Guests arriving at Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home in Manchester, Vermont are struck by its beautiful surroundings. The experience for them begins at the Welcome Center located in the Lincoln’s original carriage barn. It includes an observation bee hive, a “working telegraph” and a ceiling high model train with Pullman cars. Here visitors view a short video about the home and its famous inhabitants before embarking on their exploration of the historic site’s many venues.
With a stop at the house, guests discover the place that three generations of President Lincoln’s descendants called home for 70 years. The mansion, built in 1905 by Robert T. Lincoln, the only child of President and Mary Lincoln to survive to maturity, stands on a promontory between the Taconic and Green Mountain Ranges surrounded by spectacular views. The famous Battenkill flows through the valley below on its way to the Hudson River. Robert Lincoln named his ancestral home appropriately, Hildene, a word meaning “hill and valley with stream.”
Guests view Mary and Robert Lincoln’s home through the prism of the family that lived there. The couple built Hildene during Robert’s tenure as president of the Pullman Company; the largest manufacturing corporation in America at the turn of the 20th century. The home, renowned for its setting and wonderful gardens, exudes a simple elegance and sense of getaway, as this is how it was used by the family. The house tour is self-guided, with guided tours available for an additional fee by prior arrangement.
When it comes to family, as is the case in the home of many a son, a remembrance of Dad is often found. Hildene is no exception. In this case the presidential son is Robert Lincoln and the famous father is of course, President Lincoln, whose inspiring words are the focus of the thought provoking exhibit: “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and The Second Inaugural.”
Guests will also encounter the Pullman Palace car, Sunbeam in a forest clearing accessible by walking trail or tram. The rail car came off the line in 1903, during Robert’s tenure as Pullman president. The completely refurbished executive office car with accommodations for family travel as well, includes state rooms, a dining salon, self-contained kitchen and staff quarters, sleeping accommodations for 18 and an observation area at the rear of the car. The car played a role in the lives of Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.
The Pullman Company at the turn of the century was the largest employer of African Americans in the country, offering slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment jobs as Pullman porters. In spite of the exploitive environment in which they worked, these men were able to better their lives and those of their families, helping give rise to America’s black middle class.
With a timeline overview that spans the 100 years from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to the Civil Rights Movement and March on Washington in 1963, the exhibit at Sunbeam, “Many Voices”, highlights the voices of the Pullman Company, the Gilded Age passengers who traveled in the comfort of its sleeping cars, and the porters who provided the impeccable service that made travel by Pullman second to none.
A visit to the Rowland Agricultural Center at Hildene Farm and its cheese-making facility attests to the agricultural heritage of the Lincolns, while showcasing the merits of applying 21st century sustainability principles: small scale farming, use of renewable energy sources (solar and wood) and responsible forest management. The 40 by 100′ barn is designed specifically to house Hildene’s herd of Nubian goats and for public viewing of cheese-making from milking to processing, pasteurization, aging and finishing of signature Hildene farm cheeses. Guests can get to the farm and all sites at the historic attraction, on foot or by tram.
Many guests use Hildene’s extensive trail system to experience all the site has to offer up close. Approximately 8 miles in length, it can be walked or hiked and cross country skied or snowshoed in winter. As part of a project to upgrade the trails, Hildene grounds staff has been busy all winter constructing one hundred new elevated walkways that are sure to add to the enjoyment of the terrain. Work will soon be completed on a 300 yard floating boardwalk that is located on the part of the trail system that includes the 80 acre meadow, and an observation platform for the wetlands. The boardwalk will not be fully integrated into the general guest experience until 2014.
The Museum Store is located in the Welcome center and is open daily, a special space where a wide range of distinctive items from Lincoln to Gilded Age, gardens, history, nature, farm and Vermont specialty products can be found.