My wife and I have often vacationed in Vermont. Back in the Bronze Age, we even honeymooned in the Green Mountain state. On our last few visits we have stayed in a fancy hotel in Manchester, which is in Southern Vermont near the New York border. It’s about a four-hour drive from our home, which makes it not too far but far enough to get the sense of being “away.”
Manchester became a popular resort in the nineteenth century, and it has an impressive stock of large nineteenth and early-twentieth-century homes. Now it also boasts factory outlets, lots of restaurants, and the terrific Northshire Bookstore. Once we were there the week before Halloween, and were surprised and delighted to witness a parade of elaborately costumed elementary-school students and their teachers marching down the main street.
Among Manchester’s more notable residents was Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Abraham Lincoln to survive to adulthood. Robert, a corporate lawyer, eventually became president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, then the largest manufacturing firm in America. He built Hildene, an extravagant Georgian revival mansion, on a 412-acre estate just outside of town. Hildene is now a museum open to the public, its furnishings and rooms preserved more or less as they were when the house was finished in 1905. One of Abraham Lincoln’s totemic stovepipe hats is on display in a room dedicated to the martyred president. The views from Hildene, which is situated on a ridge between the Green Mountains and New York’s Taconic Range, are spectacular. In one sense, the house is a monument of sorts to the excesses of the Gilded Age. But it is also a symbol of American possibilities. For a family to go from a log cabin to a domestic basilica in just two generations seems the very definition of the American Dream.