The Cottager | The Tub Parade: Cherishing the cottagers' favorite pastime
It was typical for the Berkshire cottagers to arrive in Lenox, Stockbridge and Great Barrington in May to open their cottages. Some would stay through June, others would leave for other resort towns, only to return for the foliage mid-September and leave before the end of October. A few would return in the winter months for sled parties and skiing or to celebrate Christmas.
But in 1893, the cottagers were returning to their summer palaces in the Berkshires a bit earlier than usual, according to a society column in the New York Times, which reported many seaside jaunts were being cut short. Instead of returning in early-to-mid September, the cottagers were arriving mid-August, if they had they left at all.
"There are more young people here and to be here than previous," the columnist wrote. "The outdoor sports will be especially attractive and boating Mahkeenac Lake will take the lead."
Already, the tennis courts of the Lenox Club were overflowing with players, while the young ladies spent their time practicing their archery. Horse racing, as well as hunting, and golf preoccupied the time of the cottagers as well.
While the return to the Berkshires marked the end of the summer social season, it also meant that there were several more weeks of festivities: high teas, luncheons, dinner parties and balls to be had.
"The fact that the goldenrod has begun to blossom reminds the young women that the time is at hand for the tub parade. It will be large this year and contain many tubs and vehicles of pattern and kind never before seen in Lenox," the column continued.
The tub parade, which began in Lenox about a decade earlier, was a favorite activity among the cottagers who decked out their two-wheeled horse-drawn carts in ferns and flora.
Two years prior, in 1891, the tub parade had drawn some 3,000 spectators and 50 participants.
That year, Miss Furniss led the parade in a Victorian tub decorated with yellow asters, marigolds, goldenrod and yellow ribbons. She was followed by Miss Greenleaf in an Egyptian chariot.
Miss Barclay, not to be outdone, wore a pink dress and carried an umbrella of pink hydrangeas, lined with pink asters. Her horses' trappings were pink and the wheels of the carriage were wrapped in pink hydrangeas as well.
One carriage was covered with ferns designed to resemble a family's coat-of-arms, while other buckboards were draped in a variety of hues and flowers: hydrangeas and asters of every color, blue bachelor's buttons, white oxeye daisies, hemlock with phlox and pink everlasting, red elderberries and orange tiger lilies.
There were carriages decorated with wheat and grains, hay and pumpkins and a hunting cart with boys carrying guns and birds attached to the dashboard. The rear of the parade was brought up by what was described as "a ludicrous display put on by the Greenleaf boys." The cart was covered with American flags and bright colored streamers and its drivers were "so disguised that no one could recognize them."
The tub parade marked the beginning of the end of resort season, but for many it was a time of fashion, frolic and competition.
Revived in 1990 by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce and the Colonial Carriage & Driving Society, the tub parade was reinvented as a means to bring back a tradition and part of the town's history. The tub parade was held for 24 consecutive years before taking a break in 2016. It returned this year as part of the town's 250th anniversary celebration.
My mother and I were underprepared for the tub parade when we arrived in Lenox for the parade two weekends ago. We had anticipated a short parade and maybe a small crowd, not the spectators lounging in chairs and on picnic blankets lined up along the parade route. (We vow to be better prepared in the future.)
With parade programs in hand, we weren't waiting for long, when a creme-colored 1915 convertible Rolls Royce, driven by Gunnard and Janice Gudmundson, rolled by. The parade had officially started.
Next up was a Roof Seat Break driven by Mary Stokes Waller, a descendant of the family that built Shadow Brook and traditionally opened the tub parades in the 1890s. The carriage, pulled by four ponies, also carried Grand Marshal Charles Flint and Healey Waller.
Carol Terry, of Lee, followed in a Vinton pony cart driven by a Mediterranean donkey named Vito. Sasha Truax, of New Lebanon, N.Y., followed in a mini road cart pulled by her American miniature horse Ruby Thursday.
A miniature horse named My Dream O'Henry drew a few chuckles as he refused to cross a manhole cover with a loud whinny. His driver, Diane Bozyczko, of Cheshire, quickly corrected his course and he continued on without further complaint.
The carts and ponies kept coming, in a steady stream — a Palomino pulling a Pacific Smart cart, a pair of Belgians at the front of a Roberts Wagonette, and a pair of Percheron geldings pulling an antique Lenox Fire Department Steamer were just a few of the participants.
A highlight of the parade was a calliope wagon pulled by four Grey Perchrons: Ted, Sky, Jack and Knight, The red calliope wagon, belonging to Duffy and Cindy Layton of Standfordville, N.Y., was a circus wagon that announced the arrival of the show. While the calliope remained silent, the parade program said the wagon's organ still works. It also said the wagon has appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Milwaukee circus parade.
As the parade made its second pass down the road, my mother and I made lunch plans and chatted about which tub or cart was the best.
Until witnessing the small yet fascinating parade of carriages, it was hard to imagine the entertainment value or draw. Now, I can only imagine what fun it was to be part of such a parade in the late 1890s, when the parade was at its height of popularity.
In 1891, a New York Times social columnist predicted that many cottagers would make their Berkshire cottages their permanent homes in the coming years, as many spent more and more time enjoying the time here. But those dreams would wane, as the children of the cottagers spent their time abroad, basking on the shores of European retreats, where they could live like kings on small monthly stipends from their parents.
The income tax and World War I would usher in a new era that did not include the gilded homes and lush lifestyles of the elite. Family fortunes waned and the Berkshire cottages remained shuttered and unstaffed. Many were sold and found second lives as schools, summer camps or hotels and survive today.
A few were passed down to children, who eventually made the Berkshires their permanent home. Dozens of cottages still exist today as private homes that occasionally appear on local real estate lists. But there are others that were abandoned and left to decay and fade into memories marked only by old photos and crumbling gate posts.
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