Getting back to basics at Eastover Resort
By Amy E. Tucker
The Eastover Resort in Lenox, Mass., celebrating its 60th Anniversary in 2007, proudly boasts that little has changed since the resort first opened on Memorial Day in 1947.
“We’ve adapted to the needs of our guests, but our premise hasn’t changed,” said Co-owner and General Manager Betsy Kelly. “You drive through the gate and you feel like you’re home.”
The brick Georgian mansion was built on 1,500 acres in 1910 as a summer “cottage” for New York City stock broker Harris Fahnestock and his family. Later sold by his heirs, the property became the Duncan School for Boys which went bankrupt in 1944. Kelly’s grandfather, Italian-born George Bisacca, purchased the now 500-acre property in 1946 for a mere $41,500.
Bisacca, whose family emigrated to the U.S. in 1906 and settled in Connecticut, embodied an entrepreneurial spirit and drive and left school in the ninth grade to “learn by experience.” Joining Ringling Brothers as a roustabout, he traveled the country working varied odd jobs eventually returning to Stamford where he opened a tire repair shop. By the start of World War II, Bisacca had grown his thriving business to include 22 gas stations and a Chrysler dealership.
Together with his wife, Ruth, Bisacca purchased the Eastover mansion embarking on his newest passion to develop a recreational resort for singles. It took a few years for the idea of a resort vacation to catch on.
“A middle class evolved after WWII with lots of disposable income. Credit cards didn’t exist yet and couples and families couldn’t afford to take vacations, so singles were the target market,” said Ticki Winsor, president/CEO of Eastover and Bisacca’s daughter.
But that changed by the early 60s as their clientele married and wanted to return with their families.
Today, Eastover caters to everyone – singles, couples, families and organizations. How they do it is through themed weekends and a-la-carte activities to delight all ages and lifestyles.
Annual events include a biker weekend, nudist weekend, sober weekends and women-only weekends to name a few. There are holiday-centered events like the St. Patty’s Day bash and July 4th extravaganza; seasonal offerings such as Oktoberfest and Hunting Week; specialty themes like the murder mystery and circus weekends; and ongoing kids campus, singles and family-weekend events.
“I couldn’t tell a Harley Davidson from a motor scooter when we started the Berkshire Rally nine years ago,” said Winsor. “Now, I ride on the back of them and compete in the biker games.”
Couples weekends provide a romantic retreat for young newlyweds or a temporary escape from the rigors of parenting. Singles weekends for both the “Over 21” and “Over 35” age groups offer safe, fun engaging ways to network and meet others while on vacation.
If you’re inspired by Annie Oakley, the “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” program in mid-June, sponsored by the Division of Fishers and Wildlife, offers workshops in archery, fly-fishing, bird watching, riflery and more. Or, if a girls-night-out is more your thing, escape to one of their “Girls-only Weekends” for a man-free, kid-free, stress-free weekend of pampering.
The women-only weekends have become so popular that they’re now offered four times a year. Everyone from sorority friends and divorced and widowed women to mothers, daughters and granddaughters enjoy the multi-generational retreats.
From girl-scouts to girls’ weekends, the women-owned resort knows how to cater to the ladies. Even the chief positions – from the chef to the front desk – are held by women. “It just sort of happened this way,” said Winsor.
Following Bisacca’s death in 1983, his daughters Ticki and Susan (McNinch) continued running Eastover with their families. McNinch retired in 1999 and in 2004 Ticki and her daughters Betsy and Susie Sudnikovich, a silent partner based in New Jersey, purchased the resort.
Life at Eastover is still pretty much the way George Bisacca envisioned it right down to the preservation of his Civil War museum in the American Heritage Room. The museum, which grew from Bisacca’s passion for history and the Civil War, is thought to be one of the largest, privately-held Civil War collections in the country. Buffalo, brought to the resort by Bisacca in 1963, roam in nearby pastures. Even the name Eastover, a name held over from its years as an estate, is still engraved in the marble main gates.
Both mother and daughter described growing up at Eastover as an adventure.
“You can’t separate growing up here from working here,” Winsor said. “It’s our life. In the hospitality business you do everything, but it’s a labor of love. I call this the ‘University of Eastover’ because you learn everything here.”
“We’ll do anything we would ask our staff to do from changing beds and mopping floors to working as a bar back. The diversity here is constant. There’s always something going on and you’re never bored.”
That realization led Kelly to return to Eastover after college, where she now raises her children. Though she deems it a challenge to run a resort and raise a family, she is quick to recognize the balancing act everyone working and raising a family experiences. The only difference is that her kids have responsibilities and know they have to set examples for other kids.
Nestled in the hills of the Berkshire Mountains, the area’s rich history includes the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, Mass MoCA, Tanglewood and the Prime Outlets in Lee. There’s local skiing in the winter and horseback riding and mountain biking in the spring, summer and fall.
Eastover offers no arcades, televisions or air-conditioning and they don’t sell alcohol, to avoid being governed by town ordinances. Guests can bring their own alcohol or order it locally from the front desk and have it delivered. They also have the option to order one-day licenses for weddings and holiday parties. Drop in mid-week to take in the arts, relax by the two Olympic swimming pools or enjoy a challenging game of shuffleboard, tennis or sand volleyball.
“People come here to escape the fast-paced world we live in,” Winsor stated. “It’s back to basics with no phone and computer, although thmain building is now wireless. Just not the twenty-first yet.
“The odds of a family-owned business succeeding aren’t great. If you can make it through the third generation, then you’re golden.”
For a complete list of theme weekends visit: www.eastover.com.