Welcome to The Mount and thank you for taking our audio tour.
The Mount was the home of Edith Wharton, who built the estate in 1902. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark, one of the few dedicated to a woman. It is also a vibrant cultural center that celebrates Wharton’s intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian legacy.
So who was Edith Wharton, and what was her life like here at The Mount?
She came from an upper-class New York society that discouraged women’s intellectual ambitions. She defied the social and gender expectations of her day to become one of America’s greatest writers. Today, Wharton is best known for her novels, particularly The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, but she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. She was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the first woman awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from Yale University.
She was born Edith Newbold Jones in 1862. After a childhood in Europe, New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island, Edith Jones married Teddy Wharton in 1885. Initially they split their time between New York City and Newport. However, Edith grew to dislike Newport. She and Teddy looked for property in Lenox, and in 1901 they bought the 113 acres that would become The Mount.
The Whartons designed the estate, including the Stable you see before you, as a complete work of art informed by French, Italian, and English traditions, yet adapted to the American landscape.
Construction began in July 1901. An estimated 400 workmen and artisans recruited locally and from all around New England, New York, and Eastern Canada contributed to the project.
Fifteen months later, in September 1902, the Whartons moved in, bringing with them their indispensable household staff, including the butler, housekeeper, lady’s maid, and cook.
For the next 10 years, Edith Wharton would spend her summers here writing and gardening. However, in 1911, with their marriage disintegrating, the Whartons sold The Mount. Edith moved to Paris, and two years later divorced her husband.
When World War I began in 1914, Wharton devoted herself to humanitarian efforts, providing relief for thousands of children and refugees. In gratitude, the French and Belgian governments awarded her their highest medals of honor. After the war, Wharton remained in France. She died on August 11, 1937 and is buried outside Versailles, France.
Why did the Whartons choose Lenox? Teddy’s family had summered here for decades and knew the area well. With its quiet pace and cool mountain air, Lenox appealed to Edith, who wanted a place to concentrate on her writing.
The Berkshires, known for their beauty, have long inspired artists and writers. By the late 1800s, the region also attracted the very rich, who brought fortunes from industry, commerce, and banking.
This was the Gilded Age, a time of great wealth and extreme income inequality that spanned the late 1860s through the early 1900s. During this era, over 60 mansions, which their owners called summer “cottages,” were built in the Berkshires. Excellent rail service made travel easy from both Boston and New York City. The region changed from a farming economy to a service economy that catered to its wealthy, seasonal residents. By 1900, servants out-numbered farmers. Immigrants, mainly French, Irish, and Italian, were a large part of this workforce. In 1900 they constituted 34% of Lenox’s population. There were also forty-nine Black residents in the community. Their occupations as listed on the census included day laborer, church janitor, dressmaker, laundress, and teamster.