“Around Town With Amy Modesti”: Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home
Written by Amy Modesti on February 7, 2020
Last month, I found out about Hildene on a TV special shown on News10 ABC, “Off the Beaten Path with Cassie Hudson”. In this episode, Hudson took a tour though Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln and wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, ventured outdoors to the family garden, and viewed a special exhibition featuring artifacts that mostly belonged to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. I found her story of Hildene interesting and it piqued my interest to travel to Manchester, VT to check this historical place out.
Monday, February 3, my friend and I adventured out to Hildene to learn about the Lincoln family and their summer home in Manchester, VT. I’ve traveled to Manchester and drove past Hildene countless times with family, but never knew what it was until now. I’m glad I watched “Off the Beaten Path with Cassie Hudson” and learned about this beautiful attraction. Visiting Hildene gave my friend and I a better insight into the life and legacy of the Lincoln family and their role in revolutionizing our country during the 19th and 20th century.
Hildene derives from an old English word meaning hill and valley with stream. The area which Hildene stands is situated along a giant hill with beautiful, engaging views of the Taconic Mountains (west), VT’s Green Mountains (east), and a downward’ s view of the Battenkill Creek flowing through the valley. The 412-acre estate features its own observatory, a welcome center and museum shop, the Lincoln family garden, a 1903 restored Pullman train car, a goat dairy and cheese facility/farm, and the Dene. Hildene is open year-round and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Robert Todd Lincoln was drawn to Manchester, VT as a result of a visit with his mother and younger brother, Tad, at the Equinox Hotel in 1864. During his school days at Harvard University, Robert met a classmate who was also a resident of Bennington, VT. Through his friendship with his classmate and his travels to Vermont with family to get away from the sweltering heat of Washington D.C., this inspired Robert and his wife to build their summer home in the Green Mountain state.
Robert Todd Lincoln, who was then president of the Pullman Company, began construction on his summer home in 1903 and it was completed in 1905. From 1905 until his death in 1926, Robert and Mary would spend seven months out of the year living in their second home. The remaining time was spent at their primary home in Chicago. Hildene consists of nineteen rooms, eighteen of which remain open to the general public. For a family who was wealthy, they lived in a modest summer home with rooms that were small to medium in size but are beautiful and intact within its preserved historical glory.
Hildene’ s exterior remains decorated in post-Christmas décor. Green wreaths are placed in front of windows and garland is wrapped around the top balcony and the two pillars placed in between the entranceway leading in towards the front entrance. Upon entering the front entrance hallway, guests can take a tour through the main hallway and venture through its many rooms including Robert’s library, secretary office that was later added to the home, guest bedroom, servant’s dining room, butler’s bedroom, kitchen, butler’s pantry, parlor, porch, Robert’s bedroom, and the staff stairs with a dumbwaiter.
My exploration through its many rooms led me to learn plenty of interesting tidbits about the Lincoln family. Robert Todd was an avid golfer; there are photos of him golfing outside his home with his golfing buddies hung inside his bedroom, along with his set of golf clubs and golfing shoes that are placed inside his walk-in closet. Robert Todd was invested in technology and was one of the first wealthy patrons to have electricity in a home. Mary Todd Lincoln studied piano at a music conservatory in Iowa. Mary played two pianos and a reed pipe organ at Hildene. Her reed pipe organ, located at the front entrance hallway, was built by the Aeolian Company in NYC in 1908 and was later restored in June 1980. Robert Todd Lincoln studied law at Harvard. Guests can view Robert’s college yearbook on a table in his library.
Along Hildene’ s second floor, guests can take a tour through the linen/sewing room, sitting room, Mary Todd Lincoln’s bedroom, the Lincoln grandchildren’s room, and Hildene’ s current exhibition, “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural”. This exhibition features many of Abraham Lincoln’s prized possessions, including his pocket bible, the inaugural address from March 4, 1865, a marble bust of Lincoln, preserved newspaper clippings from Abraham’s assassination at the Ford Theatre, and his black stovepipe hat, one of three hats still in pristine condition. This is an exhibition not to miss at Hildene.
When you’re finished exploring Hildene’ s interior, be sure to take a short walk outside and check out Robert Todd Lincoln’s outdoor observatory upon a small hill overlooking the mountains and the Battenkill Creek. The views overlooking the observatory are beautiful, even in mid-winter. And venturing inside the observatory, you can see the tall, green telescope that Robert Todd used to glaze at the stars and galaxies using his tall wooden ladder.
Located near the welcome center and museum shop is the completely restored 1903 Pullman car, Sunbeam. From 2007-2011, restorers of the Pullman car, Sunbeam, spent four years completely restoring this luxurious artifact to its beautified glory. The train car is placed on permanent train tracks and perched underneath its own train station to house this historical piece. Patrons can learn about the history of Pullman Company and its employees that worked for the company as well as learn about its train car along the wall of the train house.
The interior of Sunbeam is beautiful. All the wooden interior, from the wooden bunk beds placed inside a small combined bedroom and bathroom and the main dining and bedding area, was sanded and re-polished to its liqueur, making the wood feel more pristine. There was plenty of single chairs and wide seats turned beds placed inside the dining and bedding area where guests would stay during their ride to their destination. The stained-glass windows that were originally blown out of the original Sunbeam were replaced in the car. Riding in these cars during the early 20th century was a luxury in those days and it certainly beat riding in a traditional subway car or a metro train any day for the wealthy. Patrons can learn additional info about Sunbeam with additional assistance from a museum docile.
Robert Todd Lincoln took over the presidency of the Pullman Company after the previous president, George Pullman, died in 1897. From 1897-1911, Lincoln was able to make the Pullman Company an international success through the assistance of his great Pullman porters and through Lincoln’s business skills. Later, Lincoln became the company’s chairman until 1924 and later continued to serve the board for the company until his death in 1926.
Other locations to explore at Hildene once spring arrives are the Hildene family gardens, the Hildene Farm and Goat Dairy, Dene Farm, and its many hiking trails. Due to timing constraints and the cold temperatures, I never made it to these locations. I hope to plan another day to return to Hildene to venture to the remaining areas in the future.
One can understand why Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, is dubbed “A true national treasure”. It is a remarkable place to explore and learn about the Lincoln family and a piece of true American history. Instead of traveling to Washington D.C. to view the Lincoln Monument, you can learn about the 16th President of the United States and his family right in the heart of Manchester, VT. To learn more about Hildene and plan your upcoming visit, go onto their website at https://hildene.org/index.php/ . Thank you again Cassie Hudson of News10 ABC for sharing your adventures of Hildene on your weekly TV episode, “Off the Beaten Path with Cassie Hudson”, and inspiring me to make the trip to this beautiful historical museum and summer home of the Lincoln’s.