Wednesday October 3, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE

It's about recapturing a slice of the Gilded Age, when captains of industry and their families - Morgans, Astors, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Westinghouses - summered in lavish Lenox and Stockbridge "cottages" and traveled in gaily decorated coaches led by fine steeds.

The tradition lives on, a century after the era of grandeur and splendor that began in the 1870s faded away, through the Colonial Carriage and Driving Society, based at Orleton Farm on Prospect Hill in Stockbridge with Harvey and Mary Waller at the reins.


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Every two years, during the three-day Columbus Day weekend, at least a dozen festively decorated carriages led by top-pedigree horses with coachmen and passengers aboard make the rounds in Lenox and Stockbridge. They stop at places such as The Mount, Shakespeare & Company, and the Norman Rockwell Museum.

(However, ground conditions may require a lastminute change of destination if the rain continues.) "The early October schedule, with a chill in the air, is for the horses' sake," Waller explained.

Founded in 2004 by the Wallers as a tribute to the area's long-past reputation as the "inland Newport," the Berkshire Coaching Weekend is a labor of love for enthusiasts from Framingham to Florida and points between.

" Back in the day, this was the place to come and be seen," said Harvey Waller. " It's a revival of coaching in the area where it once reigned supreme.

These units are rolling pieces of art, that's how they're viewed."

" Relive the Gilded Age on a Coach and Four," the organizers urge, hoping for a strong public turnout to witness the coaches' trek on back roads that once served as trails for horseled carriages.

The Wallers emphasize that they re-create an authentic replica worthy of a time machine, with the harness and coach highly polished and the horses superbly groomed.

"It's a great spectacle," Waller said. "To see the hoods, hear the pull-chains and the rhythm of the horses' hooves makes it sound like an army's coming."

Formal attire is required for the whip (that's the coach driver) and passengers; for gentlemen, dark suits with top hats are the order of the day. For ladies, long-sleeved jackets and brimmed hats are a must, with flowers, nets and ribbons to match.

The dress code considers gloves desirable but optional; however, jeans are strictly forbidden. Sunglasses are discouraged because of photography along the route.

In keeping with Gilded Age social norms, each coach carries two "liveried grooms" to assist the horses and serve the passengers.

There's also a horn-blower atop the coaches to sound the call when needed for a turn or to assert the right of way.

A few seats aboard each coach were offered for sale at $250 per person, "including hospitality and luncheon," and the organizers encourage donations to the nonprofit historic sites visited en route. The tradition goes back to, and is fostered by, the Coaching Club of New York, whose members around 1900 included families named Schermerhorn, Fahnestock, White and Sturgis, all with vacation homes in Lenox and vicinity, and the Carriage Association of America.

"The coaches are turned out as they were 100 years ago," said Waller. "It's all very correct, with paint, all the appointments and attire. It's always a time of society, good cheer and fun, but the way it's done is very appropriate."

For more information: www.berkshirecoachingweekend. com; Harvey Waller at (413) 441-4682 or hwaller562@aol.com.

To reach Clarence Fanto: cfanto@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6247