A rich and beautiful history
Late Nineteenth Century
The story of the Ethelwynde begins in the period after the Civil War. With the war over, the Berkshires settled down to a comparatively easy life. According to contemporary accounts, people found time for fun and frolic. There were energetic square dances in barns and halls all over the county. Folks formed bicycle clubs, or cycled unaffiliated; lawn croquet came into favor. More simple pleasures also came to the fore, especially hikes along the woodland trails; courting couples were known to stroll through the night “to see the east pasture in the moonlight”. Meanwhile, as more and more millionaires were created by the nation’s soaring economy, the question of where to spend their untaxed incomes arose. They sought to gain status, and perhaps a have a little fun doing it. Fashionable Newport discouraged upstart newcomers, however rich , so the fresh crop of the well-heeled hit on Lenox for their resort playground. It was nicknamed the Inland Newport. From about 1880 to world War I, Lenox was one of the richest little towns in the nation, with castles and palaces springing up on once-humble farm land. These establishments were called cottages by the owners, who themselves were known as cottagers. By 1880 thirty five mansions had been built, and by 1900 the number was seventy five. In their country life, the “cottagers” took their cue from the English nobility; they followed the hounds and formed the Berkshires Hunt Club, staged annual horse shows,, had horse races at the Lee Track and even formed a cricket team. Garden parties were fashionable, and Tub Parade for a time closed the season, with dozens of carriages decorated with thousands of flowers grown on the estates.
Against this backdrop, in 1875 Henri Mondad Braem built a summer retreat for himself and his family and this was the original Ethelwynde “cottage” and estate. It also included a farm. He worked closely with his step-father, Edward Bech, who was a partner in the Cunard Steamship Company. After becamoming the ambassador to Denmark, he and his wife were mentioned often in the press for their social gatherings in both New York and Lenox. As a political figure, Mr. Braem’s functions were also sources of entertainment for political figures such as the Grand Duke Alexander of Russia. Mrs. Braem hosted the Grand Duke along with Mrs. Robert Roosevelt, the aunt of the future president, Theodore Roosevelt.
Mr. Braem owned the estate through 1893 when he sold it to the widow of Robert Winthop who was a descendent of John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Kate Taylor's marriage to Robert Winthrop brought together a great political dynasty and economic fortune.
Early Twentieth Century
Mrs.Winthrop, nee Kate Taylor, was the daughter of Moses Taylor. He was one of the wealthiest men in 19th century New York, a founder of Citibank and financier to Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mrs. Winthrop used Ethelwynde as the country retreat for her and her family and her son, Grenville, soon followed and built a mansion nearby named Groton Place.
Mrs. Winthrop planted extensively throughout the website and used Ethelwynde as the venue for her daughter's marriage.
Even in her old age, Mrs. Winthrop was the consummate hostess. As recounted by her granddaughter, when Grandma Winthrop turned eighty-three, the family gathered about. Her impeccable instructions indicated that her dinner was at eight, that there would be a dozen at the table, and that there would be fifteen separate things to eat. The fare included soup, fish timbales, pheasants, potatoes and macaroni, currant jelly, bread sauce, green beans and spinach, small cheese pâtés and salad, ice cream and birthday cake, topped off with fruit and candies and washed down with sherry, claret, and whiskey.” Age had in no way diminished Kate Winthrop’s prowess as a hostess and her official family birthday celebration was among the smallest parties she gave in the course of that week and the next. Her ladies’ luncheons had grown as her women friends graduated to widowhood, and on her birthday, eighteen ladies congregated to fete her. The following Thursday, there were twenty-three ladies for lunch, and on Friday, seventeen. After a relatively quiet weekend (dinner Sunday night alone with Grenville), she was at it again: ten for lunch Monday and sixteen on Tuesday. Indeed, all that had changed in more than two decades of entertaining was that the food was more soothing, with more poached eggs and the like.”
Mrs. Winthrop catered to her gardens as well often winning prizes in the town fair for her chrysanthemums among other crops. The New York Times reported about her success in growing flowers and vegetables.
Her enthusiasm for gardening and planting is a primary contributor to Winthrop's arboreal beauty. Among the trees she planted on the property were silver elms, white, copper and silver beeches, spruce, chestnut, Japanese maples, lilacs and silver poplars.
The granddaughter told the following story: “Someone must have been keeping track at Grandma Winthop’s garden as well. She “had a perfectly wonderful garden perfectly wonderful hothouse – greenhouse – and she grew the most wonderful grapes and all kind of other fruits. Sometimes they’d disappear, and then if t was discovered that the neighborhood boys would come and take them.” Years later, when my parents were dining at the Lenox Club near where her grandmother’s house had stood, my mother remembered the tail of the fruit theft. Turning to the waiter, she asked him if he were one of the little boys who had stolen her grandmother’s grapes. How she guessed, she never said, but surprisingly he confessed that he had been.
Ethelwynde was purchased three years later by Halstead Lindsley for his second wife Emily Low (Bacon) Lindsley in 1928 as a romantic gesture.
Born in Yokohama, Japan where his father, a New England American, was a Canadian Pacific Railways executive, Halstead and his brother Thayer quickly became interested in civil and mechanical engineering. Returning to the U.S, both the Lindsley brothers attended Harvard to pursue bachelor’s degrees. Halstead would go on to become an NCAA golf champion during his junior year, 60 years before Jack Nicklaus, and 95 years before Tiger Woods.He and his brother founded hundreds of mines, including the Falconbridge Nickel Mine which is still one of the largest producers of nickel today. Fortunately for us, Halstead had some of that nickel taken to Lenox from which Ethelwynde's bath fixtures were made.
When Halstead wasn’t searching for vast ores of Canadian nickel ore, he resided in his newly completed home with his wife and their daughter Virginia, who was eventually married at Ethelwynde in 1943.
Ethelwynde was sold in 1948 to Isabella Hunnewell, also known as Mrs. Gordon Dexter for slightly less than $100,000. Her husband was a direct descendent of John Singleton Copley, a famous American painter- his ownership marks the second time the house had been connected with the descendant of a famous Bostonian. Singleton Copley was particularly celebrated for his portrait paintings of middle-class subjects and has been touted by many art historians to be the greatest and most influential painter in Colonial America, producing about 350 works of art. With the startling likenesses of the persons and things that he painted, he came to define a realist art tradition in the United States. Honored by this distinction, the people of Boston maintain his legacy in the heart of the city, naming Copley Square after him. Works of art, painted by Copley and donated by Mrs. Dexter can still be found in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. The Hunnewell family is one of the great horticultural families in the world. Their family created vast greenways throughout Boston and esentially endowed the Arnold Arboretum ot Harvard. Given her love of gardening and pastoral settings, it is no surprise that she bought Mrs. Winthrop's property.
Late Twentieth Century
In 1950, Chester Hammond purchased the property on September 4, 1950 for $75,000. As a lieutenant and direct Whitehouse military aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Hammond had a long and successful military career until he retired in 1947 to become the president and chairman of the H.F. Livermore Corporation, a Boston based business specializing in cloth looms from 1947 to 1975. He provided the house for his mother, and her staff, to live.
In 1954, the property was sold to Mrs. George Schieffelin, widow of the president of the Schieffelin Liquor Conglomerate. Mrs. Shieffelin enjoyed the property for over 20 years, often times with her Pekinese dogs.. Her trust still gives an annual donation to the Lenox Library.
The property was then sold to Dr. Milos Krofta, president and founder of the Krofta Engineering Corporation of Lenox in 1975.
See and article from 2003 about the current owners of the Winthrop Estate in Rural Intelligence here.
Ethan and Jamie Berg purchased the property in 2003 and began the restoration and modernization of the property. It is now well positioned to thrive well into the next century with the purpose it was originally built: a private retreat for families.