House's rich history

Friday, Feb. 12


On Feb. 3, The Eagle reported that EnlightenNext was selling its Lenox headquarters of the past 14 years "Spiritual club up for sale"). This meditative group has been so quiet in its community profile that some readers may have failed to connect where the 220 acre property actually is.

Long known as Foxhollow School, this dramatic and storied estate, neighboring High Lawn Farm and The Mount, has driveways in both the towns of Lee and Lenox. It was once home to some of America's most high-profile families.

The splendid serpentine front driveway lined with majestic pines dates from the days in the 1880s and ‘90s when air-brake inventor and electricity pioneer George Westinghouse and his wife Marguerite Erskine Walker Westinghouse created a country estate here. The landscape of Erskine Park was graced with lagoons, marble bridges and crushed marble roads. Gone is the Westinghouses' turreted and shingled house, but their vaulted private gymnasium has served EnlightenNext as a meditation hall.

In 1917, George Westinghouse Jr. sold the property to Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt with a deed stipulating the removal of the old Victorian mansion. The young, widowed Margaret Vanderbilt had lost her husband on the Luisitania two years earlier and had begun coming to Lenox with her two little boys, renting first Shadowbrook and then Ventfort Hall.

Mrs. Vanderbilt hired New York architects Delano and Aldrich to design her a Colonial Revival house -- the present centerpiece of the property -- with two story porticos overlooking the lawns and lagoons on one side and Laurel Lake on the other. She sentimentally called the place Holmwood after a beloved spot in Surrey she and her husband Alfred had frequented early in their marriage. Within days of moving into her new house, Margaret Vanderbilt married again -- the handsome Nevadan Raymond T. Baker, director of the U.S. Mint -- with rain forcing the outdoor wedding into Holmwood's elegant, new music room.


By 1939 when she sold the property to Aileen Farrell, headmistress of Foxhollow School, the much-married Margaret had reverted to Margaret Emerson, her maiden name. A grand dame with considerable executive abilities she directed the operations of the Red Cross in the Pacific from her home in Hawaii during World War II.

The Oxford-educated, Englishwoman Miss Farrell was also a grande dame with executive abilities. She brought her girls' boarding school to Lenox from Rhinebeck N.Y. where she had started it on a smaller estate called Foxhollow. The school expanded soon afterward to The Mount property, and was a local presence for the next 30 years.

In its decline in the 1970s, the school rented the spacious music room for private parties and there, on New Year's Eve 1974, I first danced with my future husband from far-off Tyringham, and we celebrated our wedding with a festive reception in October 1976 in Margaret Vanderbilt's music room.

With its luminous outlook on lake and hillside, this panoramic place deserves a new use commensurate with its history and Berkshire vistas.

Cornelia Brooke Gilder is a Lenox native and co-author of "Houses of the Berkshires" and "Hawthorne's Lenox."


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