Designed ties for stars, became an actress, married 5 times and called Bartlett home for many years
You’ve no doubt noticed this grand, gorgeous property behind the gate on Hurricane Mountain Road in Intervale. Especially this time of year, either going to Fryeburg or to hike Black Cap. Each time you pass the home – you’re passing by a piece of Mt Washington Valley history. Within the wrought iron gates of 361 Hurricane Mountain Road lies The Stone House, former residence of Countess Mara de Bninski. This is a woman who lived life to the fullest – and some of it right here in Intervale.
Countess Mara began life as Lucilla Mara de Vescovi, born in Rome, Italy in 1893. She was the daughter of a professor at the University of Rome. She married Malcolm Whitman, an American singles tennis champion in 1926. The couple made their home in New York City. Four years later, Lucilla found she had a flair for making mens’ dress ties. She discovered her talent after a “flair up” with her husband. The couple had an argument about Whitman’s “dull” ties and she created a silk dress tie.
After Whitman’s death in 1932, Lucilla travelled throughout Europe, where she purchased fabrics and brought them back to New York with the intention of launching a career making men's ties. While she was in Europe, Lucilla, a talented woman, appeared in several films that were filmed in Paris.
Following her return to New York, Lucilla de Vescovi Whitman founded her men's upscale neckwear company in 1935. That’s when she branded herself "Countess Mara". Pretty good marketing for back in the day. There was some family history as royalty however. Her mother was born Baroness Elizabeth deGleria, of Trieste, and her maternal grandmother was a Hungarian countess, Maria Hatvany.
Countess Mara was a natural business woman and her company thrived. In 1944 Countess Mara was awarded the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in recognition of the influence her ties had had upon fashion. One of the most famous wearers of Countess Mara neckwear was Frank Sinatra.
Countess Mara became an official countess when she married her fifth husband, Count Victor Vitold Jean Maria Bnin-Bninski, a Polish nobleman. Thus the transformation into Countess Mara Mathilde DeBninski.
The countess apparently loved New England – and especially homes made of stone. Castles, no doubt, held a certain appeal to this woman of many talents. She bought the Wentworth Castle in Jackson in 1959. Countess Mara then hired 30 workers to restore the castle to its former beauty. After the 2 year project was complete, the Countess made the castle her home.
Countess Mathilde Mara De Bninski, a socialite, businesswoman and philanthropist, died Dec. 22, 1996, in Bartlett. She was 96.
Many thanks to Warren Schomaker of the Jackson Historical Society for his generous contribution in providing the Wentworth Castle information.