Vol. I No. 07 11/1/2020
History and Planning: a Visual
by Carole Owens
With respect to planning and development, Stockbridge is at a crossroads. Some believe development is good for Stockbridge; others believe the Stockbridge economy and easy living is a function of holding the line against development. Soon voters will be asked to decide. Therefore, this is a time to consider development choices, and there is an example next door.
Lenox was incorporated in 1767 and the first land grant recorded in the Colonial Proprietor's Record Book on October 25, 1770 was "seventy-five acres to Timothy Way and Samuel Jerome." For 33 years, the two men did nothing with the land.
On June 13, 1803, for the sum of $75, the hill was sold to Ezra Blossom — the Gaoler of Lenox (jailer/sheriff). Eleven years later, Blossom sold it. The 1814 advertisement describes what he did with the land: "Blossom Farm has a good orchard which makes about twenty barrels of cider annually…a house on the premises, nearly new and well-furnished, and a convenient barn and other out-buildings." Blossom sold the land for $1200.
On April 30, 1850 Blossom Farm was sold to Charles Hotchkiss, Headmaster of the Lenox Academy for Boys. In September 1853, Hotchkiss sold to author and clergyman Henry Ward Beecher for $4500. Both men simply lived there in the Blossom farmhouse.
Standing on the brow of his hill, Beecher wrote, "From here I see the very hills of heaven", and he claimed he could see "a range of sixty miles by the simple turn of the eye."
For one hundred years there was no development; nonetheless the value of the land rose exponentially.
Beecher sold to General John F. Rathbone for $8000. Rathbone moved the farmhouse down the hill so that from his new house, Wyndhurst, he could enjoy the spectacular view. In 1882, for the tidy sum of $10,000 a part of the hill was sold to United States Naval Captain John
S. Barnes. Barnes built Coldbrooke designed by architects Peabody and Stearns and hired landscape architect Ernest Bowditch to design the gardens. Thereby after 212 years the density increased from one single family home to two.
Rathbone sold Wyndhurst to John Sloane for $50,000. Sloane razed the house but retained the name. At Wyndhurst he built a Tudor mansion of Perth Amboy brick designed by Peabody and Stearns. Sloane also built barns, greenhouses, and formal gardens. It was the new standard in Berkshire cottages.
By 1928, the party was over; the Gilded Age ended; the cottages relics of a former era. On the hill, an ambitious plan for a Berkshire Hunt Club combined three former estates — Wyndhurst, Coldbrooke and Blantyre. Coldbrooke became the "bachelor building" with fourteen bedrooms; Wyndhurst was the "clubhouse" plus a golf course and riding trails.
In 1933, the country was suffering the Great Depression, and the Club was swamped in debt. The land on the hill was sold for the $9000 due in taxes to Edward Cranwell. In 1939, Cranwell gave the property to the Jesuits to use as a school, and they named it Cranwell Preparatory School. They added a circular building for services and programs.
In the 1980s, the property was sold to create Cranwell Resort and Spa. A few townhouses were built below the lip of the hill —development was sparce, the view from the house, and of the house from the road, remained relatively unchanged.
In 2020, 250 years after the first land transfer, Miraval, the destination development arm of the Hyatt corporation, bought the hill and developed the property. Drive through. Form your own opinion. What they built probably could qualify as "open space development" because of the band of green surrounding the dense building. Decide if this is what you want for Stockbridge. Is this what you want our former cottages and other large tracts of undeveloped land in the village to look like? Is this what you want the population of Stockbridge to become? Either way be careful. Question development-speak. Listen for the percentage preserved and the percentage developed. Know the consequences of how you vote.
Miraval at Cranwell. Photo: Carole Owens