In July of 2015, Angela Lomanto and John Nelson were delighted to take over day-to-day hosting at Brook Farm Inn. For the past decade, the Berkshires has been their home-away-from home, and they look forward to welcoming you to this special place. Be sure to download our free Berkshires Travel Guide to see all of the innkeeper’s favorite things to do near our Lenox MA inn!
Angela has had a career in development for nonprofit organizations, as well as being a small business owner. Her ease at interacting with people has been most helpful — skills gained early, in her extensive Italian-American family! She learned most types of home repair in the process of restoring five properties, ranging from an 1880 Queen Anne Victorian house to a 1920 Cape Cod cottage. She’s also an avid gardener.
John grew up in a household where his mother tried new recipes every week. He and his siblings learned to shop, cook, and clean-up for ambitious and adventurous meals. Regular events in the family home included guests at dinner, play reading groups, musical performances, and other celebrations of the arts. That foundation in hospitality has taken new forms in his ministry career: John is the pastor of Church on the Hill (UCC) in Lenox. During a recent sabbatical he took cooking classes for everything from dim sum to croissants with an emphasis on fresh, organic food preparation.
Soon after Angela and John met they discovered a curious coincidence: both had grandparents who emigrated from their home countries to the US on the same ship: different voyages, but the same vessel. “We count it a blessing to have been raised in families who remember what it is to make a new home in a new place — and we hope to welcome you to Brook Farm Inn.”
Brook Farm Inn’s History
In the year 1882, a German-born pianist, Frederick William Rackeman, and his wife, the former Elizabeth Dwight Sedwick, built a home on their property known as The Hive, on land that stretched from Kemble Street to Old Stockbridge Road. On the same property, they built a new rental cottage facing Old Stockbridge Road. That building, called a “cottage” by the Rackemans, is now the Brook Farm Inn.
The first tenants were Burton Harrison and his wife Constance Cary Harrison and the home became known as “The Burton Harrison House.” The Harrisons were from Richmond, Virginia and had strong ties to this country’s early history; Constance was a direct descendent of Thomas Jefferson and Burton served as the personal secretary to Jefferson Davis. Burton graduated from Yale University and after the Civil War, the Harrisons moved north and became prominent members of New York society.
Like many of their contemporaries, the Harrisons chose to leave the city for the summer, choosing to spend the season in the Berkshires entertaining friends at their home. Among their guests were the Andrew Carnegies, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the poet Emma Lazarus. Constance, a popular novelist and playwright, enlisted friends to act out parts of her plays in the library.
In 1883, Constance chaired a fund-raising art exhibition to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The exhibition included original work by many American authors, including a sonnet written by Constance’s friend, Emma Lazarus. An immigrant’s daughter from New York City, Lazarus had been doing volunteer work at a Lower East Side settlement house. Constance suggested that Emma use her experience as inspiration and she did so aptly. Several days later, she received a copy of the now-famous poem, The New Colossus and included it in the art exhibition. In 1901, The New Colossus was inscribed on the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty, enshrined forever — and a long way from its humble beginning in Lenox.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp by the golden door.”
At the turn of the century, the main property adjacent to what is now the Brook Farm Inn was sold to a John E. Alexandre, who razed “The Hive” and replaced it with Spring Lawn Mansion, currently owned by Shakespeare & Co. In 1903, Alexandre gave the rental cottage — now Brook Farm Inn — to his butler, James Whittenham. A short time later, Whittenham bought land adjacent to the Spring Lawn property and moved his house down the hill to its permanent home at 15 Hawthorne Street.
Whittenham sold the home to Charles Bleyman, an upholsterer, in 1914 for $2,800. In the next four decades, it changed hands several times, but continued to be occupied as a private home until 1949. At that time, 15 Hawthorne Street began its new incarnation when it was purchased by Lena and Max Rosenberg and re-named the Shadowood Inn. The menu at the inn, expertly made by Lena Rosenberg, became a local legend. In a 1950s newspaper article touting Tanglewood and the Berkshires, Mrs. Rosenberg was described as the “virtuoso of the kitchen … unquestionably the Beethoven of the Blintz.” A rate card from that era offers rooms at the weekly rate of $55, or $10 per day. Rumor suggests Leonard Bernstein cooked at the inn and probably played the piano.
In the 1970’s, the Shadowood Inn was purchased by Ruth Backes, a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was involved in the original Brook Farm, a utopian cooperative community founded in West Roxbury, M.A. in the 1840’s. To honor that history, Backes changed the name of this Lenox MA inn to the Brook Farm Inn.
The renamed property continues to thrive, with several innkeepers including Frank and Mary Newton, Betty and Bob Jacob, Ann and Joe Miller, Linda and Phil Halpern, and now Angela Lomanto and John Nelson.
We credit the Jacobs for opening a new chapter in the literary life of the inn. Using their strong interest in literature and poetry, they developed an extensive poetry collection, inaugurated the Poem of the Day tradition, and most of all, invited well-known and highly regarded poets to stay at the inn and offer readings. Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Philip Levine, Galway Kennell, Stephen Dunn, and Robert Creeley have all visited the inn and shared their work here.