Cranwell…Steeped in History
As you stroll about the grounds of Cranwell Resort, you are walking through history. Over the years, Cranwell has served as a home to wealthy industrialists, clergy, writers, students, golfers, and culture lovers in Massachusetts. The centerpiece of the property, with its extraordinary views of the Berkshires, is the hilltop Tudor-style Mansion, which has dominated the countryside for more than a century. The history of Cranwell is entwined with many stories of the opulent period between 1880 and 1920 that is known as the Gilded Age. Cranwell was constructed then, and the era’s vision of rural splendor is the source of the exceptional beauty we still revel in today.
“From here I can see the very hills of Heaven”
In 1853, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher purchased Blossom Hill, where the Cranwell Mansion now stands, for $4,500. He loved the views from the top of the hillside and it is from this vantage point that he proclaimed, “From here I can see the very hills of Heaven”. These are the views that can be seen today when you sit on the Rose Terrace at dusk and are reminded of the legendary parties that took place on this same hillside some 100 years ago.
The Reverend Beecher was active in the women’s suffrage and the anti-slavery movements. He had presidential aspirations, which were ended by a scandalous affair, and so, it was left for his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe to claim fame through her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
General John F. Rathbone purchased the property from Beecher in 1869 and began construction by moving Beecher’s farmhouse to the side of the hill so the new home would have the commanding view of the countryside. The home he built, Wyndhurst, was enormous by any standards of the day and it was set on the vast acreage of the property, which today numbers 380. The irony of this is that these palatial homes were called "cottages."
The Cottage Era
At the same time, on the backside of the hill, another family was building yet another "cottage." United States Naval Captain John S. Barnes, Flag Officer of the North Atlantic Fleet during the Civil War, purchased the land for $10,000 in 1882 and erected Coldbrooke, now known as Beecher’s Cottage and part of the Cranwell property.
John Sloane, a relative of the Vanderbilts by marriage and co-owner of the famous furniture firm, W & J Sloane, became the next owner of the property when he built his "cottage" in 1894. After tearing down Rathbone’s Wyndhurst and Beecher’s farmhouse, Sloane constructed another Wyndhurst, which rivaled the enormity and elegance of the first. He also commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who created New York’s Central Park and the Boston area’s Emerald Necklace, to design the grounds. It is this new Wyndhurst that stands on the hill today.
Cranwell in the 20th Century
After Sloane’s daughter Evelyn (who married William Griswold) sold the estate to a group of Florida developers in 1925, the property was briefly run as the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club. Edward Cranwell then purchased it in 1930 and later deeded the estate to the Society of Jesus of New England in 1939. Several private donors provided generous funding for the property to be turned into The Cranwell School, a preparatory school for boys. After prospering for many years, the school slipped into decline, closing its doors in 1975.
Today Cranwell, with much of its original grandeur restored, thrives as a premier four-season resort. The resort offers 114 deluxe rooms situated in various buildings: Founders, Olmsted Manor, Beecher’s (formerly Coldbrooke), and the Mansion (formerly Wyndhurst). Cranwell is also home to the world-class Spa at Cranwell, one of the largest spas in the Northeast. Cranwell’s 18-hole golf course is the original designed by Stiles and Van Cleek. In the winter, snow turns the course into a cross-country skier’s paradise. Exquisite cuisine is served in Cranwell’s award-winning Wyndhurst and the Music Room, while casual fare can be found in Sloane’s Tavern. Each year, even as companies from around the world gather here to meet, Cranwell plays host to storybook weddings of all proportions. Hosting thousands of guests annually, Cranwell indulges them in every contemporary comfort while offering them the experience of a luxurious bygone era. It is a hotel and resort that is unique to the Northeast.
Read more about the history of Cranwell and Henry Ward Beecher in the following books:
The Berkshire Cottages, A Vanishing Era, Carole Owens
The Berkshires, Coach Inns to Cottages, Carol Owens
Houses of the Berkshires 1870-1930, Richard S. Jackson, Jr. and Cornelia Brooke Gilder
The Most Famous Man in America, The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, Debbie Applegate
Historic Hotels of America
Cranwell Resort is a member of the prestigious National Trust Historic Hotels of America (HHA), an organization of more than 200 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic architecture and ambience. To be selected for this program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance.
Join The National Trust for Historic Preservation
The NTHP is a membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities. As a member, you will receive Preservation, the National Trust’s award-winning magazine, as well as discounts to great historic places throughout America. Learn more about the benefits of membership.