A debut guidebook that’s full of American history, intriguing architecture, and beautiful locales.
When Mason retired in 2015, he and his wife took a celebratory trip to tour historic homes and gardens in New England’s Berkshires and New York state’s Hudson Valley. Disappointed that he couldn’t find a comprehensive guidebook to prepare for his trip, he later decided to write his own. The end result is this richly detailed work, which highlights 71 homes and gardens in eight northeastern regions: Rhode Island; Boston; Massachusetts’ North Shore; Maine; western New Hampshire and Vermont (along Interstate 89); Connecticut; the Berkshires; and the “Hudson Valley and Vicinities.” Well-organized chapters begin with a brief overview of each region; for example, Mason writes that it’s possible to drive between any two sites in his Rhode Island section in under an hour. In addition to compelling historical facts about houses and gardens, the chapters include simple maps and pertinent site details, such as addresses, telephone numbers, websites, hours of operation, and entry fees. Chapter conclusions contain some helpful details; for instance, those with limited mobility will appreciate knowing that getting from Hyde Park, New York’s Vanderbilt mansion to its gardens requires a walk of about 150 yards. Although the black-and-white photos are a bit bland, Mason’s anecdotes are colorful. For example, he reveals that the previous owner of Newport, Rhode Island’s Rosecliff house, Theresa “Tessie” Oelrichs, spent huge sums of money entertaining socialites during the Gilded Age, but after she died in 1926, her son used the ballroom for roller-skating and ping-pong. The expansive, easy-to-browse handbook includes several opulent architectural examples, such as Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts; author Edith Wharton’s home, aka “The Mount,” in Lenox, Massachusetts; and the Rockefeller estate in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Mason’s evocative prose often brings the houses to life, as in his description of the Connecticut home of the deeply religious Henry and Lucy Bowen: “With its peaked windows, chimneys and its exaggerated vertical lines, the house is consistent with Gothic Revival architecture which seems to ascend upward to the heavens.”
A great beginning for the perfect Northeast getaway.