Sat perched on top of a hill overlooking Laurel Lake in Lenox, Massachusetts is home to notable American author, Edith Wharton. The estate which was given the name The Mount, she considered her first “real” home though she only resided there for 9 years. Edith would conjure up some of her most notable works within the walls of The Mount, and some say her spirit may still reside there…
Edith’s Early Life
Edith Wharton was born January 24th, 1862 as Edith Newbold Jones. She lived with her parents George and Lucretia, as well as her brothers Frederic and Henry, in their New York City brownstone until she was 4 years old. The family crossed the Atlantic when she was 4, to explore Europe over a span of about 6 years. After Edith fell ill with a severe case of Typhoid Fever while in Germany, they decided it was best to return home to the States.
Edith was no stranger to New England, as her family had decided to purchase a summer home in Newport, Rhode Island. There her father kept an extensive library which she was always caught getting into. Her Mother forbid her from reading novels until she was an adult, but it didn’t subdue her passion and new found love of literature. Edith attempted to write her first novel at just age eleven, and at age 15 she wrote a translation of a German poem which was published and she received money for. Later that same year, she went on to write her first novella Fast and Loose which was privately published.
In April 1885 at age 23, she married her husband Teddy Wharton, a wealthy Bostonian. In addition to both being from upper class families, they also shared a love of travel and would go on to cross the Atlantic many times together. In fact, they spent most of their time abroad and favored Italy of all the European countries they visited. After a fulfilling 16 years of travel, they decided it was time to settle down and purchased 113 acres of land in Lenox, MA in 1901. Here they would build their dream home…The Mount.
Construction of The Mount & Time Spent There
“On a slope over-looking the dark waters and densely wooded shore of Laurel Lake we built a spacious and dignified house, to which we gave the name of my great-grandfather’s place, the Mount…There for ten years I lived and gardened and wrote contentedly…”
– Edith Wharton, A Backwards Glance
Edith took great interest in home design. In fact her first publically published non-fiction work in 1897 was The Decoration of Houses, an instructional book co-written with architect friend Ogden Codman, about interior design. In the book she preached simplicity, symmetry, and clean lines versus the cluttered and over-embellished look of the Victorian era. She thoughtfully designed the Mount with those values in mind, as well as with classic English, Italian, and French architectural influence.
It wouldn’t be until September of 1902 that the Wharton’s would be able to move in. Edith devoted her mornings in her new home to writing, and it was in the solitude of her bedroom at the Mount that she wrote the book that would establish her as one of the greatest American authors of all time: The House of Mirth, published in 1905.
In addition to writing, Edith also enjoyed spending time with her dogs in her lavish gardens, exploring and photographing the surrounding area, and entertaining her intellectual friends who came to visit. One of the most notable and frequent visitors of the Mount was Henry James. He was quoted to have recalled his time there as being
“…surrounded by every loveliness of nature and every luxury of art, and being treated with a benevolence that brings tears to my eyes.”
The Wharton’s time at their beloved estate would end almost abruptly in 1911, after the collapse of their troubled marriage. With Teddy’s increasing erratic behavior and years of battling depression, the couple decided to part ways and would never return to the Mount. Edith moved to her “home away from home”, Paris, where she discovered an intellectual and social haven. She would live out the remainder of her life there, passing away in northern France at the age of 75.
The Future of the Mount & Alleged Hauntings
The Mount would acquire a few different owners after the departure of the Wharton’s. It was a private residence for years, until the Foxhollow School For Girls purchased it in 1942. During it’s time serving as the girl’s school, some of it’s residents claimed to have unexplainable experiences including hearing muffled voices. After the school went out of business in 1976, it was purchased by Shakespeare & Co and utilized by the theatre company until the mid 90’s. Actors claimed to also hear noises, and some reported seeing figures in Victorian era attire in it’s living areas. One of the most terrifying claims came from an actress who said that while she was on the phone, she heard a scream and choking noises intercepting her conversation. The claim correlates to a rumor that a servant hung herself in a cupola after learning she was pregnant…yikes.
Years of hard use and neglect left the estate, including the stable and greenhouse, severely deteriorated and the gardens overgrown. Edith Wharton Restoration then purchased it in 1997, and the mission to bring it back to life began. After word of their efforts circulated the area, locals started to donate money to the project. One woman whose mother had a special affinity with Edith Wharton, pledged an astounding $800,000. The Mount was fully restored in 2006.
If you’re a fan of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, then you may recall the Mount being featured on an episode of season 5. The team, based out of New England, spent the night investigating the mansion. Some of their findings included a thermal imprint of a hand on one of the doors and loud footsteps running away from a room and down a flight of stairs. To read more about their experience, click here.
I actually had plans to visit the Mount in the Summer of 2016, but unfortunately those plans fell through. I hope I can pay a visit soon and experience it myself!