Edith Wharton estate, Lenox, Massachusetts - Case Study


Courtesy of Presto Geosystems

As with other landscape restoration projects for which no drawings survive, re-creating the grass steps at Edith Wharton's The Mount involved some sleuthing, some informed guesswork, and finally a technological update. Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, built the house in 1901, and spent a decade designing and perfecting the surrounding landscape and gardens (see 'From the Terrace,' this issue).

David Andersen, project manager for Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc., explains that circa-1905 photos were the foremost clue for re-creating the grass steps. Archaeologists who made significant discoveries elsewhere at The Mount were unable to find a discernible pattern where the grass steps had been; trucks had used the area to access the property, and a drainage swale had been constructed, disturbing the site. Lack of physical evidence about the structure of the steps led the group 'to conclude that [the steps] were probably built with wood, and it disintegrated over time,' says Andersen.

Using the historic photographs and what they could glean from a historian's cultural landscape report, Andersen and his crew scaled and determined the location of the steps, which are laid out in two sets, the top set having eight risers and the bottom set six. 'We knew that the steps were splayed out at the bottom,' says Anderson. The re-created steps are modeled after the historic ones; the measurements of the upper set range from 10 feet at the top to 12 feet at the bottom, and the lower set measure 12 feet at the top and 22 feet at the bottom. A depth of approximately 35 inches was determined for the treads, with a rise of 7 inches.

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