Coaching Into the Guilded Age

On a colorful fall weekend in October, Travaasa’s historic Elm Court estate resembled a Gilded Age gathering as the Berkshire Coaching Weekend stopped off for a visit at the Stockbridge, MA, estate. The seasonal horse and carriage tour of 19th century “cottages” in Lenox and Stockbridge is a stunning display of polished, pristine buggies, gleaming horses and passengers, decorously turned out in period attire.

The Coaching Weekend parade rode through the idyllic, tree-lined byways of the Berkshires, halting for stops at The Mount—the stunning home of author Edith Wharton—and at the Norman Rockwell Museum on a bluff above the Housatonic River, among other venerable sites. Along the leafy roads, spectators lined up for the sights and sounds of polished carriages, shining, muscled horses with flying manes, and lively passengers in their finery.

It was a true Downton Abbey experience: built in 1886 by the Sloane-Vanderbilt family, graceful Elm Court would have had no shortage of visiting horses and carriages. Elm Court and other Berkshire summer homes hosted a seasonal beehive of social visits, teas and soirees for the well-to-do of New York and Boston—not unlike the summer scene in Newport, Rhode Island.

The October coaching event is arranged by the Colonial Carriage and Driving Society, founded in 1989. The Stockbridge-based organization hosts the annual Lenox Tub Parade, the Winter Classic Sleigh Rally, and the Orleton Farm Pleasure Driving Show. It’s a tradition that stretched back well over a century: the Berkshires were a favored venue for Coaching Club of New York at the turn of the 20th century. Among the region’s noted families at the time were the Astors, the Fields, the Morgans, the Carnegies, and the Westinghouses.

The Colonial Carriage and Driving Society’s rules of the road, posted on the organization’s website, give due attention to the matter of “appropriate attire for riding on a coach.”

“For ladies, a suit, either pant or long skirt of conventional color is always correct. A long sleeved dress or coat is also correct. Scarves that match are a nice touch. High heels are tough to climb and awful on soft ground, so low heels are best. Brimmed hats are a must, flowers, nets and ribbons to match add to the ensemble. Gloves are a nice touch, but not necessary. Coats in cold or wet weather are a must. Be comfortable, it’s a long ride.
For gents, a suit or sport jacket with slacks, dark socks and a tie (either long or bow) would be correct. Please, no jeans. Dark shoes and over coat for cold weather are correct. Gloves are optional but are a nice touch. Gents must wear an appropriate hat, either black top hat or bowler grey. We will have some extra hats to loan for both ladies and gents at the tent. Please ask or help yourself. Don’t forget to return them for others to use. Due to the photography of this event, please refrain from wearing Sun Glasses.”

Travaasa acquired the 92-acre Elm Court estate in 2012, and is working to secure permits for a hotel development on the scenic property, and preservation of the historic house—a 55,000-square-foot mansion designated as a National Register Historic Place.

“We’re so pleased to offer Elm Court as a historical destination along the Coaching Weekend route,” said Adam Hawthorne, president of Travaasa. “It’s our plan to preserve the period appeal of this estate, and activities like this take us right back in time.”