Friday, February 29, 2008

The Mount: Time Running Short for the Homestead of Edith Wharton

The Mount: Time Running Short for the Homestead of Edith Wharton
By Alice Leccese Powers — February 28, 2008
Every time I venture near the Berkshires I intend to visit Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts.

[The Mount from the flower garden in Lenox, Mass.]
(Photo: David Dashiell/Wikimedia)

It was there that Wharton wrote her first book, The Decoration of Houses, about interior design and where she finished her novel, The House of Mirth.

Wharton designed The Mount, built in 1902, and put into practice many of the principles she espoused in The Decoration of Houses, including an enormous first floor gallery and a bedroom suite that accommodated her writing. As a Wharton fan, I’ve longed to see The Mount, especially as it has been substantially restored to Wharton’s original plans.

Now it may be too late.

Last week the Edith Wharton Restoration, The Mount’s administrative body, announced that the estate is in danger of foreclosure. It owes the bank $4.3 million and has defaulted on its $30,000 monthly payments. The foundation has to raise $3 million by March 24 or the estate will revert to the bank.

Ironically, the 35-room mansion has won awards for its preservation and attracts more than 30,000 visitors a year. What seems to have challenged its finances is the acquisition of Wharton’s 2,600-volume library from a British book collector. That coup cost $2.5 million and was supposed to be paid off in installments. However, the Edith Wharton Restoration has also defaulted on that debt.
(click here to read the rest)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From the Boston Globe about The Mount

Wharton's house of worth

February 27, 2008

WEALTH and social position were major themes of Edith Wharton's famous novel "The House of Mirth." So it's a cruel irony that the Mount, the gracious home in Lenox where Wharton wrote the book, faces foreclosure.
more stories like this

Wharton, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of over 40 books, designed the home and had it built in 1902. She called it her "first real home" and lived there for nearly a decade.

Now a museum, the Mount is facing a dire deadline. Unless the Edith Wharton Restoration, the nonprofit that owns the Mount, can raise $3 million by March 24, the bank will step in. These sad circumstances echo those of Lily Bart, the genteel heroine of "The House of Mirth," who also faced financial disaster as she struggled but failed to find her footing in the well-heeled heights of New York.

But life need not imitate art completely. The Edith Wharton Restoration is seeking donors to save the Mount. Small gifts can help show diverse support for the institution, and large gifts will provide badly needed stability. An anonymous donor is prepared to match the $3 million, creating a pool of $6 million. With this money, the organization could restructure its $4.3 million bank debt.

In part, the Mount is a victim of worthy ambitions. Restoring the home and the garden improved the site, but also drove up insurance and maintenance costs, according to the nonprofit's president, Stephanie Copeland. And using a private loan made by an individual, the organization spent £1.5 million (about $2.6 million at the time) to purchase Wharton's library from a British book dealer. It's an invaluable acquisition, but it added to the debt load - especially now that a sinking dollar has pushed up its annual payment. The organization has been able to start paying back this loan. Like other struggling homeowners, the Mount is also a victim of the economy. It has a mortgage with a fixed interest rate, but there's an adjustable interest rate on its $3 million line of credit. [Read the rest at the link.]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Message from Molly McFall at The Mount

I write on behalf of Edith Wharton Restoration to thank you for posting this information. The situation is grave, but we are hopeful that we can still raise the funds necessary to prevent foreclosure. If anyone is able to help please visit for details on how to contribute to the "Save The Mount" campaign. Thank you for your support, Molly McFall, Librarian, The Mount

The Mount in danger of foreclosure

From the New York Times
Landmark Massachusetts Building Where Wharton Wrote Faces Foreclosure

Since 2002, Ms. Copeland explained by phone this week, the Mount, which is open to the public — much of it has been restored in recent years to match the period when Wharton lived there — has been covering its operating expenses by borrowing from the Berkshire Bank in nearby Pittsfield. It now owes the bank some $4.3 million, and in mid-February, when it failed to meet a scheduled monthly payment of $30,000, the bank sent a notice that it intended to start foreclosing unless the default was remedied promptly, Ms. Copeland said.

To stay open, she added, the Mount needs to raise $3 million by March 24. “The bank has really been very patient,” she explained. “They’re eager to help us work this out.”

If the Mount succeeds in raising that sum, Ms. Copeland said, an anonymous donor is waiting in the wings who has pledged to match it. The money could be used to help restructure the bank loan and to settle another outstanding debt, roughly $2.5 million, that the Mount incurred from a private lender in 2005 to buy Wharton’s 2,600-volume library from George Ramsden, a British book collector. The Mount also owes Mr. Ramsden roughly $885,000, to be paid off in nine yearly installments, and recently it defaulted on a scheduled payment to him, too.

“The situation is quite serious,” Sandra Boss, interim chairwoman of the Mount’s board, said in a telephone interview from London, where she works. “On the one hand, the Mount is winning awards for preservation and is internationally renowned as an institution. And it’s well run from an efficiency perspective. We’ve made great progress by cutting costs and raising revenues. On the other hand, our current debt levels are unserviceable and unsustainable. We’re not in control of our own destiny unless we can mount a restructuring of our debt.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Edith Wharton's home at the Mount

From the New York Times:

Inspiration Lives on Where Writers Dwelled
Photograph courtesy of the Edith Wharton Library

The library of Edith Wharton’s mansion in Lenox, Mass. Wharton was an expert on home décor.

Published: February 22, 2008

. . . . . . . . .

Stowe wasn’t the only novelist with a sideline in shelter books: Edith Wharton, mistress of the fabulous mansion the Mount in Lenox, Mass., was an author of “The Decoration of Houses” as well as the author of “The House of Mirth.” Writers are often house-obsessed, maybe because bookish children who spend lots of time at home alone are most apt to become writers, which naturally keeps them home alone tweaking not only their sentences but also their paint colors. And because novel writing demands a sensitivity to setting and atmosphere, the person who spins out great characters and plots is also often capable of creating great rooms.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Roman Punch

From the Wall Street Journal

An Icy Treat for Adults Only
February 16, 2008; Page W9

William Maxwell Evarts was one of the most powerful lawyer-politicians of the 19th century. Lead counsel for Andrew Johnson, Evarts fought off the president's impeachment and soon found himself attorney general. Years later, in the disputed election of 1876, he lawyered Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House and was promptly named secretary of state. Yet Evarts wasn't powerful enough to get a drink at a state dinner. First Lady, and temperance advocate, "Lemonade" Lucy Hayes declared the White House would be dry. One night, leaving a presidential dinner, Evarts ran into a friend who asked him how the evening had gone: "Excellently," he said. "The water flowed like champagne."

(Serves eight)
1 quart lemon ice
4-6 oz rum
4-6 oz brandy
1 oz orange curaçao or maraschino liqueur
8 oz champagne
• Blend all but champagne and freeze overnight. Just before serving, gently mix champagne into the spiked sherbet and serve in hollowed-out orange skins.

Journalist Benjamin Perley Poore recounted in his "Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis" that before the Hayeses came to town, "punch abounded everywhere, and the bibulous found Washington a rosy place." The bibulous were not to be denied, even by Lemonade Lucy, and came up with a way to hide the alcohol -- a spiked sherbet called Roman Punch. At White House functions, Poore recalled, the stewards served oranges that proved to be strangely popular with the guests. "Waiters were kept busy replenishing salvers upon which the tropical fruit lay . . . concealed within the oranges was a delicious frozen punch, a large ingredient of which was strong old Santa Croix rum."

. . . .
Among the requirements for a big, formal dinner in "Age of Innocence" New York were a hired chef and gilt-edged menu cards. But "the Roman punch made all the difference," Edith Wharton wrote in her great novel of high society. It wasn't that the punch was in and of itself so grand, but that it had "manifold implications" that extended well beyond the bill of fare -- "it signified either canvas-backs or terrapin, two soups, a hot and a cold sweet, full décolletage with short sleeves, and guests of a proportionate importance."

To be unfamiliar with the icy treat was the mark of a bumpkin. Elizabeth Fries Ellet, in her 1869 book about Washington society, "The Court Circles of the Republic," tells of a "rustic pair invited by some accident" to a big bash during the administration of Andrew Jackson: "A tall, strapping Kentuckian had taken a saucer of frozen Roman punch, which he had never tasted before." He turned to his date and exclaimed, "I swar, Miss Jane, this beats julep all to nothing; who ever thought of chawing rum!"

Roman Punch was still going strong at one extravagant dinner given at a hotel in New York in the early years of the 20th century. According to the 1907 "Steward's Handbook," "Roman punch was served in oranges hanging on the natural trees, the pulp of the fruit having been deftly removed so that the favored guests could pick their own." But come the Jazz Age, the slushy drink was dismissed as an affectation of those trying just a bit too hard. "A dinner interlarded with a row of extra entrées, Roman punch, and hot dessert," Emily Post wrote in her original 1922 etiquette manual, "is unknown except at a public dinner, or in the dining-room of a parvenu."