Nestled in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Lenox is a pleasant walking village, chock-full of historic architecture, monuments and markers, surrounded by pastoral vistas remarkable for their continued presence in this age of relentless development. Running west of the Connecticut River to the New York border, the Berkshires are a gentle highland region, cut by river valleys and dotted with lakes. For several years after the first Europeans settled in eastern parts of the colony, the Berkshires remained home only to native Mahican Indians. Lenox did not hold its first town meeting until 1767. The area then supported mostly farmers and merchants and, gradually, some heavy industries such as sawmills, quarries and textiles. But, in the course of the next century or so, the region’s rustic and soulful ambience lured a growing colony of artists, especially novelists. Here, Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick and Nathaniel Hawthorne penned The House of The Seven Gables, as well as Tanglewood Tales, begetting the name of an estate that is now the famous outdoor music venue.
An extension of the Housatonic Railroad in 1838 opened the region to tourist interest and, by the late 1800s, Lenox and surrounding towns became a summer playground for the affluent. Vanderbilt, Astor, Morgan and Carnegie were among the nation’s emerging elite who built mansions, called “summer cottages,” in the Berkshires. In fact, the period from the Civil War to First World War became known as the Berkshire Cottage Era or Gilded Age.
These days, the region has a reputation for world-class culture that justly complements its natural beauty. Notable contributors include the Berkshire Theatre Group, which traces its origin to The Colonial Theatre built in 1903; Jacob’s Pillow Dance, which hosts the country’s longest-running dance festival and is a National Historic Landmark; and, of course, Tanglewood, beloved summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a Lenox tradition that began in 1937 and now draws more than 350,000 listeners each season. Today, the charm of Lenox remains in its quaint juxtaposition of epicurean taste and artistic expression with small town and old-fashioned Yankee conservatism. And, oh yeah, the scenery’s not bad either.