The area called the Berkshires in the western part of Massachusetts is home to Stockbridge, one of my favorite New England towns.
Stockbridge offers a good example of the colonial revivalism movement in this country which took place from about 1870 til well into the twentieth century. The goal for a restored garden in this movement, which included preservationists, landscape designers, and architects, was to create a garden or landscape in a style reminiscent of the Colonial period.
William Butler in The Colonial Revival in America wrote:”Certain New England villages figured more prominently than others as archetypes during the colonial revival. Writers continually praised Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for having the first Village Improvement Society of America.”
On a recent visit to Stockbridge I walked the garden at the Mission House on Main Street. The landscape is an example of the colonial revival.
The landscape architect Fletcher Steele worked with Mabel Choate in Stockbridge at her home called Naumkeag, from 1926 to 1956. There he designed a landscape that still stands, also a favorite and a must see when visiting the area. Mabel was involved in the local garden club, and was also inspired by the colonial revival movement.
She moved an eighteenth century building called Mission House into the center of Stockbridge and commissioned Steele to design a colonial revival garden for it. He worked on the garden from 1928 to 1933. In the process he visited Colonial Williamsburg to see what the gardens looked like there.
Today when you see the Mission House, you get a sense of how people like to preserve landscapes, and sometimes create landscape that they think represent a time period. That is really all we can do in our attempt to preserve a garden, which seems so ephemeral. The colonial revivalists built an historic landscape in the image of what they thought it should have looked like. That’s what happened at the Mission House.
American gardening reflects the fashion and the period in which people garden. Today because we garden with the information and resources available to us, we affirm the values and fashion of our own time.