STOCKBRIDGE — Officials of the Naumkeag house museum operated by the Trustees of Reservations are under fire from neighbors complaining of noise from a Thursday evening music series at the Gilded Age "Berkshire Cottage" on Prospect Hill.
At a Select Board meeting on Tuesday, Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo said the board has received complaints from nearby residents, some of whom spoke out at the meeting.
"I've enjoyed some of the unamplified music, the garden parties and the weddings, because I do hear everything clear as a bell in my house," Mary Boyce of Church Street, a Naumkeag neighbor for nearly 70 years, told the board.
On Wednesday, the regional director of the Trustees of Reservations told The Eagle that the organization is taking the complaints from neighbors "very seriously."
Yet the Thursday evening music series, which aims to attract a younger crowd to experience Naumkeag, is doing just that, according to Brian Cruey, the general manager for the Trustees' South Berkshire properties. Attendance for the Thursday music series has averaged about 100 this summer, while about 250 people attended the June 25 Naumkegger event, according to Cruey.
Cardillo ultimately told the Naumkeag team to eliminate microphones and promised to visit the neighbors to check on sound levels after hearing from neighbors and Trustees officials at the meeting.
Boyce said she has been keeping her windows closed on Thursday evenings "because I don't want to hear anything that I choose not to go to."
"Many of those bands are not appropriate for Naumkeag," Boyce said. She also described the "Naumkegger" event on June 25 as "a really out-of-control frat party. It was just not appropriate for our neighborhood."
According to Boyce, Trustees leaders are promoting Naumkeag as "a place for music and drinks and that defeats the purpose of the fundraisers, which had been to enjoy the house and grounds."
Tom Labelle, a Naumkeag neighbor, also expressed concern.
"I don't think we should have basically a part-time drinking establishment in a residential neighborhood unless the Selectmen approve that, and I don't think they would," Labelle said.
"The Trustees were established to basically preserve property, natural and historic, from this kind of abuse, so things wouldn't be commercialized to the point they would be destroyed. And that's exactly what we're seeing at Naumkeag."
"We take these things very seriously, we're considering what could be shifted to acoustic," said Joanna Ballantine, regional director of the Trustees of Reservations, in a phone interview on Wednesday. "We can consider all options to make sure we're really listening to the neighbors."
"This is a year of us trying to develop our relationship with the community and to uphold everything we said we'd do when we applied for the permits," said Carrieann Petrickhuff, Trustees engagement site manager. "We need a little bit of time and space to get better at this, it's a working relationship with the town and the community."
"We're very committed to working with our community, neighbors, in harmony with them to cooperate, listen to their concerns, and look to solutions that work for all of us," Ballantine said.
At the meeting, Boyce recalled the summer home of lawyer-diplomat Joseph Hodges Choate and his wife, Caroline, as a farm built in the 1880s. Their daughter, Mabel, lived on the estate for three decades, beginning in 1929.
"I heard cows with bells, turkeys, chickens, it was very pastoral and wonderful," said Boyce. "I feel very fortunate that I grew up there."
She urged the Select Board to rescind Naumkeag's entertainment permits unless future programs are limited to acoustic music.
Another neighbor, Harold French, claimed that "the whole place has gone to hell, no maintenance at all. You people have got to have priorities."
But Cruey said the aim of the music series is to attract younger people and families to Naumkeag.
"This was an attempt at that, and it's working," he said. "We offer a lot of programming there, this is just one of the ways we get new audiences who might not otherwise come."
"Naumkeag operates at a loss every year," he pointed out. "We are not a profit center. We struggle to meet our goals, to increase our visitation and revenue, and what we're doing with 'Naumkeag at Night' is not out of line with what every other nonprofit is doing around here."
"Getting the younger families to participate and come is really, really difficult," according to Cruey. "If we can't do that, we're not going to survive. We have to have a little bit of flexibility in what we're offering to draw new audiences.
"We're trying to be reasonable here," he continued. "If people go to Naumkeag and see the improvements we've made over the last couple of years, you'll realize why we need to do things like this. We've made a huge investment."
He also told the neighbors that "we don't amplify," except for a singer who uses a microphone during the 5 to 8 p.m. events.
"I don't think that's an unreasonable time to have music," Cruey said. "We're trying very, very hard to be good stewards of that property. Anything we do there costs money, a fortune."
"We do hear you and we're trying to work with what it is we're hearing from you," said Petrickhuff, the engagement site manager, addressing the neighbors.
"If this is your outreach, then it's failing," Labelle, of the neighborhood group, responded. "We never had these problems with anyone at Naumkeag before."
But Cruey disputed the notion of failure, citing a 25 percent increase in visitation and a 20 percent gain in memberships.
"We're doing what we need to do; it's not failing," he said. "We're doing really good work there, and I take offense to that. We're not running a nightclub at Naumkeag."
"I think you're failing the residential neighborhood," Boyce replied. "Maybe you should try to think of another way to raise money."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
In Their Own Words. . .
"We're always going to have complaints about these things, we're always trying to make our neighbors and the community happy, and engage with as many people as we can in the right ways. I read in the papers that we're party promoters, that we all work in entertainment, which is really offensive. None of us are party promoters or event planners. To keep saying that's what we're doing there is just a lie."
— Brian Cruey, general manager, Trustees of Reservations South Berkshire properties, including Naumkeag.
"At this point, I wouldn't care if Naumkeag went under. I think it would actually be better for the neighbors."
— Mary Boyce, neighborhood resident.
"This is a year of us trying to develop our relationship with the community and to uphold everything we said we'd do when we applied for the permits. We need a little bit of time and space to get better at this, it's a working relationship with the town and the community."
— Carrieann Petrickhuff, Trustees engagement site manager.
"We're very committed to working with our community, neighbors, in harmony with them to cooperate, listen to their concerns, and look to solutions that work for all of us."
— Joanne Ballentine, regional director, Trustees of Reservations.