This Place in History: Hildene



At ‘This Place in History’ Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins takes us to Hildene in Manchester, Vermont.

“This is so cool. It’s a beautiful house on a beautiful grounds. They have a train car. They have Abraham Lincoln’s hat. So we’re going to go check in with Paula Maynard, one of the educators here, and learn all about it,” introduced Perkins.

“During the Civil War in 1864, Mary Lincoln brought her young son Tad to the Equinox Hotel, which still stands today in Manchester. She was met there by Robert Lincoln, their oldest son. Now many people don’t know this but I’ll insert it here, that of their four children, Robert Lincoln, the oldest, becomes the only one to survive into adulthood. He ended up being a successful attorney in Chicago. He also ended up with a law partner named Edward Isham,” said Maynard.

“Edward Isham’s family home was located right at the edge of this property, where the exit road is. So Robert was coming back to visit and probably at that time, looking at pieces of that land. We’re fortunate that he decides this is the place where he’s going to build his ancestral home, to be a place where his descendants would come to and in fact, that’s what happened.”

“For three generations, 70 years, nobody but a Lincoln ever lived here, including the last three. That would be the great grandchildren of Abraham and Mary. Peggy Beckwith, the one girl, lived in Vermont until she died. The other two were boys. Now what most people are not aware of is that the direct descendancy of Abraham and Mary Lincoln ended with those three children. So the legacy that we have to protect is the family history. We take it very seriously. But we are also profoundly aware that it all really goes back to Abraham Lincoln. So all throughout the property, people are linked with not only Robert Lincoln’s family, but also the fact that it’s Abraham Lincoln’s values that everything we do here is rooted in,” said Maynard.

“So we have the house and then there’s this brick square out front. Can you tell me what the brick square is?” asked Perkins.

“It’s probably the least expensive, but most valuable thing we’ve ever done; putting the imprint of the footprint of the cabin that Abraham Lincoln was born in, in Kentucky, in the front yard directly in front of the mansion that his son built in just one generation,” answered Maynard.

“I heard that you have one of Lincoln’s top hats here,” said Perkins.

“It’s traveled a great deal. For the last several years, it’s been to the LBJ Presidential Library, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and prior to that, Disney. We’re happy it’s home for awhile because it’s nice and in it’s case, it’s the best preserved of the three in existence. The other two, one is in the Smithsonian and the other is in the museum in Springfield, the Lincoln Museum. So we’re very proud to have it in little old Vermont. It’s never really left Vermont, except to go traveling.”

“You can’t tell the complete story of Robert Todd Lincoln, unless you have a Pullman Car. That’s because he was the President of the Pullman Palace Car Company, when it was the largest manufacturing company in the world. It also employed the most freed slaves and their descendants. Historically, these trains were renovated over periods of time. So in its first iteration, it was called the Ortega. It was President McKinley’s car in the second iteration. In 1903, it had to come off the line. Under the name Sunbeam, it took care of 18 people. They could ride, sleep, east socialize, all within this one car. So it would have had one porter and one chef. So it was the type of car that would have been used by a family or a group of executives.”

“We choose this car and this exhibit to tell the hundred years of history between Robert’s father Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington in 1963. So it’s quite a provocative exhibit. It’s very popular and it’s the southernmost stop on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail because of that story. People can visit every day of the year except holidays, between 9:30 and 4:30,” concluded Maynard.

At ‘This Place in History’!

To view more of our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.


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