As I was planning my trip out to the Berkshires to visit the Merwin House, I did a few google searches on other activities we could do over the weekend and one name kept coming up: Naumkeag. Not a word or name that I had seen or heard before – but it quickly got added to my itinerary as I researched further – and it was a highlight of the weekend for sure!
- As I mentioned in my post about the Merwin House, in the late 1800’s the Berkshires became a very popular destination for New York City’s elite & wealthy. Train service ran directly from Grand Central Station to Stockbridge, and so transformed the rural area into a bit of a playground for the wealthy (similar to the Newport Mansion “cottages”, such as The Elms!). As more “cottages” were built, there became criteria a home had to meet in order to be considered a “Berskshire Cottage” which included a minimum of 30 rooms, and Naumkeag would more than meet that goal.
- Joseph Choate was born in Salem, MA and is where the name of the home comes from, as Naumkeag is what Native American’s called Salem, meaning “good place to fish”. (The actual location of Naumkeag is not a good place to fish, but Choate wanted to be different – and that name would certainly do it!) After graduating from Harvard Law School he moved to New York City and became a well-known lawyer, and eventually was appointed as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom by President McKinley. His wife, Caroline, was also accomplished and was a co-founder of Barnard College, an all-women’s college that is still prominent in Manhattan.
- Joseph & Caroline Choate summered in Stockbridge at a friend’s cottage for years prior to building their own home, and it was easy for them to decide where they would build the home. There is a huge tree just off the back veranda that the family spent many afternoons picnicking underneath which would become the building site of Naumkeag.
- In 1884, Joseph enlisted Stanford White to design their 44-room “cottage”, 17 of which were bedrooms, and construction of the shingle style mansion began with an estimated cost of $35,000. White also assisted Caroline with the furnishings and decor and traveled extensively with her to do so – can you imagine furnishing 44 rooms all at once?! Amazingly most of what you see in the home today are these same furnishings.
- Naumkeag sits on about 40 acres of land, and one simply could not have a gorgeous mansion without similarly gorgeous gardens, and the grounds are almost a separate tour on their own! Nathan Barrett was the original designer between 1888 – 1890, which included two terraces, formal perennial beds, an evergreen topiary garden and the arborvitae path. The remainder of the acreage included farmland and a greenhouse which provided all the food for the household, and still appears to be a farm today with cows roaming the pastures.
- Mabel Choate, one of the daughters of Joseph & Caroline, inherited full control of the estate after her father’s death in 1917 and her mother’s death in 1929. She traveled extensively, and many of the decor pieces in the home such as china are those she collected during her travels. She also spent 30 years working with prominent landscape artist Fletcher Steele to create additional gardens, including the famous Blue Steps and the most recent “addition”, the Chinese Garden, in 1955.
- Mable Choate left Naumkeag, and everything inside of it, to the Trustees of Reservations, who own it today. It opened to the public in 1959 and over 11,000 visitors per year tour the home & extensive gardens!
It was nearly impossible to choose – so make sure you follow along on Instagram , where I’ll be sharing many more photos than below!
Admittedly – all the rooms in this home were gorgeous, but this one in particular struck me. The wall color is so pretty, and the huge windows at the back of the room offer stellar views of Monument Mountain. The one thing that instantly stuck out to me was that there was no chandelier, or any lights on the ceiling. The ceiling had a special treatment to reflect light, and was designed so that as the sun set when the family would be eating or entertaining guests, including President McKinley in 1897, the light would reflect off the ceiling and create a glowing atmosphere. I would have loved to see that.
Confession: I’m a Real Housewives fanatic. I may or may not have visited the front gates of Dorinda Medley’s Berkshire home this same weekend but didn’t think a post on it is appropriate or may get me a letter from a lawyer….though her Blue Stone Manor featured on the show is well worth a post! The “fish room” would be a top favorite place. Call me, Dorinda and we’ll set it up :0)
I digress. Ever since Heather Dubrow of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills uttered the word “porte-cochere” while she was building her 22,000 square foot home in Newport Beach, CA, I’ve been obsessed with them (and it’s a fun word to say). Naumkeag has a beautiful one that I’m sure even Mrs. Dubrow would be jealous of.
We visited this garden last and I’m glad we did – it’s a great place to take a load off and enjoy.the.scenery. The trickle of the water features, the bed swing which I fully took advantage of and the VIEWS – it was magic. Plus, rumor is that it’s good luck to walk thru the Moon Gates, so I hopped in & out a few times.
We all know I love a good butler’s kitchen, and this was a great one. Mabel made a few technological upgrades to the home, including this adorable and “state of the art” refrigerator.
The Blue Steps were built in 1938, and is considered “one of the most famous built landscapes in America”. Surrounded by birch trees (some of my favorite trees!), these stairs feature an art-deco design that includes a water feature and allows for a ‘gradual’ (although somewhat steep) descent down to the cutting gardens, which were also gorgeous. Certainly an unexpected design compared to the rest of the house, but beautiful none the less!
- Allow at least 2 hours to visit Naumkeag – the house tour takes just over an hour, and you’ll want at least another hour to wander the gardens.
- The Trustees offer a few different tours to choose from – which I thought was neat! I’m sure each gives a different perspective on life at the home.
- Pack a snack and some drinks – once you’re there, you may as well enjoy it! There is a small “cafe” – which is more of a cooler with pre-made wraps & salads – so you may be better off bringing your own!