History at a high price

An estate at 3 Ice Glen Road in Stockbridge, commonly known as Villa Virginia, was sold for $6.25 million late last month, making it tied for the third-highest-priced residential sale in Berkshire County history.

STOCKBRIDGE — Its former owners include a wealthy New York paper merchant who later bought the Stockbridge Water Co., and a man who brought his own deer to the property from another estate he owned on the Hudson River.

The property has also been owned by a patriotic songwriter descended from the first governor of Massachusetts; her daughter, who was briefly married to a Russian prince, and a well-known Lithuanian-born abstract artist.

Oh, and in the 19th century, notorious free spirit Isadora Duncan, the "mother of modern dance," reportedly danced on the lawn.

An estate on Ice Glen Road, commonly known as "Villa Virginia," believed to be one of the last of the famous Gilded Age Berkshire "cottages" to be built, is on the market.

The asking price? $10 million — a large sum, even for the Berkshires, where million dollar home sales are not unusual.

If sold at that price, the dwelling would be the highest sale of residential property in Berkshire County history, according to Eagle files, surpassing the $9.8 million paid for the historic Elm Court estate in Stockbridge in July 2012.

A 55,000-square-foot mansion on 44 acres, Elm Court is currently being turned into a resort, but had historically served as a residence, and was one of the last Berkshire cottages still in family ownership when it changed hands. It was built in 1886.

Second on The Eagle's list is Southmayd Farm, also in Stockbridge, which sold for $6.9 million in 2007, and again for $6.25 million in 2017. Built in 1870 on land along the Housatonic River once owned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Southmayd Farm was listed at $8 million when it went on the market 12 years ago, and for $8.5 million when it was first listed again in 2015.

The second time the property went on the market, an auction held to sell the estate was listed in both the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe.

So what does $10 million get you in Stockbridge this time around? A 102-year-old estate considered to be a significant example of Mediterranean Renaissance Revival architecture on 58-plus acres that was originally rumored to be a replica of an Italian Villa in the Sabine Hills of Italy, according to the listing. Built in 1917, according to the Stockbridge assessor's office, the property has also been called Villa Veracelle and Laurelmere.

The main house, which is just over 11,000 square feet, has 14 rooms, according to the Stockbridge assessor's office. A second building, which includes an apartment on the second floor, has contains about 5,800 square feet. The property has 13 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms, according to a listing on Zillow.

The asking price is high, even for Stockbridge, said Michael Blay, the town's principal assessor. The estate's current owners, Yathrib Ltd. paid only $1.75 million for the property when they bought it in October 1997, according to town documents. In 1978, the property was sold for $100,000.

The property's assessed value for fiscal 2019 is $2,168,300, according to town records.

"It happens a lot in Stockbridge," Blay said, "That's a big number even for that area [which contains several estates]. It's doable. But I'll believe it when I see it."

The current owners made improvements to the property between 1998 and 2001, but the total sum of all those improvements is less than a million dollars, Blay said. The roof was replaced for a cost of $140,000 in 2001. Blay said its possible other improvements were made on the property that the town doesn't know about. On the plus side, the town lists the estate as being in "excellent condition."

Yathrib Ltd., is a corporation organized in the Cayman Islands, according to registry documents. The owners could not be reached for comment, and no further information on them was available. At the request of the owners, listing agent Patrice Melluzzo of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty declined to comment about the property with The Eagle.

But in an interview with Boston.com, Melluzzo said the estate includes arched doorways and coffered ceilings believed to have been painted by an Italian artist. In the main living room, each square of the coffered ceiling is painted with a cherub. A summer room includes many windows and a ceiling that features hand-painted zodiac symbols that have been restored "to their original glory."

No major changes have been made to the estate's design. But the kitchen has been modernized and other parts of the home updated.

"It's actually a large home, but it has a very cozy feel to it," Melluzzo told Boston.com.

RUN AS A FARM

In 1898, at the time Duncan reportedly danced on the lawn, the property was known as "Glenburnie," and was home to a "gentleman's farm," run by Dr. Henry Cecil Haven, who died in 1915, the year that the builders of Villa Virginia, wealthy New York paper merchant William H. Clarke and his wife Virginia Vilas Clarke,, came to Stockbridge. according to Eagle files. The Clarke's bought the property, and built the estate in 1917 naming it after their daughter, Virginia. Mrs. Clarke was of Italian descent. Mr. Clarke also bought the Stockbridge Water Company.

The Clarkes operated the property as a farm, but in 1931, Virginia Vilas Clarke destroyed several structures on the site, including seven modernized farm buildings, in order to make the estate more attractive to buyers. In 1934, she sold the property to John R. Hopkins of New York and Palm Beach, Fla., who had rented it for the previous three years.

Hopkins renamed the estate Villa Veracelle. He made several changes to the interior, and planned to move English fallow deer from his other estate in Irvington on Hudson, N.Y. to the property, where they would be kept in a specially arranged "deer park," according to Eagle files.

But one year later,, Hopkins sold the property to George Otis Rockwood, and his wife, Marie Rich Rockwood, who were originally from Indianapolis, but also owned property in New Lebanon, N.Y.

Marie Rich Rockwood, the ninth great-granddaughter of William Bradford, the first governor of Massachusetts, was educated in Europe and wrote a number of patriotic songs, including one for the Mayflower Society, of which she was a member. Copies of some of her songs are still on file at the Stockbridge Library. The Rockwoods named the property Laurelmere.

In March 1929, the Rockwood's daughter, Diana, married Russian Prince Vladimir Eristavi-Tchitcherine, who was not a member of the Russian royal family, but had an ancestor who had served as governor general of Siberia under Catherine the Great. The ceremony, which took place in Paris, was a major social event, according to the Indianapolis Star. The prince's best man, a Russian general who had helped lead the insurrection against the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s, attended the wedding clad in the full uniform of a Cossack guard.

The couple divorced five years later — Diana was the prince's third of at least four wives. But Diana went by Princess Diana Eristavi for the rest of her life. She inherited the property after her mother died at Longmere in July 1964, but spent most of her time living abroad.

The unoccupied property was robbed three times during a six-month span in 1974 with the thieves making off with antiques, heirlooms and four Oriental rugs, according to Eagle files. The estate was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

In 1978, Princess Diana donated land in New Lebanon to the town for use as a park. It is named Rockwell Park after her father.

She died in Venice, Italy in 1988, 10 years after selling the estate to noted Lithuanian-born geometric abstractionist Kazys Varnelis, who lived in the U.S. until 1998. Varnelis, who died in 2010, restored the property's house and grounds. He and his wife, Gabrielle, sold the property to Yathrib Ltd.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.