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Working to recapture the past in a Gilded Age 'cottage'

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / April 18, 2004

LENOX -- Some day, Ventfort Hall, built as a country ''cottage" for George Hale Morgan and his wife, Sarah Spencer Morgan, will rival the smaller Newport mansions as a destination capturing and re-creating the fine excess of the Gilded Age. For now, it is very much a work in progress. The guided tour is two-thirds lecture and one-third tour, since only a few of the building's 54 rooms have so far been restored.

Still, it's interesting to see such a restoration project in its early stages, and it's fun to trace the footsteps of Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, and Charlize Theron. Ventfort Hall was used as the setting for the orphanage in their 1999 film ''The Cider House Rules."

The great hall features ornately carved dark oak on the walls and ceiling and a massive fireplace. A minstrel gallery circles the room, and sunlight filters through stained-glass windows. The wide back veranda overlooks a sweeping, sloped lawn. The dining room is distinguished by mahogany woodwork, an intricately patterned wood ceiling, and a green marble fireplace that matches the original, only with marble from Vermont instead of Italy, said Lee Neff, public relations coordinator.

The long hall houses photographs and artifacts from Ventfort Hall and the Morgan family, as well as memorabilia from the film. A butler's pantry has been updated with new cabinets and a high-speed dishwasher.

The tour guide traced the history of the area from its farming roots in the 1700s through its heyday as a literary community in the mid-1800s, before it became an enclave of the wealthy in the 1880s and '90s, when Lenox was called the ''inland Newport." Designed in the Elizabethan style by the Boston architectural firm Rotch & Tilden, Ventfort Hall was the grandest house in town, with 15 master bedrooms, 17 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and a bowling alley in the basement. Its price tag topped $900,000 when it was completed in 1893.

The best way to experience Ventfort Hall may be to attend one of the teas, musical performances, or other programs on site sponsored by the Ventfort Hall Association. A children's fashion show and tea, featuring clothing from Twigs, will be held April 24 at 3 p.m. The cost is $20 for adults, $6 for children. The one-woman play ''Fanny Kemble" will be performed May 7 at 7:30 p.m., May 8 at 4 and 7:30 p.m., and May 9 at 2 p.m.; tickets are $20.

Also, the Albany Junior Ballet Company will perform on May 16 at 3 p.m., followed by a Victorian high tea (call for ticket prices). And on May 30 Stephen Collins will appear as Walt Whitman in ''Unlaunch'd Voices" at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

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