining. In the back of the studio was a long porch that overlooked monument mountain. It is just a beautiful sight and even more so now that the leaves are beginning to change. Of course this is why he bought the property and built the porch on.

We also toured his home. It is exactly as it was when he died. He designed the home and in some places had areas made to fit things he had purchased. One being a large clock. It was not as large as The Mount but very attractive. He had his living room a recreation of his grandmothers living room.

Do you think my grandkids will want to do this.

French also designed his gardens and outside his studio is an Italian inspired garden, benches of the white marble backed by the green bushes. He designed it as a garden room. There are columns at one end and a wrought iron arch at another. Of course a lovely sounding fountain right outside the studio doors, which is the focal point of the garden.

While we were waiting for the tour to begin we took a walk through the woods where they had an exhibit of sculptures by various artist. Something on the order of the sculpture park we saw in England but the sculptures were no where near as large or as good. But it was nice to walk through the woods.
Then on to the hotel and dinner.

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Another early start. We left Syracuse, N.Y. and had a couple hour drive to Stockbridge, Mass. We eventually hope to be seeing beautiful all foliage. So far only the Sumac is beginning to show red. However, as we drove today we are starting to see more color. The sugar maples are striking with their oranges and reds and the yellow of the American mountain ash.

We had lunch in a nice little French Bistro. The weather is beautiful today and we set by the open windows and watched the street activity. I had a crispy goat cheese salad that was delicious. I seem to only find this when we are traveling and not at home.

Today we are visiting two of the Berkshire Cottages. These were little (some 40 + rooms in some cases) summer homes for the wealthy. Our first stop was The Mount in Lenox, Mass.

This was the home of Edith Wharton

who was one of America’s greatest writers, producing over 40 books in 40 years. Her works included collections of short stories and poems, and authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design and travel. Some of the books she wrote that you may recognize are The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome and the Age of Innocence. Turns out she was also related to Teddy Roosevelt.

To reach her house, from the parking lot, there is a quarter mile walk through a wooded area. It was very secluded.

Wharton had a lot to do with the design of the house. She grew up in a very Victorian house and this was her rebellion. Everything is light and bright. She moved into this house in 1902. She lived in Europe from age 4-10 and when she came back home to New York declared it to be the ugliest city she had seen. She wanted the classical virtues of proportion, harmony and simplicity in her house. Symmetry was also very important to her and you can see this throughout the house. In the entry area it looks like double doors going into the study. However, when you get in there you find there is really only one door.


There is still restoration going on in the home. The many books of hers in the library were returned in 2006, after almost a century in Europe.

She would like a small round dining table so everyone could be included in the conversation.


There are 3 acres of restored formal gardens. This is late September and there is still plenty in bloom. There is a strong Italian influence in the landscape design. On one side is a walled garden with an interesting rockpile fountain in the center.


Another garden, on the other side is more a French-style flower garden with a dolphin fountain. I loved the trellis-work niche, this would look great in my back yard.

I’m noticing, in gardens as we drive by and here also, lots of hydrangea bushes. They bloomed white but are now turning a lovely pink.

There is also the former stable on the property, which they are in the process of renovating.  It is larger than my house.

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After the Teddy Roosevelt site we grabbed a quite bite to eat and headed to Rochester, N.Y. to visit the George Eastman House. That is George Eastman of Eastman Kodak.
The George Eastman House is in Rochester, N.Y., where the founder of the Kodak company was raised. His magnificent 1905 Colonial Revival mansion and formal gardens are now a National Historic Landmark and photography museum. We were able to tour several rooms of the mansion.

In 1905 Eastman purchased 8.5 acres on East Avenue in Rochester and turned it into a unique urban estate. Later he bought an additional 2 acres. He had a working farm and an elegant floral setting for entertaining. This fabulous estate was created prior to the advent of income tax, when Americans could spend fortunes on palatial homes. Although this was a large home it felt like a comfortable home.

When Eastman died he willed the estate to the University of Rochester and it became the presidential home until 1947. As so happens things change and some of the gardens were taken out and just turned to grassy areas or parking lots. This always reminds me of that song that talks about seeing the trees in the tree museum. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

Fortunately in 1984 preservation and restoration began. Because of the many photos, original maps, plant lists, etc., they are able to faithfully reproduce the original gardens. Some of the projects have been in the works for a decade. As any gardener knows a garden is always a work in progress.

At the time of his death he left instructions that the servants were to tag (in a hidden area) all the furniture. While some of it did stay in the house a lot was given away to family members and even put out on the curb for the trash pickup. Our guide tells stories of people stopping to pick it up and take home, no matter what condition things were in, just because it came from the Eastman estate.

When the preservation and restoration of the home began there was a search for the original furnishings. Some pieces were given back, some were found or bought at auctions. So what we see today is 85% of the original furnishings. Other pieces are reproductions of the originals. Things like paint colors and wallpaper they were able to determine and reproduce. Only one of the original chandeliers’ is still there, however, the reproductions were made by someone who came out of retirement and had made the originals.

The paneling in the dining room was absolutely beautiful.

My favorite room was sort of a garden room

where he would have breakfast each morning. It was said that as soon as he came out of his room a servant would notify the organist who would start playing. What a life. Our guide said he lived his life as he wished.

As for the gardens there was one on the side of the house called the West Garden.

There was also what they call the rock garden, which wasn’t what I expected. It was an area with a vine covered grape arbor. Lots of grapes that looked like they were ready for picking and gave off a lovely aroma. The rock part came in as there were groupings of dolomite rocks arranged in scallop shaped beds.

A terrace garden came off the palm house and colonnade. The doors could be removed for large parties and he would have lavish parties.

He also had a billiards room.  Notice the light over the pool table.  The gramaphone in the picture was a gift from Thomas Edison.

Here is a picture of the staircase to the second floor.

After we finished touring the house and gardens we looked through the galleries. They had a couple rooms with cameras through the ages.  Then it was a couple hour drive to our hotel and a late dinner at a nice seafood restaurant.

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We left this morning and had a couple hour drive to Buffalo, N.Y. We needed to make it to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site before 10:30 so we could catch the tour. This is the hard part of the trip making it to each site on time for the tour, since tours, in some places are only offered a couple times a day.  We got there with time to look around the exhibit they had on the 1901 Pan American Exposition. It looked like a pretty spectacular exposition. President Mc Kinley was assasinated while attending the Exposition.
On Sept. 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th president of the U.S. after President McKinley succumbed to an infection brought on by an assassin’s bullet. This took place in the library of the home of a friend.
Home where Roosevelt took oath of office
Today the library is recreated to look as it did on that day.

The rest of the house is an interesting glimpse of how Buffalo’s wealthiest families lived at the turn of the 20th century.

This is a picture of the library, where the ceremony took place. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt stood in front of the window, about the place where the round table is located. He wore borrowed clothes as he had been in the Adirondacks with his family when he received the news to return to Buffalo He did not bring along any formal attire.

After the swearing in ceremony he met with his cabinet members and then sat at this desk.

On the desk is a copy of his first draft of the message he wrote to appear in the newspaper. He threw that draft away, however, someone retrieved it saved it from the trash.

In one of the upstairs room they are in the process of reproducing Theodore Roosevelt’s office in the White House. Now you can sit at a copy of his desk, with the presidential seal, and have your picture taken and e mail it to anyone.

Your picture will appear on the front page of the newspaper. Kind of a fun thing to do. Of course we did it.

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Our first leg of the journey was to Chicago.  A trip we have taken numerous times.  I am usually reading and seeing only bits and pieces of the landscape we pass. It is funny, now that I have started this travel/garden blog I am starting to be more observant and look at things in a different way, and looking for things of interest.

There were sights I thought would make good photographs but by the tie I could get the picture composed it would be too late to snap it. So I quit trying.  We passed a large wind farm and not one windmill was moving. I saw, what I thought would make a good photo.  It was a collection of old farm buildings in the foreground and all the windmills in the background.  But since I didn’t take the photo you will just have to imagine it.

We also passed a factory with the big smoke stacks just billowing out smoke.  It  always reminds me that when my daughter was young she thought these were the things that made the clouds in the sky.  I can’t resist now telling my grandkids that those are the factories that make the clouds.

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Chartwell is a grand Victorian mansion and was the home of Sir Winston Churchill from 1924 until his death in 1965.

Front of Chartwell

It has been pretty much kept as it was when he lived there.  It looked like a very comfortable and lived in home, you could just imagine a family living there.  The home was filled with photographs that told the story of the role Sir Winston played in shaping history.

Churchill living room

As we toured the house there was one room that had wallpaper with a vine pattern and they also had the wallpaper on the panels of a cabinet.  That was the fashion at one time.  Within the house some of the rooms were a museum displaying the various gifts he received from heads of states.  His Nobel prize for literature was also on display. 

There was a wonderful garden called the Golden Rose Garden and Walk that extended to the kitchen garden.

Garden at Chartwell

Garden at Chartwell

Garden at Chartwell

From the terrace there were magnificent views over the Weald of Kent. I imagine many famous men and women had also stood here and looked across the forests and fields.

Back of Chartwell

Sir Winston had a passion for painting and he built the summer-house where his oil paintings are on display.

Churchill's summer-house

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