What’s old is new again for this Berkshire “cottage”
Built in 1888-89, Underledge went through major renovations in 2006 with Sandisfield-based Charles C. Pease Construction. The chimneys were restored by Thomas Greenleaf Masonry in Pittsfield. Ruthann Olsson Design & Interiors in Norfolk, CT, had a hand in all aspects of the interior plan.
Photos by Michael Lavin Flower
As Lenox celebrates its 250th birthday, two of its residents discuss the restoration of one of the town’s historic treasures, Underledge, an 8,500-square-foot Berkshire cottage built during the Gilded Age that they call home.
“We were looking for a house to bring together two families with five growing children,” Lucy Holland says. “We were immediately taken by its architectural significance and warmth, plus it was walking distance to town.”
That was in 2006. And that was when the adventure began.
Lucy describes her husband, Charlie Schulze, as an “architectural restorationist.” He has rehabilitated other properties in the area, including Southmayd, the Gilded Age cottage of attorney Charles Southmayd in Stockbridge that sold for $6.9 million in 2007. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a residential property in Berkshire County. He also restored the carriage house on the Bishop estate off Kemble Street in Lenox, former home of Cortlandt Field Bishop, reputedly the first man to be called a “millionaire.”
“Charlie predicted our restoration would be done in a few months,” says Lucy of Underledge. “Two years later we moved in.”
There was a lot more work needed than Charlie realized, and he ended up largely rebuilding the house. “What we ended up doing is fortifying the house because it was structurally inadequate, and we had to address the problem with an engineer. We added a fair amount of structural steel.” Built as a private home in the 19th century and restored as a private home in the 21st century, Underledge was used for various purposes in between, and is currently on the market for $4.75 million, represented by Nancy Kolodner.
“In the 1950s, I think, it was a small nursing home,” Charlie says. “That is when the stripping of historic detail, including the original moldings, happened. There were ten bathrooms added—some with plywood walls—which weakened the structure.
“We deinstitutionalized Underledge.”
In its next incarnation, it was a bed-and-breakfast owned by Joseph and Marceline Lanoue. Lucy talks about all the people who have come up the driveway to share fond memories, relating moments they had here when it was a B&B. Thankfully, Charlie and Lucy were given a 1910 photograph of the house and used it to hunt for architectural treasures. “That charming photo showed us a small hydrangea in bloom,” Lucy says. “As we restored the original driveway, we found that hydrangea. A hundred years later, it was still growing.”
“That photo led the way to details, including fireplaces, hidden by many changes made in 1915. We know that because we found the date marked inside one of the columns,” Charlie adds. “And in the stairwell of the entrance hall, we found a beautiful window covered over when a room was added.”
“When we restored the house, it brought in more light,” says Lucy. “There are 77 windows now and light from 360 degrees.”
A combination of Charlie’s skill and experience and a little bit of luck aided the restoration. For example, when a ledge on Route 7 was dynamited to build a new hotel, the stone exposed was, according to Charlie, essentially identical to that used to build Underledge, and he was able to provide stone masons with the ideal material to complete the home’s renovation.
“People go to therapeutic workshops to strengthen relationships,” Lucy says, “but restoring Underledge was the most extraordinary and expensive relationship workshop ever.”
There are always mysteries about old houses, and Underledge is no exception. Various dates are reported for when it was built; the architect was listed as “unknown”; and little was known about the original owner. Who did the first restoration that was marked “1915” on a pillar?
What is known is that the property was purchased in 1888, and work began on the new house almost immediately. In April 1889, The Boston Herald reported, “Burden will occupy his beautiful new home—designed by Gibson—in May.”
R.W. Gibson was an English ecclesiastical architect who designed a few residences, including the Morton F. Plant house on Fifth Avenue in New York City, now the Cartier Building. And Joseph Warren Burden was the grandson of the founder of the Burden Iron
Works in Troy. A manufacturing company extraordinaire, the Works had the most powerful vertical waterwheel ever built—quite possibly the model for the original Ferris Wheel. Burden was born in 1852, graduated from Williams College in 1872, and from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in1874. He was preparing to enter the family business.
But he did not stay long at the job. Burden was an athlete, clubman, sportsman, and heir to a fortune. In 1881, he married Harriette Hart Griswold, daughter of John Augustus Griswold, Mayor of Troy, and a U.S. Congressman. Harriet was drawn to the society in Lenox. Her distant relative, William E.S. Griswold, married Evelyn Sloane of Wyndhurst. Burden’s first cousin, James, married Florence Adele Sloane of Elm Court. One newspaper headline read: “Marriage and Millions—two of the richest families in America unite at noon at Trinity Church in Lenox.”
The socialite and the athlete were immediately accepted and invited to all the best parties. Burden led in athletics among the Lenox cottagers, especially tennis and golf, so it was ironic that he would suffer severe pain during a tennis match at the Lenox Club.
Fearing a trip to the hospital, he insisted on being attended at Underledge. Three doctors consulted, but Burden did not recover; he died in 1903 at the age of 51. He was survived by his widow and three young children.
And what of Charlie’s unsolved mystery?
The house was sold in 1915, and the new owner, Olivia E.P. Stokes, did the first renovation, and it was she or one of her workman who marked the pillar.