LENOX, MASS. — "It is the most enchanting view I've ever had. It is wonderful."
The view being described to the press by President William McKinley on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 25, 1897, was from the southern terrace of Wyndhurst, the estate of John W. Sloane.
It was reported in the North Adams Transcript that Sloane "endeavoured to impress upon the president the idea that he should make Lenox his summer home" during a tour of the estate's grounds prior to his departure on Saturday.
Although his stay was short, it is said the beauty of Sloane's mansion had a lasting impression on the president.
"There's a story that one of the rooms of the White House has a ceiling that was designed after the ceiling of the [Sloane's] formal dining room, which is now known as the Wyndhurst Dining Room," Deanna Mangiardi, director of sales and marketing at Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort, said during a recent tour of the former Berkshire Cottage.
The terrace from which McKinley described those views, now known as the Rose Terrace, and the lush front lawn just below it, today, are the setting for many wedding photo shoots and bridal cocktail parties.
The crowned jewel of the 380-acre Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort, the castle-like Wyndhurst manor, known simply as The Mansion, sits above an 18-hole golf course. It is one of two historic cottages at the resort. The second, Coldbrook, was renamed Beecher's Cottage.
John W. Sloane was no stranger to the Berkshires or Lenox when he and his wife, Adela Berry Sloane, built their Tudor-style cottage in 1894. His brother, William, and his wife, Emily Vanderbilt, built the nearby estate, Elm Court, in 1886.
The brothers, who owned W & J Sloane, were Scottish immigrants who made their fortune importing oriental rugs and selling home furnishing. The brothers established the first home furnishing store in the country and soon became a favorite of the New York elite.
When Sloane bought the property in 1894, another mansion by the name of Wyndhurst already occupied the hill. That mansion, built by Gen. John F. Rathborne in 1869 was razed by Sloane. Rathborne purchased the land and Beecher's Cottage, a small farm house, for $8,000 from the Rev. Ward Beecher, brother of author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The Sloanes hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of New York City's Central Park, to design the estate's lawns and gardens. The home was fit with electric lighting from the start, had 34 rooms, 15 fireplaces, marble floors, a tower and sun room among its amenities. A large stable and greenhouses were also on the property.
In 1925, Wyndhurst, then owned by daughter Evelyn Sloane Griswold, was sold to wealthy developers from Palm Beach. Its 256 acres were joined with that of the nearby cottages of Coldbrook, Pinecroft and Blantyre to form the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club. The club closed in 1929. Two years later the property, which totaled over 1,000 acres at its height, was auctioned off for back taxes by the town.
Purchased by millionaire Edward Cranwell, the property was used as a summer home for eight years before 700 acres of the estate were donated to the Society of Jesus of New England. Cranwell Preparatory School, opened in 1939 and run by Jesuit priests, operated for 36 years before closing in 1975.
The Jesuits maintained the property for another 10 years, before it was sold and developed into a hotel, conference center and golf course. The resort has changed hands several times since 1985.
In 1882, U.S. Naval Capt. John S. Barnes, a flag officer of the North Atlantic Fleet during the Civil War turned railroad entrepreneur, built the Queen Anne-style estate, known as Coldbrook. The summer cottage, which grew in size over the years, eventually had a reception hall, with a balcony, that could seat 250. It remained with the Barnes family until it became part of the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club. In 1939, it was renamed St. Joseph's Hall and became the library, infirmary and classrooms for the boy's prep school.
To the passerby, Cranwell Spa and Golf Course can appear to be little more than a Gilded Age mansion presiding over the lush greens of the golf course below. A trip up its winding driveways reveals a 114-room resort that includes one of the largest spas in the Northeast.
My tour began at the mansion, where I took in the breathtaking views from the comfort of the lobby, which was the grand hall in its past life. Nearby, a grand staircase, draped in plush red carpeting, leads up to a large stained glass window.
"We have 380 acres, which includes the resort, spa, golf course, townhouses, condominiums, private homes and the mansion," Mangiardi said. "Most people think everything happens at the mansion."
But most of the action happens in its other facilities. The resort's Olmsted Manor, built as Bellarmine Hall in 1957 by the prep school, is home to guest services and registration. A favorite retreat for corporate guests is Founders, built in 1963, as a student dorm for the prep school.
The 35,000-square-foot spa includes a indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, steam room, tennis courts, fitness center, a full salon and 50 spa services.
"You don't have to be a guest to use the spa," Mangiardi said. "We have spa day passes for $45, which give you access to the spa and unlimited fitness classes."
Eventually, we come to Beecher's Cottage, the historic Coldbrook mansion. Inside, only a few remnants of the estate are visible — the staircase is present as is the familiar layout of these homes. While less impressive than Wyndhurst, I am pleased to see it remains in use.
As we make our way back, Mangiardi stops next to a newly seeded part of the lawn, where she notes a missing beech tree. The tree, which was planted as a seedling by McKinley during his stay in 1897, is gone.
"The tree just split down the middle," she said. "It was rather sad that it had to be removed."
IF YOU GO ...
Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort
55 Lee Road, Route 20, Lenox, Mass.
For information, call 800-272-6935 or visit cranwell.com
Make a trip to see The Capitol Steps at Cranwell. 8 p.m. Shows held nightly, excluding Tuesdays.
Tickets: $49 per person, open seating. 413-881-1636, cranwell.com.
Jennifer Huberdeau, the online editor for New England Newspapers Inc., can be reached via email at email@example.com.