'Cottage' hasn't changed

Wednesday August 18, 2010

STOCKBRIDGE -- Naumkeag, built in 1887 as the summer home of the Choate family, stands today seemingly undeterred by weather and time.

Willed by Mabel Choate in 1958 to the Trustees of Reservations, the nonprofit has made annual investments to keep the main house, out buildings and eight gardens in pristine condition. The 44-room mansion remains completely furnished and intact.

As a result, Naumkeag -- one of the Berkshires' famous summer "cottages" -- remains a stable player in the cultural landscape of the Berkshires.

Comparatively speaking, Naumkeag is a far cry from the perennial struggle faced by some other cottages and their supporters. A number of those have gone through periods of neglect, loss of ownership, misuse, vandalism and partial demolition.

Some Berkshire cottages are only now approaching the stature of their glory days, but without the original furnishings and decor favored by their original inhabitants.

At Naumkeag, it's all there for the public to see, in the appearance and decor of the 1950s era in which Mabel Choate left it: The call boxes, dinnerware, dumb waiters, a maid's uniform, a library full of books, curtains, bedding and many other personal items.

About 12,000 people visit Naumkeag every year, according to Will Garrison, cultural resources manager for the Trustees of Reservations. The house is closed during the winter.

So far this year, a record number of visitors have signed up for membership in the trustees while visiting the property, "and the season's only half over," Garrison said.

Garrison said it all started with Mabel Choate's gracious nature.

"She was quite a woman," he said. "She was known for her generosity."

Choate spent her last season there in the summer of 1958. She passed away at her home in New York City later that year.

Her father, Joseph Choate, was a prominent attorney and served as an ambassador to Britain. Her mother, Caroline Choate, was the mother of five and a trained artist.

The estate is named after Joseph Choate's hometown of Salem, using the town's American Indian name.

The Choates had visited the Stockbridge area since the 1870s and decided to make it their summer home. The architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White designed the mansion, complete with servants quarters on the third floor. It was constructed between 1885 and 1886 for $48,000, and the Choates spent their first season there in 1887.

Today, there are efforts under way to restore the kitchen and convert it for use as the main entry for visitors. In the coming years, a major project to replace the unique roofing materials will start, and a restoration of the Chinese garden is also planned.

To reach Scott Stafford:
or (413) 496-6241.


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