Thursday, November 10, 2011


Manchester, VT

I want a DO OVER!  I just didn't have enough time.

For the record my do over includes sunny skies.  But don't mess with the gold and russet leaf colors that were still stunning on this late October visit. 

Hildene, is the family home of Abraham Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln. Vermont is not a state that I  associate with the Lincoln family. So my first question is why, aside from the obvious beauty, did Robert build here?

Easily explained. Robert's first visit to Manchester, VT was in the summer of 1864 when he, his mother and brother, Tad, stayed at the Equinox Hotel. ( By the way the Equinox is still a handsome hotel on main street. It's also part of the Starwood Hotel Group where we typically rack up points and then use them for hotel stays! Oh good find!) His second connection to the area prior to building was that his Chicago law partner owned a home and land in Manchester and he often visited  him there.

In 1902 Robert purchased 500 acres and built a 24-room Georgian Revival summer home on a promontory overlooking the Battenkill Valley.  The entrance on historic RT 7A begins a long drive bordered by massive trees that leads you up, up and back from the road to the  mansion.  Once there the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys is picture post card perfect.

Now in the ideal visit you've allowed yourself enough time to linger outside, photographing the sweeping vistas.  Then without feeling rushed you'd slowly gracefully enter the foyer.  But wait that's my next visit, not this one.  In this one I rushed up the hill past a group of four and barged into the sedate foyer as if I was a six month old puppy.

Hildene is the only house in the US where only direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln continuously lived.   That's why the house is in the unusual position to say that almost everything in the house (the furniture, the china, the books, the contents of the office safe) belonged to the family.

The last owner , Peggy Lincoln Beckwith, was a colorful personality with a zeal for life.  She passionately adopted and then just as abruptly dropped photography, flying , painting, and golf. While living in the home she was typically dressed in overalls and personally tended to the animals and workings of the farm.   She judged value for herself and in one instance used a signed Gustav Stickly piece of furniture as a work bench.  When one of the tools was too long for the top drawer she just carved a circular hole through which a long tool could poke out.

Hildene is once again a working farm. On sale at the gift shop are cheeses made from the goat milk of Hildene's herd of Nubian goats.

Just prior to the start of the tour our attention was drawn to the 1000 pipe organ in the entrance hall on the stair landing.  The player organ was a gift of Robert to his wife, Mary, in 1908. Our musical recognition skills were tested with a tune.

What an odd choice.  Dixie in a Lincoln home?  Can't be.  Yet the tune was one of Abe's favorites and only after his life became associated with the confederate states.

My fav - the dining room wall paper.  The wallpaper installed by daughter Mamie  is obviously a stand out.  It's actually a 3D application with layer built upon layer.  And the trees individually clipped or pruned prior to application.

A second choice is the screen or room divider that Robert built himself for his grandchildren.  It's adorned with pages from children's storybooks.  At bedtime the kids could point to their choice for the evening.  I like that because I can see the person he was, a grandfather with a loving connection to his grandchildren.

Just before leaving I had an interesting conversation with the house historian, Gary, about why some of us find history  fascinating and it puts others to sleep.  His theory - an early history teacher way back there in elementary or middle school either sparked a passion or had you nodding off.  She/he was someone who imbued the story of history with life rather than bullet notes in a chapter outline.

I've patiently been ticking off those elementary school teachers at Samuel Smith in Burlington, NJ.  So far no one stands out as an inspiring history buff.  On to middle school or junior high as it was called then.

Here's two interesting history tidbits I didn't learn during my visit but later while I surfed the web.

The law firm that Robert Todd Lincoln founded with Edward Isham was dissolved in April 1988.  Internal squabbling amongst the partners was blamed. 


Edward Ishams' daughter Ann Elizabeth was one of only four female first class passengers to die in the Titanic sinking.   There was a woman seen in the water following the sinking with her arms wrapped tightly around a dog.  It's speculated that she drowned due to her refusal to leave her Great Dane dog behind.

OK those tidbits are little side notes not related to Hildene. Yet isn't that the fun of history?  You never know where the story is going to take you. 

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