Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Celebrating Christmas 1912 at Hildene

( Hildene, restored and cared for by local volunteers )

A quick bit of background. I have been travelling to southern Vermont for summer and weekend trips since I was kid. More recently my family purchased a vacation home that draws family members up there year-round.

Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, is located in Manchester Center, Vermont.

Spending more time up in VT inevitably results in explorations of the surrounding areas to find outdoor activities, tourist attractions and cultural events. A few years back my mother visited Hildene, shared the history and related how beautiful the house (mansion) and grounds were. I figured we’d get there eventually.

We spent the past weekend up at the house again with some holiday baking on our To Do list. With some time to spare I got to looking for holiday themed activities that we could check out while we were there. As luck would have it the holiday celebration at Hildene was kicking off this weekend. This meant the house would be decorated and there would be music and activities at the welcome center.

When you arrive at the welcome center you are met with a couple of options for tours. We went with the self-guided house an grounds tour. You start with a short video that lays out the history of Hildene and a little bit about Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Abraham and Mary Lincoln to survive into adult-hood. The key point I took away from the video was that when visiting the Manchester area as a child Robert was taken by the natural beauty of the mountains and river valleys; making it known he wished to build a home there one day. Those are some big dreams.

As luck would have it his life, and all of its twists and turns, brought him into the association of a family who lived in Manchester, Vermont. This association helped him locate a 500 acre parcel of land he eventually purchased for what would become Hildene. Aside: the wealth required to take on this project came from several sources including his tenure as the president of the Pullman Rail Car company.

The house and grounds are absolutely beautiful. This time of year the outside is trimmed back and cleaned of leaf debris. If you close your eyes you can imagine what it might look like in the spring or summer. A return trip specifically to see the cutting and kitchen gardens is planned for next year.

( cutting and kitchen garden )

We entered the home through the main entrance right off the driveway. The smell of pine wreaths was a welcome aroma. We were greeted by one of the many energetic volunteers who invited us to explore the public spaces as we chose. He also explained the new exhibit available upstairs focused on the second inaugural of Abraham Lincoln. The joke about Robert Todd Lincoln’s father being of some minor import to American History was a good laugh.

Based on the way we decorate for holidays today Christmas in 1912 would seem rather spartan. The tree was plainly decorated, and the style of tree called back to a time before commercialized trees designed for visual appeal with dense clusters of needles on full branches. Less is more! Each of the rooms , except for the kitchen and pantry, had some form of holiday decorations presented including mantle-pieces, wreaths, candelabras and bows. It reminded me of my grandmother’s house during this time of year when I was a child.

I found the kitchen and pantry spaces intriguing. The large cast iron stove and cooktop looks like it would be a lot of fun to experiment with! Some of the gadgets look pretty high-tech for their era and were no doubt made possible by the family’s success.

The entire house was constructed in such a way to allow the staff to quietly and efficiently serve residents and guests. Right off of the foyer was a staircase, dumb-waiter and pantry space used by the butler and staff to hide some of the inner workings of the home.

( festive entryway )

( 1912 Christmas tree )

( the library )

( cast iron cooktop )

( the dining room with your patron looking over you )

( the desk of Mr. Lincoln's secretary )

( the parlor and some Christmas music )

The views from most of the rooms were incredible as expected. Knowing this area for as long as I have it is no surprise that its majesty made such an impression on Robert Todd Lincoln and his family. The last picture is a side view of the house and the new snow line on the Equinox mountain range.


Cheers!

--Jason

3 comments:

Belinda @zomppa said...

Wow. Stunning. I love Vermont...makes me miss New England. That stovetop is amazing!

Adora's Box said...

This is just so beautiful. Love the period feel of it, most of all the kitchen memorabilia. Real and proper Christmas.

Judy said...

I love holiday home tours. Your beautiful photos are like going on the tour.