Monday, August 5, 2013

Gardens, Trains and the Gilded Age at Hildene in Vermont

A few weeks ago we got to visit a beautiful seasonal home, a product of the Gilded Age in Vermont, known as Hildene.  This was the summer home of Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Built in 1903, Lincoln's wealth was a result of his being president of the Pullman Palace Car Company.  Though technically built at the end of the Gilded Age, the opulence was definitely Gilded Age.  When my daughter first saw a picture of the mansion when we were vacation planning, she said it looked like Colonial Williamsburg.  That is because Hildene was built in the Georgian Revival style. Look at the size, far larger than anything but the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.  Definitely Gilded Age opulence was beckoning.


We were not allowed to take pictures inside, and I never had time to write notes that night while they were fresh on my mind, but I'll try to remember a few exciting things we saw.  First is the Aeolian pipe organ which played for us.  The organ was on one side of the house, and on the other on the grand stairway landing, the pipes were encased in special lovely cabinetry! Definitely Gilded Age opulence!

The Grand Staircase was most elegant. How I wished I could have worn my Edwardian lace gown to this lovely setting for most proper Gilded Age photo shoot. (sigh)

After touring the indoors, we enjoyed the gardens most quickly because of the beckoning storm coming over the mountains. How many people have a garden like this?  Definitely, this is Gilded Age opulence!









Our next stop was the observatory set on the edge of the hill on the grounds.  Inside we found a huge telescope, encased in glass to protect it.  Can you imagine having a telescope this huge at your house?  This is definitely Gilded Age opulence!


We cut our visit to the observatory short, because the winds were picking up and the rain was falling hard.  There wasn't much room in the teeny observatory for the four of us, so I opened my umbrella and walked to the mansion's nearby portico.  It was a most difficult task to walk because the winds forcefully picked up. I bent my umbrella into the wind to keep it from flying away or even turning inside out.  The rain started driving against me sideways.  I could barely move because the wind was exceedingly strong.  I have never in my life experienced such a wind.  I was blown off my course and with tremendously great effort finally arrived under the portico with the rest of my family coming behind me. We were all thoroughly drenched. Indeed my daughter's umbrella had blown inside out.  We dripped under the portico as the wind  and rain blew.  One of the employees from inside the house was quite kind to see our dripping discomfort.  He came out with paper towels so we could attempt to dry off.   We were still soaked through when we arrived in New York 3 hours later. We all changed clothes before going out to dinner.  My shoes were still soaked the next morning. Gilded Age opulent porticos make great places to stay out of extreme weather! 


A peek into the mansion while drip drying.


Our next stop was to a set of Pullman cars.  Robert Todd Lincoln had been president of the company. This particular train had been used by President McKinley until his death.  That is where our history studies ended this past year. 






This is the spiffiest train I've ever been on!  More Gilded Age opulence!



This is the old carriage house, now refurbished to be the visitor center and gift shop.



This was a telegraph my son got to use. This past school year he read The Victorian Internet, which is all about the telegraph.  This trip to the Gilded Age was a great field trip!


Above our heads, the lines lit up as yellow every time he tapped out a signal. 


Here's one of the old stalls for the horses that has been converted into an office!


To represent Lincoln's career with the Pullman Palace Car Company, a train choo chooed around the store.

We drove back to New York on scenic two lane roads set against misty green mountains with a covered bridge tucked away here and there.  Vermont is beautiful!



  1. Beautiful! I enjoyed the photos and descriptions. What a beautiful setting for a home. Perhaps it was opulent, but it was built well and taken care of well for us to still enjoy.

    A bit of a connection--Mrs. Todd Lincoln donated some wooden pulpit furniture to a church in New York. At some point the church was either being torn down or something to that effect, and someone snagged the furniture for the church in one of our neighboring towns. It really is beautiful. The church architecture is called "Carpenter's Gothic", which we kind of laughed over, but it's an actual category. It's neat to have that bit of history close by.

    1. I don't mean anything negative by things being opulent. It was grand! However I'm trying to point out a few distinctions. We also visited the Vanderbilt seasonal house and we got a tour there. That will probably be the post that captures the essence of Gilded Age, as in definition, etc. We learned so much that fully supported our previous studies. It's so hard catching up after a few weeks and trying to remember details. This house, although Gilded Age and fancy, was simpler than the Vanderbilt house so I could easily live here!

      So you're in New York? What a great connection. Yes, I think the Lincoln's actually lived in New York...if I remember correctly. One mark of the Gilded Age wealthy was that they had several homes,their city home and then country estates for various seasons of the year. They were new wealth trying to imitate old British wealth. Much more on that in the upcoming Vanderbilt post. I was hinting all about this in my facebook, posting pictures here and there throughout the trip! It was a lot of fun!


  2. That's really interesting, Laurie. It's fascinating how studying history and all its elements can connect the dots on a lot of things!

    Actually, I'm not in New York. At all. That's also what makes the pulpit furniture story interesting. There must have been someone in the right place at the right time. It had to be shipped a ways to its current location.

    Is your Facebook page public at all? I'm not "on" FB, but I would enjoy reading what you have there, if it were available to me.