The guest experience at Hildene begins at the Welcome Center where visitors get a glimpse of all that Hildene’s mission: Values into Action encompasses, access information on its venues, walking trails, and transportation. Introductory films focus on the history of the family and restoration of the 1903 Pullman Palace car, Sunbeam.
The tour of Robert and Mary Lincoln’s home brings the family’s story to life. Robert built Hildene in 1905, during his tenure as president of the Pullman Company. Home to three generations of Lincoln descendants, it is here that Robert’s famous father, Abraham Lincoln is honored in a thought provoking exhibit: “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and The Second Inaugural” which includes one of only three of Abe’s iconic stovepipes in existence.
A visit to the home includes the family’s formal garden bounded by the Taconic and Green Mountains, with the Battenkill running through the valley below. The setting was inspiration for the name Hildene which means “hill and valley with stream.” Jessie, President Lincoln’s granddaughter, designed the formal garden to resemble a stained glass window as a gift to her mother, Mary Lincoln, in 1907. Late May through mid-June it is abloom with more than 1,000 peony blossoms. Summer to fall, the floral hues are provided by perennials. This is only one of the estates’ many lovely gardens.
A short walk from the house, is the meticulously restored 1903 wooden Pullman car, Sunbeam, and the provocative exhibit “Many Voices” which focuses on social history filled with paradox. The early leaders of the Pullman Company (George Pullman and Robert Lincoln), privileged passengers, black porters, and people who experience it today, are the “Many Voices.” Set against a timeline that spans the 100 years between President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, its content provides a platform for civil civic discourse and places Hildene on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail.
The family’s agricultural legacy is honored at both levels of Hildene Farm. At the goat dairy and cheese-making facility, guests discover a 21st century solar powered barn where the cheese-making is publically viewed and where they interact with the farm environment and the Nubian goats in residence.
The 200 acres below the home in the Dene, bear testimony to an emerging agricultural and educational project that includes construction of a state of the art teaching greenhouse and a compost facility. The Dene, accessible by walking, riding the tram or a once a day wagon is where guests experience the farm, learn about songbird habitat and pollinator sanctuary initiatives and traverse the bordering wetland on a 600’ floating boardwalk.
Visits usually end as they started… at The Welcome Center where guests can taste Hildene artisanal cheeses in The Museum Store and choose items from heirloom peony seeds to a Lincoln book as a reminder of their Hildene experience.
Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home is as much about the future as it is about the past. Open daily, year round from 9:30 to 4:30. For more information visit www.hildene.org or like us on Facebook.