Robert Lincoln, the only surviving son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln built Hildene in Manchester, Vt. in 1905 as a summer home. He visited the area in the 1860s with his mother and his brother Tad, and found the area 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.
Your visit begins at the Welcome Center, which is in the old carriage barn. An introductory video familiarizes you with the history of the house and some family history as well. Hildene is located up a very long driveway: it is a full mile. The location is very scenic and depending on the time of year, the views range from amazing to spectacular.
Entrance to Hildene is $18 for adults and $5 for youth. There is no brochure or map to guide you around and it is a self-guided tour. During the summer there are guided tours offered twice a day. Your admission also gets you entrance to the farm, eight miles of walking trails and the Pullman Car.
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 organ 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 24 room house was modern from the moment it was built. It had electricity and modern plumbing and was really state of the art when the Lincolns moved in. There were 15 servants who kept things running smoothly at Hildene, and of the 15, six remained here in Vermont and the other nine moved with the family to and from Chicago, where they lived the rest of the year.
It was interesting to walk into the butler’s bedroom and see how simply he lived. In the butler’s 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, and 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. With its setting in the Green Mountains it is obvious that the fall leaves would make the views even more spectacular.
For anyone who has an interest in Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln this is a very interesting place to visit. You will learn some interesting facts about both Robert and his mother and their relationship. With the house’s convenient location outside of Manchester, Vt. there are plenty of places to stay, dine and especially shop in the area.