Tea & Talk at Ventfort Hall: The Whitney Race Underground


The Whitney Race Underground will be the subject for a Summer Tea & Talk at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum on Tuesday, July 8 at 4:00 pm. Presenter of the illustrated lecture will be Doug Most, deputy managing editor for features at The Boston Globe and author of the new book, The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway. He will have copies of the book to autograph at the succeeding Victorian tea.

The Problem: In the late 19th century, as cities like Boston and New York grew more congested, the streets became clogged with plodding, horse-drawn vehicles of all kinds. When the Great Blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire Northeast, a solution had to be found.

The Solution: Two brothers from one of the nation's most prominent families, Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York, pursued the dream of his city digging America's first subway, opening an era of rapid urban transit. They were powerful men. Respected, ambitious and rich, they were willing to bribe whomever they needed and able to buy whatever they wanted. =Two years apart in age, they would lean on each other, learn from each other, and in one particular moment of desperation, they would even share their most important employee, a brilliant young engineer, with each other.

The story is peopled with the famous, like the corruptible William "Boss" Tweed, President Grover Cleveland and inventor Thomas Edison. Then there were the less famous, like the countless "sandhogs," who shoveled, hoisted and blasted their way into the earth's crust, sometimes losing their lives in the construction of the tunnels. Then there were centuries of fears of traveling underground that had to be overcome.

As an aside, on the site of Ventfort Hall was an earlier house, Vent Fort, and during the 1880s it was rented for five summers by William C. and his wife Flora Payne Whitney, known in New York and Lenox for her lavish scale of entertaining guests. At Ventfort, First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland was one such guest at a time when Flora's husband was President Cleveland's Secretary of the Navy. During the next decade, William C. built a hunting lodge on huge acreage he owned on October Mountain.

Most is also the author of Always in Our Hearts: The Story of Amy Grossberg, Brian Peterson, the Pregnancy They Hid, and the Child They Killed. He has written for Sports Illustrated, Runner's World and Parents, and his stories have appeared in Best American Crime Writing and Best American Sports Writing.

Tickets for the Most Tea & Talk are $20 for advance reservations and $25 day of the event. Reservations are highly recommended as seating is limited. For information or reservations call Ventfort Hall at 413-637-3206 or click on to info@gildedage.org. The historical mansion is located at 104 Walker Street in Lenox.

The Ventfort Hall Summer 2014 Tea & Talk series is supported in part by the cultural councils of Lenox, Otis, Washington and West Stockbridge, local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

An Official Project of Save America's Treasures program sponsored by The White House, Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum offers tours of the historic mansion, as well as Tea & Talks, such exhibitions as Les Petites Dames de Mode, the Bellefontaine Collection, concerts, theater, and other programs. This elegant Jacobean-Revival Berkshire "cottage," listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public year-around and is available for private rental. Built in 1893 for George and Sarah Morgan (sister of the financier, J. P. Morgan), Ventfort Hall has undergone substantial restoration, which continues.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions