Aston Magna
History
 
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History

 

 

Aston Magna, located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, was purchased by Lee M. Elman in late 1971 on its 50 acres consisting of the main house, guest house, studio, caretaker cottage, pool and the adjacent property originally referred to as Logarithms, a large log structure with its carriage house. It was bought from the Berkshire Museum to whom it was given under the will of Mary Pyle Spalding, the widow of the renowned violinist, Albert Spalding.

 

The Main House was built in 1917 by Charles A. Freer, a railroad industrialist, towards the end of his life. Freer commissioned Charles A. Platt, a well known and respected architect of the Beaux Arts School in New York, to design his home. Platt also was the architect of the Freer Gallery in Washington which was built to house Freer's incomparable oriental art collection, arguably the finest in America, and presently part of the Smithsonian Museum. Freer died in 1919, and the Main House was left to his curator, Katherine Rhodes, who did not occupy the residence.

 

In 1925, Albert Spalding a famous violinist of international renown, and his wife, Mary, rented the Main House and the other buildings on the estate. They continued their summer rentals until March 1929 when they purchased the property.

 

In 1930, Mr. Spalding built the jewel-like studio under the tall pine trees to the North of the Main House, a wooden structure with cathedral curved ceilings and superb acoustics, where he practiced for his worldwide concert tours and where he had musicales for his friends and weekend guests, including, among others, Einstein, Paderewski, Casals, and Sibelius.

 

In 1953, Mr. Spalding died, and Mrs. Spalding moved from New York to Great Barrington where she lived, on a permanent basis, until she died in late 1970. In 1964 she had purchased the aforementioned abutting property known as Logarithms to house her Christian Scientist advisors, Mr. & Mrs. Delacey Bourke.

In 1970, via her will, the Berkshire Museum was bequeathed the entire property consisting then of approximately 50 acres with the hope that a monument to Mr. & Mrs. Spalding could be created as an adjunct to the Berkshire Museum. The Trustees of that institution, however, had the discretion to sell the property when and if they wished. In fact, they decided to do this in late 1971, when Mr. Lee M. Elman and his first wife purchased the property in its entirety.

 

The name “Aston Magna” was taken from an eponymous site in Gloucestershire, in the Cotswold’s, in England.  The name "Aston Magna" was taken from an eponymous site in Gloucestershire, in the Cotswalds, in England. It was the favorite picnic spot for Albert and Mary Spalding during the summers when they were headquartered in Stratford-on-Avon where he prepared for his worldwideconcert tours. It is an ancient Roman village atop a relatively high hill with a wide view of the valley below and surrounded in the back by pine trees. When the Spaldings first visited the property in Great Barrington, it so reminded them of the English Aston Magna that they gave the estate its name.

 

Upon research into the origins of the name, they discovered that "Magna" is a Romanized Anglo Saxton word, Mawdra, which meant upper or higher. Aston is a compound word of which "As" is an Anglo Saxton word, also meaning high, while "ton" is the Anglo Saxton for town. Coincidentally, several miles from Aston Magna in England is a charming town also called Great Barrington.

  

The property was expanded by Lee Elman over the years to cover slightly over 100 acres in total. Logarithms became the headquarters for the Aston Magna Foundation for Music, set up in 1973 which created the Aston Magna Festival of Baroque Chamber Music, held annually since, in Great Barrington. Mr. Elman's brother-in-law, Albert Bildner, through his philanthropy, caused the Foundation to purchase Logarithms and its carriage house and to rename it the Patricia Lodge in memory of his wife, also Mr. Elman's sister. That re-configured property now consisted of the two buildings and approximately 31/2 acres. It was the Foundation's headquarters and the site, for several years, of master classes, dormitory and dining facilities for resident musicians, and rehearsal space. When the Festival grew larger and more expanded, the Foundation made alternative arrangements with Simon's Rock College for its needs. The property was then re-sold to private individuals, and the proceeds became the first endowment funds for the Foundation.

 

The Albert Spalding studio, under the pine trees on the northern portion of the property, originally used for concerts during the first year of the festival, also proved too small for the expanded audiences, and the Festival moved its performances to a local church, St. James', which hosted the concert seasons for the next 39 years. The studio reverted back to personal use as part of the estate.

 

Mr. Elman, at this time, began extensive horticultural improvements on the grounds of Aston Magna, the primary property. He planted orchards, flower gardens, and the first commercial- size vineyard in western Massachusetts.

 

 

     Lee M. Elman and the Nexus to the Estate

 

Mr. Elman continued the legacy of keeping Aston Magna in the forefront of the arts world and furthered the history of arts performances on the estate, not only by establishing and founding the Aston Magna Foundation for Music, but also by creating the Dramatic and Literary Evenings at Aston Magna. He also added a series of Conversations at Aston Magna, a forum or symposium on current and controversial topics, to a large extent, in a salon format.

 

In addition, Mr. Elman introduced a number of sporting events held at Aston Magna, including shooting (both birds and clays), hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. A number of well-known personalities from this sports world came to participate in events at Aston Magna including Chuck Yaeger, John Roskelley, and others. (See personalities below)

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