Robert Lincoln, the only surviving son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln built Hildene in Manchester, Vermont in 1905 as a summer home. He had visited the area in the 1860s with his mother and his brother Tad and had found the surroundings very attractive. He purchased 500 acres of land and had his house built in the Greek Revival style. At the time it cost $63,000.
The house remained in the Lincoln family until 1975 and in 1978 it was purchased by the Friends of Hildene who set about restoring the property. There are no surviving descendants of Abraham Lincoln which I found very sad.
Normally a visit would begin at the Visitor Center which is in the old carriage barn. When we visited in June it was closed for renovation but was scheduled to reopen in July. In the carriage barn there is a film that plays on a loop and a gift shop. Hildene is located up a very long driveway, it is a full mile.
Entrance to the house was $7.50. There is no brochure or map to guide you around and it is a self tour. There was someone who welcomed us into the house and he was also more than willing to answer any questions we had. He told us a lot about the Aeolian Organ which is in the entrance hall and was a gift to Mary Lincoln by her husband Robert. It is a pipe organ with a player attachment and 242 rolls of music. It has all been digitalized and the organs plays on a regular schedule. We were afraid we would miss it but have no fear, if you are anywhere inside the house you will hear it, it is quite amazing. Robert paid $11,500 for the organ which is about 1/6 of what he spent to build the house.
The house was modern from the moment it was built. It had electricity and modern plumbing and was really state of the art when the Lincoln’s moved in. There were 15 servants who kept things running smoothly at Hildene and of the 15, 6 remained here in Vermont and the other nine moved with the family to and from Chicago.
It was interesting to walk into the butlers bedroom and see how simply he lived. In the butlers pantry there is a call box with all the rooms marked so he would know where he was being called from. There are plaques in each room giving you some basic knowledge about what you are seeing.
On the second floor there is a room dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and it is here that you can see his stovepipe hat and the sculptures of his hands, they are big, you are encouraged to touch them or compare your hands to them.
The gardens are quite spectacular and well worth a walk especially in June when the peonies are in bloom. There are also spectacular views into the Vermont countryside.
If you enjoy history and in particular Abraham Lincoln and his legacy, this is a very interesting place to visit.