Its title — Trustees of Reservations — doesn't provide much indication of what this group is or does. It sounds old school — which it is, in a decidedly good way.
The Trustees are protectors of much of the state's choicest land and many of its historic properties. It has been doing so for 125 years — hence the 19th century title — and its presence is strongly felt in the Berkshires.
The concept of a trust to preserve Massachusetts' cherished lands and buildings was introduced by Boston landscape architect Charles Eliot and became reality in 1891. It is the oldest such trust in the world, with Britain's National Trust coming along in 1895, followed by thousands more around the world. Evidence of the Trustees' work can be seen all over Massachusetts.
On Saturday, the Trustees celebrated their 125th birthday with nine open houses, five of which were held in the Berkshires. Those sites are Naumkeag and Mission House in Stockbridge, the Folly at Field Farm in Williamstown, Sheffield's Ashley House ,and the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington. (Eagle, May 20.)
The lush gardens and stately mansion of Naumkeag are certainly representative of the vision of Mr. Eliot, who admired the beautiful open spaces of Europe enjoyed by the public and wanted to emulate them in Massachusetts. The Gilded Age "cottage" estate designed by architect Stanford White for Joseph Choate, a New York lawyer and later ambassador to England, was bequeathed to the Trustees in 1959 by Mr. Choate's daughter, Mabel. The gardens were recently restored.
The Mission House, home to the first missionary to the Mohican Indians, dates back to the 1740s. First located on Prospect Hill, it was restored and moved to Main Street under the guidance of Mabel Choate.
The Folly at Field Farm preserves the modern architecture of the ambitious and inventive post-World War II era. The Ashley House keeps alive the remarkable story of Mum Bett, a slave there who successfully sued for her freedom in 1781, triggering the movement to end slavery in Massachusetts. The beautiful William Cullen Bryant Homestead was the cherished home of the noted poet, journalist and conservationist.
The Trustees, who oversee 116 properties, are volunteers, and rely largely on private funding for their preservation projects, with only 1 percent of their $33 million operating budget coming from the state. Residents and visitors are encouraged to see their good work of more than a century, and the Berkshires offer ideal examples where nature and history can both be enjoyed.