Brook Farm Inn’s History

Historical photo of inn

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.

The HarrisonsLike 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.