Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into “Old New York,” a tightly controlled society that positively discouraged women from achieving anything beyond a proper marriage. Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture and gardens. Essentially self-educated, she was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1921); an honorary Doctorate of letters from Yale University (1923); and full membership in the Academy of Arts and Letters (1930). In addition to being a prodigious author, she was a master house builder and gardener.
The Mount is a turn-of-the-century home that Edith Wharton designed and built based on the precepts outlined in her 1897 book The Decoration of Houses, co-authored with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. A perfect example of the newly dawned American Renaissance, the classical revival house and its formal gardens represent the only full expression of Wharton’s architectural and landscape architectural theories.
Wharton believed the design of a house should be treated architecturally and should honor the principles of proportion, harmony, simplicity, and sustainability. Gardens, too, she elaborated in Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904), should be architectural compositions, divided into rooms, and planned in concert with the house and the natural landscape. Recognized as an authority on these subjects, Wharton had a considerable influence on American residential design.
Only five percent of National Historic Landmarks are dedicated to women, and The Mount is one of them. Like Jefferson’s Monticello, it is an autobiographical house, one that definitely embodies its creator’s spirit. When the restoration of the estate began in 1997 – after years of hard use and deferred maintenance – most of the buildings (mansion, stable, gatehouse and greenhouse) were severely deteriorated and the gardens were lost to overgrowth.
|Location||Lenox, Massachusetts, above Laurel Lake|
|House Designer||Edith Wharton|
|Associated Architects||Ogden Codman, Jr.
Francis L.V. Hoppin (Hoppin & Koen)
|Landscape & Garden Designer||Edith Wharton|
|Associated Landscape Architect||Beatrix Jones Farrand|
|Principal Buildings||Main house, inspired by Belton House (17th-century English country house in the Palladian manner), and by neo-classical Italian and French models; two-story superintendent’s lodge, in Georgian Revival style; two-story stable in Georgian Revival style; greenhouse and potting shed|
|Principal Gardens||Walled garden in the Italian style; flower garden reflecting French and English design influences; rock garden; lime walk; grass terraces; kitchen garden|
|Land Parcel||Original farm plot of 113 acres bought from Georgiana Sargent for $40,600; additional 15 acres purchased at a later date; plot owned currently by EWR is 49.5 acres|
|Construction||July 1901 – Autumn 1902|
|Cost||Main house: $57,619
|Main House Dimensions||Footprint: approximately 138 ft x 65 ft
Height: By virtue of Wharton’s decision to site the house on a hillside, with its principal rooms opening onto views of the gardens, Laurel Lake and the Berkshire hills, the west elevation (entrance side) is three stories high, and the east elevation (garden side) is two stories.
|Main House Plan||Ground Floor
Walled forecourt (approximately 64 ft x 78 ft.)
Entrance hall (34.5 ft x 12.5 ft)
Staircase hall (11 ft x 18 ft)First Floor (piano nobile)
Gallery (38 ft x 12 ft) with barrel-arch ceiling and three tall, arched windows along west façade
Dining room (20.5 ft x 25.5 ft) with two pairs of doors opening onto terrace
Drawing room (36 ft x 20 ft) with ornamental plaster ceiling and three pairs of French doors opening onto terrace
Edith Wharton’s library (20 ft x 25 ft) with four doors opening in from terrace
Teddy Wharton’s den (15 ft x 18 ft)
Terrace (125 ft x approximately 24 ft along eastern façade, wrapping around to north façade), leading to Palladian staircase and gardensSecond Floor (Bedroom Floor)
Edith Wharton’s boudoir, bath and bedroom on north end
Two guest bedrooms and bath (known as the marital suite) on west side
Teddy Wharton’s bedroom, bath and dressing room on east side
Largest guest bedroom and bath (known as the Henry James suite) on east side
Servants’ dining room, kitchen, serving room and scullery, laundry room, wine cellar, coal-storage room and furnace roomFirst Floor
Servants’ hallway, butler’s room, cook’s room, butler’s pantry, houskeeper’s roomSecond Floor
Linen closet, housemaid’s closet, maid’s room, sewing room, dress closet, bath, stairs to attic floorAttic Floor
Servants’ bedrooms (8) and servants’ bath
|Subsequent Owners and Occupants||Mary and Albert R. Shattuck and family, 1912-38
Louise and Carr V. Van Anda, 1938-42
The Foxhollow School, 1942-76
The Center Incorporated, 1977-80
Shakespeare & Company, resident theater company, 1978-2001
Edith Wharton Restoration, 1980-present