Vol. II No. 09 5/1/2021
100 Years on Yale Hill
by Carl Sprague
I hoped to throw a party to celebrate the centennial of my wife Susan Merrill's grandparents Grenville & Pauline Merrill moving to our house on Yale Hill. Instead, I'm cleaning out the attic.
The Merrill's threw nothing away, so we have correspondence dating back to 1880s, Sarah Bernhardt programs from 1890s Paris, and Wrigley chewing gum wrappers from the 1930s.
The Merrills moved to Stockbridge in 1911, when Grenville took on the rectorship of St. Paul's. They fit easily into Stockbridge. They both grew up in France. Grenville's brother Stuart was a French symbolist poet and is buried in Père-Lachaise, catty corner from his friend and collaborator Oscar Wilde.
Pauline's family was very Gilded Age. Her sister married George Vanderbilt; Pauline married her childhood friend who was going into the ministry. We have one sister's house, and the Vanderbilts still retain Biltmore.
There's a big crop of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Many grew up on Yale Hill. Sometimes they visit and it's always good to have family here to warm the place up.
The original house dates to 1800. It was the home of the Yale family, who ran the waterwheel mill across the street. When the Merrills moved in they converted the old back barns and sheds into dining and sitting rooms. They added bedrooms upstairs and put on a kitchen extension working with architect Joe Vance.
Pauline always said, "The dog chose the architect" because they met when Grenville's dog tangled with Mr. Vance on North Street.
The Merrills created extensive formal gardens using old barn foundations and retaining walls. I think we may still have some of the "world peace" evergreens distributed after WWI. There were elegant luncheons. Probably the biggest event ever held here was my aunt Margery's wedding to Buzz Cuyler in 1932. 400 people came to the reception. Pauline and Grenville erected a marquee. I found a hand painted cardboard sign in the attic stating, "parking for automobiles without chauffeurs only".
We're still here. I'm continuing to draw scenery for film and theatre. Susan's legacy is ongoing, and her studio is our real showplace. My son Ruslan lives here too, creating and helping me keep the lights on. We have so much space but it's overflowing. Sometimes I feel like I'm running an annex to the Stockbridge Historical Room. Come on over for a tour.
It's good to clean the attic. It lends perspective and maybe a soupcon of wisdom.