“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.”
Those are the words of Edith Wharton, and did she have vision.
Wharton’s name might ring a bell from your high school days when you studied staples like The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence – three of the 40 books she penned in 40 years. What you might not know about this extraordinary legend is that her resume also includes a Pulitzer Prize (the first for a woman), the French Legion of Honor (she was a front-lines hero in World War I), and bragging rights as the visionary who invented the profession of interior design (her best-selling Decoration of Houses is still consider a “bible” within the field).
However, Edith didn’t just have vision when it came to her amazing career; her home in Lenox, MA is a three-dimensional expression of her creative genius. Wharton built The Mount in 1902 based on the principles outlined in her influential guide to interior design. Balance, symmetry, suitability – that’s what she valued, and that is what is reflected in the estate’s classic architecture and lush formal gardens.
After Edith’s death in 1937, her legacy lived strong in the fields of writing and design, but her home suffered through the years and over the course of several changes in ownership. By 1998, when First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was making her first-ever tour of Save America’s Treasures historic sites, the situation at Wharton’s estate was dire.
Luckily, the newly-established Save America’s Treasures program had a vision for The Mount. The site was awarded a $2.8 million Save America’s Treasures federal challenge grant in 1999, which was met with over $240,000 in private contributions. The property was also selected from hundreds of Save America’s Treasures projects for Restore America – a national media partnership with HGTV. When all was said and done, this Save America’s Treasures project employed over 100 local contractors, with the total economic impact over the course of the five-year restoration equaling a staggering $14 million.
Today, creative programming at the immaculately-restored estate reflects Wharton's pioneering interests in literary arts, interior design, landscaping, and the art of living.
Edith’s vision – and this amazing cultural treasure – are alive and well.
Save America's Treasures, Preserve America, and the other programs cut or underfunded by the proposed federal budget do more than preserve our country's rich heritage – they put Americans to work. Learn more about the National Trust's campaign to restore this critical funding.
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