From the late 19th century well into the 20th century, prominent socialites boarded trains and summered in the rolling hills of the Berkshires.
These wealthy families built grand estates on dozens of acreage, and while their homes were called “Berkshire cottages,” the square footage made them anything but.
Now one of those grand cottages is for sale.
Built in 1915, Villa Virginia at 3 Ice Glen Road in Stockbridge sits on 58-plus acres. Listed for $10 million, this example of “Mediterranean Renaissance Revival architecture” features 13 bedrooms; 15 bathrooms (including a three-bedroom, three-bath carriage house); marble floors, columns, staircases, and fireplaces; and 7,703 square feet of living space.
“This is a really elegant property that’s supposed to be a replica of a villa in Italy,” the listing broker, Patrice Melluzzo of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, said in an interview with Boston.com.
The Mediterranean feel is present throughout the home, with arched doorways and coffered ceilings believed to have been painted by an Italian artist. In the main living room, or “salon,” Melluzzo said, each square of the coffered ceiling is hand-painted with a cherub. There’s also a loggia, or a summer room, with many windows. There the ceiling is painted with zodiac symbols.
“They’re all hand-painted, and they’ve been restored to their original glory,” she said.
No major changes have been made to the home’s design, but the kitchen has been modernized and other parts of the home have been updated, according to Melluzzo.
Originally owned by William H. Clarke and his wife, Virginia Vilas Clarke, the home was operated as a farm, according to information Melluzzo obtained from the Stockbridge Library Historical Collection. The home is said to be one of the last of the Berkshire cottages ever built during their popularity — from 1880 until just after World War I.
The height of the Berkshire cottage
It was about 150 years ago that train access made it much easier for families to make their way out of New York City or Boston — it was only two hours from either city to the Berkshires, according to Mark Wilson, a curator of collections and cultural resources manager at the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit that owns and maintains Naumkeag,a 44-room Berkshire cottage. The estate was gifted to the organization in 1958; it remains fully preserved, including its furnishings.
During the height of their popularity, there were more than 70 Berkshire cottages, and celebrities of the day made their way there — well-knowns like Andrew Carnegie and George Westinghouse. There’s also Ventfort Hall, the home built for J.P. Morgan’s sister, Sarah.
“The Berkshires were always cooler and green, and there’s hiking and swimming and all those wonderful activities,” Wilson said.
The area was a haven for writers and artists because of its calming ruralness, but vacationers still had access to communication, including newspapers. “It always had a strong literary and cultural quality to it,” Wilson said.
Those summering there could go berry picking and could buy furniture from neighboring Shaker communities.
“All things in the way of what people do on vacation today, but without cars,” Wilson said. “It was much quieter without cars.”
But as it happens in many families, interests change and later generations find that they do not want to maintain the home their parents built. Some properties burned down, others became schools. Some were sold, Wilson said.
Villa Virginia changed hands over the years, according to the historical data, and was even inherited and owned for a time by Princess Diana Rockwood Eristavi, who had married a Russian prince. The current owner has had it since the 1990s, Melluzzo said, and it’s now available for its next era.
“It’s actually a large home, but it has a very cozy feel to it,” Melluzzo said.
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