House Lust: A Gatehouse Condo at Pen Craig, Edith Wharton’s Childhood Estate

Wharton's childhood home was demolished by investors, but this gatehouse dates back to her summers in Newport.

Edith Wharton would’ve loved this story.

A Newport summer cottage called Pen Craig, built simply by an aristocratic family then “Tudorized” by its second owners, is sold at auction upon their deaths. Investors promptly demolish the historic structure. The property, a little girl’s dreamland with “lawns and trees, a meadow full of clover and daisies, a pony to ride, terriers to romp with, a sheltered cove to bath in, flowerbeds spicy with carnation, lily, rose….,” is subdivided and sold in chunks. New homes for new money are constructed. All that remains is an old gatehouse — sturdy but dignified, built from brick and clapboard, draped in a dense cover of ivy. It stands the test of time.

The Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, who wrote about wealth, morality and home life and often leaned on the autobiographical, would further appreciate this story because it involved her. Wharton spent the summers of her childhood at Pen Craig; that little girl’s dreamland was her own. She craved to recreate it in adulthood with “Pen Craig Cottage,” her first summer home sited across the street, and, later, “Land’s End” on the southeastern side of the island. She eventually left Newport and purchased an estate in the Berkshires.

One can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened to Pen Craig, had Wharton returned there rather than trying to replicate its spirit somewhere else. Maybe it would’ve been spared. But then we wouldn’t have Pen Craig Gatehouse.

In the mid-1950s, the local investors who bought Pen Craig at auction transformed the gatehouse into condominiums. It’s an ironic twist: A structure designed to maintain exclusivity is now a mini-community of people who, like Wharton, appreciate history and literature and lawns and trees. And, over the summer, one of the four Pen Craig condos hit the market.

If you, too, relish Wharton-esque pursuits, here’s your House Lust:

For more information on the Pen Craig Gatehouse condo, contact Coldwell Banker’s Lisa Morrison at 203-217-3990 or visit coldwellbanker.com.

 

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