Edith Wharton was famous for her novels and short stories, but she was also notable for her contribution to American architecture with her country house, The Mount. It was built in 1902 and is located in the Berkshires, Lenox, Massachusetts.
Wharton's first published book was The Decoration of Houses, and she used the principles she described in that book to design her own home. The house was also partially designed by Wharton's collaborator on the book, Ogden Codman, Jr., and Wharton's niece Beatrix Jones Farrand was responsible for the kitchen garden and drive. The home is known for its beauty, privacy, and its practical use of space.
It was modeled after the 17th century Belton House in England, and featured the architectural properties that Wharton admired: scale, harmony, symmetry, and order. The property was originally 113 square acres, but it is now about 49.5 square acres. The exterior is white stucco with dark green shutters and is set on a foundation of coarse fieldstone. There are multiple gables and chimneys, as well as a balustrade and cupola on the roof. There is a Georgian Revival gatehouse and Lord and Burnham Greenhouse.
Construction of the Mount moved very quickly, and within a year of breaking ground, Wharton wrote, “Lenox has had its usual tonic effect on me, & I feel like a new edition, revised & corrected . . . in the very best type. It is great fun out at the place, now too – as everything is pushing up new shoots – not only cabbages & strawberries, but electric lights & plumbing. I really think we shall be installed – after a fashion – by Sept. 1st.”
She faced financial difficulties at one point which were ameliorated by a timely royalty check. Wharton and her husband, Edward "Teddy" Wharton, lived in the Mount from 1902 to 1911. She wrote some of her most renowned masterpieces there, like The House of Mirth, but she also faced difficult times with her husband. Wharton loved the house intensely, as she expresses in a letter to Codman: “The truth is, I am in love with the place—climate, scenery, life & all.” Henry James was a frequent guest at the Mount, and even had his own suite. After Wharton moved away, she said “The Mount was my first real home… and its blessed influence still lives in me.”
Over the years, The Mount has been a private residence, a girls' dormitory for the Foxhollow School for Girls, and the home of the Shakespeare Company. The girls at the dormitory and the actors in the company occasionally reported hearing and seeing ghosts, tales of which have endured for the subsequent century.
The property was made a National Historic Landmark in 1971, and is open to visitors from May to October. It is a popular site for lectures, private events, theater, WordFest, and Music After Hours.