Mt. Hope Farm was created by Col. E. Parmelee Prentice, a Chicago lawyer, and his wife, Alta Rockefeller Prentice, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. In 1910, the Prentices purchased four large farms and several smaller parcels to create a single holding of approximately 1400 acres.
Elm Tree House, the Prentices' summer home on Mt. Hope Farm, was completed in 1928. It is a brick and marble mansion that was designed by James Gamble Rogers and built in the Georgian style. The mansion has 72 rooms.
In the late 1930's and 40's, Mount Hope Farm was one of the outstanding experimental farms in the country. The Prentices employed a farm and domestic staff of 168 people, including two full-time geneticists. Among their achievements was the development of the American Dairy cattle breed, recognized throughout the world for milk and butterfat production. In addition to cattle, the farm operation of Mount Hope specialized in poultry breeding, apples, syrup and honey. Corn, oats, and other grains were also raised, and approximately four acres of the farm were devoted to vegetable production, and flowers and nurseries occupied another three to four acres. Farm activity ceased after Col. Prentice's death in 1955.
When Mrs. Prentice died in 1962, the property was willed to New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. Shortly thereafter, Williams College purchased it in order to stave off land development. The College sold off many of the buildings and their adjoining land, retaining the main structures and 850 acres. The financial drain of maintaining the house and land prompted the College to sell the estate in 1978, but it came back on the market in 1984. At this time, a group of Williams College alumni known as the Purple Mountain Partners acquired Mt. Hope Farm. They put most of the property into a private land trust, carved out discreet parcels for themselves, and donated the remainder, including Elm Tree House, to Williams College.
For several years, the College used the house for academic and alumni activities, but found the cost of maintaining and upgrading it for code to be prohibitive. These restrictions resulted in limited use of Elm Tree House in recent years. However, in January 1997, President Harry C. Payne announced plans to extend the use of the property for educational events and alumni activities. Three of the College's graduates, Herbert A. Allen '62, David S. Paresky '60, and Francis T. Vincent, Jr. '60, pledged to cover the cost of bringing the building up to code.
Elm Tree House at Mt. Hope Farm now functions as an educational facility for Williams College. The Program in Leadership Studies, for example, hosts many outstanding leaders at Elm Tree House, and several times a year the newly created Mt. Hope Distinguished Visitors Series brings outstanding individuals from all fields to Elm Tree House to interact with students, faculty, staff and area residents.