“Gold!” was the cry of the nation when Vermonter Trenor Park headed west to California with his wife Laura, and his daughter, Lizzie. A year earlier, Laura’s father, former Governor Hiland Hall, had been appointed by President Millard Fillmore to settle land claims on the new frontier. To be sure, the search for gold was a gamble, but Trenor Park was no prospector. This self-made lawyer amassed a fortune in enterprise reality and in the management of the mines of John C. Fremont.
To see the fruits of Park’s fortune, one must travel not to California, but to North Bennington, the secluded Vermont village where Park would build one of the most glorious country estates in New England. Atop a hill at the corner of Park and West Streets, Park-McCullough’s central cupola still rises 50 feet above nearby trees and homes. The splendor of this three-story, 42-room “cottage,” waits for visitors in its original 800-acre context.
The tradition of the “Big House,” as it is locally known, continued when Lizzie Hall Park married lawyer and future California Attorney General, John G. McCullough. He was a steamship and railroad magnate and in 1902 was elected Governor of Vermont. Thus, visitors to Park-McCullough will not only experience the grandeur of the estate, but also understand the extravagant lifestyle made possible through vast wealth obtained during San Francisco’s Gold Rush era, and later added to through business dealings in finance, railroads, steamship lines, and speculation.
Park-McCullough is a time capsule, preserving 100 years in the life of one family. Nearly all of the over 100,000 items in the collection, including artwork, furniture, artifacts, clothing, toys, and literature, belonged to the family and have remained in their original context within Park-McCullough for decades. The 19th century European artwork acquired by Trenor Park remains a vital part of the collection. The desk, embosser, inkwell, and ledger used by Governor John G. McCullough remain in his study. Lizzie’s portable writing desk and her many architectural and design renovations remain an intrinsic part of the Park-McCullough experience.
Changes made in the 1940s and 50s, such as linoleum flooring and a Hotpoint dishwasher in the butler’s pantry take their place next to the magnificent Victorian furnishings. Personal items such as hairbrushes, books, pictures, eyeglasses, puzzles, and stereoscopes, show that this majestic mansion was also a family home.
Park-McCullough is not just a house; the surrounding buildings, grounds and gardens are an important part of the experience at the estate. The original 1865 carriage barn houses horse-drawn buggies, carriages, and sleighs. Guests can also see the wood-paneled horse stalls and grooming area, as well as the 6-bay garage added for the family’s first automobiles. The past steps on the heels of the present at Park-McCullough when weddings, concert series, receptions, croquet leagues, meetings, cocktail parties, and other special events take place in the gardens, in the carriage barn, and on the wicker-furnished veranda.
Park-McCullough is a unique treasure that documents a grand and glorious time in America’s history-no visitor leaves disappointed. The mission of Park-McCullough House Association, Inc. is the preservation, conservation, and restoration of its buildings, grounds, and collections to be shared with the public for its education and enjoyment. For more information contact Park-McCullough at 802-442-5442 or www.parkmccullough.org