Windyside: Tour the private Lenox Club where the Berkshire Cottagers played
Photo Gallery | The Cottager: Windyside
LENOX, MASS. — In 1894, the New York Times ran a society column titled, "Lenox has the golf craze: Society hitting a little ball with a crooked stick," detailing how the popular sport had just about taken over everywhere.
"Golf is fast becoming popular here as elsewhere. The links is [sic] laid out on the spacious greens of Dr. Richard C. Greenleaf and Henri Braem. The first game was played on Wednesday, and another one on Thursday, and in fact, those interested in the sport are playing every day, and will be during the pleasant weather through the rest of the season," the Sept. 8, 1894 article stated.
Greenleaf's lawn would serve as a nine-hole golf course well into the future, first as part of the Lenox Golf Club and later, following an expansion to 18 holes, as part of the Lenox Club in 1924. It has long since disappeared, following the Great Depression, having been reclaimed by the forest where the occasional sand trap can still be spied by observant eyes.
Windyside was built in 1875 by Greenleaf and his wife, Adeline Stone Greenleaf, of Boston. By 1880, the couple and their three children had permanently taken up residence in the stick style cottage, which author Richard Jackson Jr. describes in "Houses of the Berkshires: 1830 - 1870" as having "a picturesque chalet roof line, board-and-batten gables and wide bracketed and braced porches."
"The paneled front doors are triangulated at the top. Embellishing the wide center hall and the surrounding reception rooms are tiled fireplaces, paneled ceilings in red fir and original wainscotting with diagonal tongue-and-groove panels," he writes, noting that quatrefoils and trefoils appear throughout the house in corners of door trim and fireplace trim.
In 1884, a two-story Colonial Revival addition was added onto the house, doubling it in size. It is in this addition that a 12-foot-high circular inglenook fireplace, made by the Boston Terra Cotta Co., reigns in the wood-paneled music room, which also includes a built-in Roosevelt organ and Bluthner grand piano.
Windyside remained a private residence, owned by the Greenleafs, until 1914. During that time, the house witnessed family tragedy — the death of the eldest daughter to typhoid — and many celebrations, including the weddings of the Greenleafs' younger daughter and son.
Following Dr. Greenleaf's death in 1913, the Lenox Club, which absorbed the Lenox Golf Club into its membership, purchased Windyside for its new clubhouse. The only major addition, besides the admittance of women into its membership, has been the Grille Room, a wood-paneled bar room off of the servants quarters.
It isn't often that a private club willingly opens its doors to the scrutiny of the public, so when Lenox Club President Raymond Casella positively responded to my request to tour Windyside, I was more than elated. As if the invitation couldn't get any better, I would also learn that Richard S. Jackson Jr., a club historian and co-author of "The Lenox Club: Sesquicentennial History," with Cornelia Brooke Gilder, would be our tour guide.
My excitement stemmed from the fact that the Lenox Club, which celebrates its 152nd anniversary this year, was a constant in the story of the Berkshire Cottagers I researched this summer. How perfect would it be to end our season of cottage visits with a tour of Windyside, the house where the cottagers spent afternoons playing golf, tennis and croquet?
On the afternoon I arrive, the house is bustling with activity as it's being readied for the traditional Thursday evening dinner buffet by in-house chef Michael Roller. On this evening, the club is getting ready to welcome its newest members, Casella says.
Our tour begins outside, where we walk along the long open porches, as Jackson describes how the house is almost two different houses, a fact made apparent when we stop to look at the obvious split in style of the main house, a Swiss chalet stick style home, and the addition, a Colonial Revival. He notes the differences are visible inside the house, as well.
"We're at an interesting point today," Casella says. "We're going to have a big push to begin restoration work on the house in the next few years."
Maintaining Windyside is as important to the club as maintaining the club's traditions, he emphasizes.
We enter rooms with dark wooden panels, that were once painted a "tasteful" white (but later restored to their original brilliance), wooden-mantle fireplaces with colorful tiles and honeycomb ceilings. Each room is as entrenched in the club's history as it is in original furnishings belonging to its past members.
In the library, the enclosed glass table contains historical items from the club's past, including china with the Lenox Club logo, old postcards with the Lenox Club's current and former homes on them, and member and visitor logs. Here, photos of past club presidents, including one of Giraud Foster, owner of Bellefontaine (now Canyon Ranch), who's tenure spanned 30 years, from 1915 to 1945.
We make our way through the house, which has over 30 rooms, to the fabled music room with its wood-paneled walls and extraordinary fireplace. The circular terra cotta fireplace, at 12 feet high, is like no other. The fireplace boasts a visual feast of artistry. Large panthers guard the inglenook seats, while griffons curl around the inner opening of the fireplace where a stoic face, perhaps of an American Indian, peers out. It is in this room that the Lenox Club membership dines together.
"The versatility of this room is quite nice," Casella said. "You can dress it up or keep it more casual. We have many celebrations in this room. The New Year's tradition is to have bag pipes played."
A long corridor, leading to the Grille Room, is filled with pictures of past members and events. In one photograph, Jim and Patsy Deeley are celebrating their wedding day.
In another, Sylvia Stokes is having her coming out party. Other features show early golf and tennis matches being played at the club.
"The club used to have white parties," Casella notes, as we look at one photo. "We still have annual croquet and tennis matches that require our members to wear white. It's those traditions that tie us to the place. There's a social aspect to the club that's very welcoming. It's not just for this person, or for that person."
After climbing the Palladian staircase to the second floor, we tour a series off bedroom suites, where members are able to stay.
There's an authenticity to the rooms, with four-post beds, antique furniture and time-period wallpapers.
Eventually, we make our way back to the main floor, where the club's members, current and new, are beginning to arrive for cocktails on the back porch before the buffet dinner is served.
As I make my way down the driveway, I pause to say goodbye and reflect on the summer of Gilded Age marvels we have traveled to together and realize how fortunate we've been to see inside some of these homes. I hope you've enjoyed our time together as much as I have.
Until next season ...
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