Cornelia Brooke “Nini” Gilder. Photo by Philip Howard.
On Thursday evening, November 9, 2023, at 7 p.m. at Lenox Town Hall, Cornelia Brooke “Nini” Gilder will present “The Legacy of the Great Estates in Preserving the Berkshire Landscapes.”
Have you been curious how South Berkshire looks as it does? In her richly illustrated powerpoint presentation, Gilder explains. It is a fascinating tale of generous and motivated individuals who, in two steps, preserved and protected a landscape we take for granted.
Gilder will trace the evolution from private property to public grounds of six beloved locales in Lenox: Kennedy Park, Parson’s Marsh, East Dugway, Brushwood Farm, the bird sanctuary, and more.
This is subject matter with which Gilder is very familiar. Born and raised in Berkshire County, she is co-author of “Houses of the Berkshires: 1870-1930” (Acanthus Press), “Hawthorne’s Lenox” (History Press), “The Sesquicentennial History of the Lenox Club” (Arcadia), and “Edith Wharton’s Lenox” (Arcadia).
During the Gilded Age, America’s economic elite selected Newport and South Berkshire—primarily Lenox and Stockbridge—as the “king and queen of Gilded Age resorts.” In Lenox and Stockbridge, they purchased large swaths of contiguous land and created The Great Estates. When war was followed by depression and another war, they boarded up the Berkshire Cottages, abandoned the land, and left. What then was the fate, what were the possible reuses of private homes “of no fewer than 20 rooms on no less than 30 acres?”
Gilder picks up the tale of generous people dedicated to open spaces and the common good. Gilder is, as are all historians, a storyteller, but more, she is a biographer. She tells the stories of the people who dedicated time and treasure to opening lands to all. Their lives, what motivated their commitment, are truly the stuff of good stories.
The beauty of the local landscape, the open space, are signatures of the Berkshires. They are elements to which many of us have been committed over the almost 300 years since we were settled. However, in the modern world, they are becoming rare and valuable characteristics not available everywhere. How did those who came before us manage to preserve and protect so much? What will happen next?
Come follow the journey from private property to public stewardship, presented by the Lenox Land Trust.