Recently a friend asked if we lived near Manchester, Vermont (we don’t) and if we would like to meet her at Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home (we would). So, to Manchester, Vermont and Hildene we went.
I had only ever seen and heard of Hildene when we were looking at wedding venues a few years ago. It was one of those venues that when I saw it in a wedding magazine I just went right by as it looks super expensive and fancy (and apparently I was right – according to Wedding Wire the starting venue price for it is $8,000). I had made the assumption it was a fancy boutique hotel or bed and breakfast, little did I know it was actually the family home of President Lincoln’s kid and was preserved as such. There is no bed nor breakfast to be had, but instead there was a carefully curated portrayal of the home as it would have been in the first quarter of the 20th century.
I am not a history buff in any way but I do love a giant house overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens sitting high enough up among the Green Mountains that you felt like you should start singing ‘The Hills are Alive’. And, I must say, even the history part was fairly interesting.
There is a long driveway to get into the grounds of Hildene. As we drove in I just imagined a horse trying to drag a plow along in the winter. Later we found that it was primarily the family’s summer home as they wintered in Chicago, so plowing the driveway wasn’t their main challenge.
At the end of the driveway is a parking area. Prior to getting to the parking lot you see the attendant to buy your ticket. Adult admission is $23, which gives you access to the house, seeing a fancy car, small observatory, some beautiful gardens, a historically restored railroad Pullman car, as well as miles of walking trails. In non-COVID times you can also visit Hildene Farm & Goat Dairy as well as the Dene Farm. And, to keep you from getting lost there is a QR code you can download to your phone to get a map of the grounds.
On your way in there is a Welcome Center; however, we skipped it and went straight for the building with the restrooms after the long car ride. We also skipped it for the sake of not seeing some random thing that we (me) would want to buy. If you don’t see it you can’t want it, and if you don’t want it, you won’t buy it, right?
After our quick stop at the restroom we made our way to the house. There was the fancy old car and a lovely gentleman that gave us a brief history of the family and the house. After the introduction we had to wait a few minutes to go into the house to allow for enough social distancing from the other visitors. Once in the house we were met with yet another guide to give us a quick overview of what we would see in the house, play the player organ, and explain how the tour would work. It was a self guided tour outlined by arrows on the floor, take all the pictures you would like, to please wait until the group in front of you has moved on before proceeding, and to maintain a 6′ distance between groups.
We made our way through the rather regal Georgian Revival style house. We decided that compared to the more outlandishly lavish summer homes we had toured in our lives (the mansions in Newport for instance) that this felt nearly attainable. The friend we were touring with is looking to buy a house and we made many suggestions based on this home for what she should look for in exaggerated sophisticated British accents that made us feel as though we should wear a Sherlock Holmes hat and smoke a pipe while saying it.
During the tour of the house we had our dose of Lincoln family history. The majority of the house was dedicated to the history and story of Robert and Mary Lincoln but there was a museum section in the upstairs of the house designated to President Lincoln. Among the most exciting of the artifacts was one of President Lincoln’s hats.
After touring the house we made our way into the gardens. The gardens were beautiful although maybe not as large and meandering as I might have expected. The views from the gardens were fantastic though and had we been touring a bit later when foliage was in full swing it would have easily been worthy of a postcard.
We made a quick jaunt over to the observatory and then decided to find the Pullman (fancy railroad) car. This journey ended up with us walking along the trails for probably a mile or so, but with beautiful weather it was nice to go for a walk in the woods.
Once we were at the Pullman car they had social distancing practices in full effect – they would bring two small groups onto the platform at a time, give them an overview of the Pullman company, Robert Lincoln’s association with them, as well as the car we were looking at. Apparently this particular car was found on the banks of a river in Georgia and then was restored to it’s former glory. I hadn’t thought much about how the Lincoln’s would make their journey to Chicago each winter, but after seeing the car realized both the level of wealth they had but also the size of the undertaking to travel from Vermont to Chicago and back each year.
If you are looking for something that is at least reasonably educational, enforces COVID safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing, and has indoor and outdoor areas this could be a good journey to take. I personally felt like the price was kind of steep, but at the same time understand the amount of upkeep that is necessary to maintain and employ the necessary staff, that they had to close for a bit and that Vermont tourism is way down due to quarantine restrictions on entering so I am happy to support them and the preservation of some history.
If you are thinking of going, please be aware of Vermont’s COVID travel restrictions. Everyone that is in the US is welcome to travel to Vermont; however, there are different quarantine requirements depending on where you are traveling from based on how many active COVID cases their are in your county. It is updated weekly to reflect the most current number. Here is the travel map that Vermont uses.
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