The Cottager | Belvoir Terrace — barely touched by time
Photo Gallery | The Cottager: Belvoir Terrace
LENOX, MASS. — When American explorer Robert E. Peary, then a lieutenant, and his wife, Josephine, visited the Berkshires in October 1895, many of the Lenox Cottagers joked that he brought the Arctic air with him.
"The Mercury dropped 10 degrees the first afternoon Lt. Peary was here," a New York Times social column noted on Oct. 12, 1895.
Fresh off his latest expedition to Greenland, Peary and his wife were in town to visit Morris K. Jesup and his wife, Maria Van Antwerp DeWitt Jesup, who held a well-attended reception in his honor at Belvoir Terrace. Morris Jesup was on of Peary's biggest fans and benefactors, a fact he acknowledged when selecting Cape Morris Jesup as the name for the northernmost tip of Greenland.
Jesup, a retired financier, began working at the age of 12 in the office of a firm for a locomotive company in New York City. By the age of 22, he had opened his own firm. Four years later, he established his own finance company. At 54, Jesup was a retired and wealthy man, known for both his financial position and his generosity.
In an 1899 Times Sunday Magazine article, Jesup was described as having the distinguishing characteristics of "the ability to make money" and the "disposition to dispose of it with ostentatious benevolence." While ever the philanthropist, Jesup spared no expense building his summer cottage on property abutting the Church on the Hill Cemetery. Plans for the stone and stucco mansion, designed by Rotche and Tilden, were drawn up in 1888. Completed in 1891, the 28-room manse included a pipe organ, walls of oak, mahogany and walnut, numerous carved wooden lion accents, a wine cellar and a commanding view of the valley to its southwest. (Belvoir is French for "beautiful view.")
Jesup died in 1908, leaving Belvoir to his wife. When she died in 1914, the house was left to a niece, Eleanor DeGraff Cuyler of New York. She sold the house in 1924 to Howard Cole, the Palm Beach developer who snapped up Wyndhurst, Coldbrook and Blantyre for almost nothing — creating the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club.
Cole and his fifth wife, for whom he purchased Belvoir Terrace, lived there for only two years. But during that two years, Mrs. Cole raised the eyebrows of her neighbors, who shook their heads at her decision to "lighten the place up" by having all the luxurious dark paneling covered in bright white paint. In 1926, John Shepard Jr., owner of the popular Shepard Store in Boston and Rhode Island, purchased the house for $200,000. He set to work to modernize the house with electricity and restored the walls to their original coloring.
In August 1929, an electrical fire broke out, causing $350,000 in damage. Shepard hired an apprentice of the original architects and restored the damaged property. He also added a few touches of his own — Tiffany stained-glass windows, a slate roof, and a "Venetian Room." He also enclosed a previously open porch and removed the conical roof of the house's turret, replacing it with a round battlement.
Following his death in 1948, the house was placed on the market. In 1950, it sold for $45,000 to the Rudel Machinery Co. in New York, which used the house to store copies of its valuable files — a common practice when it was assumed atomic war was imminent.
The house was again sold in 1953, this time to a dance instructor from Boston. Edna Schwartz purchased the property for $30,000 and opened a visual and performing arts camp for girls. Today, the camp is run by Schwartz's daughter, Nancy Goldberg, and granddaughter, Diane Goldberg Marcus.
"This is one of the best uses of these old cottages," Nancy Goldberg says, as she drives our golf cart up the former driveway of Belvoir Terrace, as we make our way to the top of the property. "These old buildings are being used in a positive and exciting way."
We're an overlooked industry. I have to maintain this property. I have an electrician, a plumber, a stone mason, a roofer, a landscaper, a carpenter and a garbage man. We do our business locally. We buy a lot of local food. I know that we have at least 25 alumnae who own second homes here."
As we make our way back to the house, music filters out of private studios, where cello and piano lessons are taking place. A stone wall leads us to the house, a magnificent structure barely touched by time.
"When my mother went to the bank in 1954, they wouldn't give her the money for all this," she said. "She did this on her own. She started with 44 girls. We have 170 girls now and about 90 staff members. She's the one who envisioned all this. She turned the greenhouses into art studios. She turned the lower levels of the gate house into dance studios."
The girls, who come to the school from places like New York City for 3- or 6-week-long sessions, take elective courses, ranging from printmaking to dance classes in ballet and jazz, alongside private lessons and instruction in tennis and swimming.
As we enter the main house, the muffled sounds of a piano can be heard in the distance as we walk through the entrance hall. The dark woods play off the soft-colored marble of the fireplace and organ pipes can be seen overhead.
We begin walking through an endless maze of inter-connected rooms, each more beautiful than the last, each with its own special touches — Tiffany windows, leather wallpaper, corners with carved lion heads, pocket doors and doors windows that curve with the room.
Roaring mahogany lions await us as we climb a wide staircase, to the second floor where large bedrooms accommodate eight to 10 campers and offer breath-taking views. Only a portion of the campers stay here, with others living in added dorms on the property.
"The only thing we've done is add on to the dining hall," Goldberg says as we peek our heads into the kitchen through the original serving window. "Those cabinets over there are the same as the ones Edith Wharton had at The Mount."
Before I depart, she drives out on the front lawn, so I can view the entire property from below.
"We're making strong women here," she says, as girls begin to flow from one building to another. "These will be the women who change the arts and music. Some of them will go on to do great things in the arts.
For those who don't, we're creating the next audiences for the theaters, for Tanglewood and Jacob's Pillow.
Established in 1954, this all-girls summer camp specializes in arts education, offering elective courses in the visual and performing arts.
Owners/Directors: Nancy Goldberg and Diane Goldberg Marcus
80 Cliffwood St., Lenox, Mass.
For more information: Visit belvoirterrace.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 413-637-0555 (summer) / 212-580-3398 (winter).
For more photos, visit photos.berkshireeagle.com.
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