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Manchester, Vermont is a small town with a little over 4,000 residents. Most visitors come to this area to visit Hildene, the factory outlet stores or the nearby Stratton Mountain Resort.
First settled in 1764, the town was named after Robert Montagu, 3rd Duke of Manchester.
When you drive through Manchester, and especially its historic downtown, you will notice lots of beautiful well maintained buildings. Below is a short self-guided walking tour.
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Built in 1769 the Marsh Tavern was the first building on what today is the Equinox Hotel, luxury golf & spa resort. The building has changed owners several times but was used as a hotel for most of its existence. In 1853, the Equinox House, which is the predecessor of today’s Equinox Hotel opened as a 200 room hotel. Today, it is one of Vermont's few surviving 19th century grand hotels. Over the years it has had many prominent visitors like Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln's wife spent the summer here with her two adult sons, and booked the hotel again for 1865. Unfortunately, President Lincoln was assassinated before the he would arrive and never saw the special presidential suite that was built for him. Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, later built the Hildene estate nearby as he liked the area so much.
Should you stay in the hotel, then go to the spa and try out the original hotel scale. In the past, hotel guests used it to prove that they gained weight during their stay.
Now cross the street and walk towards the white church.
Before the white church stands the Soldiers Monument. It was made at Fullerton’s Marble and Granite Works in Manchester and was dedicated in 1905 to honor all Vermont veterans. The statue represents an unknown Colonial era officer.
The white church is the First Congregational Church of Manchester which was built in 1871 to replace an older brick building that the congregation, which formed in 1784, used as a church.
Interestingly, part of the financing for the new building came from Franklin Orvis, the owner of the Equinox House, with the condition that the new church would be built slightly to the north of the brick building so that the guests of the Equinox House could enjoy unobstructed views of the scenic Green Mountains to the east from the veranda.
Now walk to the right (south).
If you think the sidewalk looks different and/or special. You are right. It is made from marble slabs and irregular shaped pieces from the quarries in Dorset which lies a few miles to the north of Manchester. The marble sidewalk was started in the 1840s by Levi Orvis who was the first to pave the area outside his store with marble. By 1890 there were already four miles of marble sidewalk. Since marble was abundant and cheaper than other more traditional materials, it made financial sense and it looked fabulous!
The Bennington County Courthouse was built in 1822. The façade is painted brick and has a large cupola topped with a golden dome.
Now cross Union St and you will see a row of shops.
The long building that you are standing in front houses the Equinox Village Shops. The façade that you see nowadays matches the façade of the Equinox Hotel. The long building used to be multiple buildings and was an annex of the Equinox Hotel in the past. The buildings had various uses since the late 1700s, like a tavern, jail, boarding rooms, drug store, post office and a doctor’s office. Today you will find stores and even a yoga studio.
If you keep walking south then you will see various beautifully maintained private homes of different sizes and styles. The different styles are mainly due to the fact that these houses have been enlarged mostly by adding additions mostly to the rear and often this led to modifications of the front too. These additions were carried out at times when different architectural styles were in fashion and that is why the houses look so different.
This is the oldest part of Manchester and, in the beginning, this street was simply called “the Street”. Like today, “the Street” was lined with trees. Today, you won’t see the old tall trees anymore, but younger ones who make the town look gorgeous when the leaves turn in fall.
If you like, you can continue walking along the street until the marble sidewalk ends and then cross the street and walk back towards your car.
This concludes the short walking tour.
The word “Hildene” is old English and means “hil” = hill and “dene” = valley with stream“.
Hildene, also called the Lincoln Family Home, is the former summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife Mary Harlan Lincoln. Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest of President Abraham Lincoln’s four sons and the only one to survive into adulthood, first visited Manchester in 1863 at age 20 together with his mother and brother when they stayed at the nearby Equinox House for the summer.
Hildene was occupied by descendants of the Lincoln family until 1975. The estate was purchased by the non-profit organization “the Friends of Hildene” in 1978 and after a careful restoration opened to the public.
Hildene was completed in 1905 in Georgian Revival style. Today, it is furnished almost entirely with furniture from the Lincoln family and displays numerous artefacts that belonged to Robert Todd Lincoln and his parents. When you enter the house, you will likely be greeted by music from the Æolian pipe organ which was installed in 1908. There is a fascinating short guided tour where your tour guide will demonstrate how the organ sounds and will point out the significance of the constantly present of freshly cut flowers throughout the house.
The mansion overlooks the Battenkill Valley. One of its stand-out features is the formal garden which is designed in the shape of a cathedral's stained glass window with a hedge defining the borders while colorful flowers symbolize the multicolored stained glass pieces of the window. The garden is known for its collection of more than 1,000 herbaceous peonies.
Besides the mansion and the garden, Hildene has lots of other things that are worth your attention and which can either be reached by a short walk or a free shuttle ride.
When you leave the visitor center, cross the roundabout and the grassy island, you will see the start of a short path to the restored 1903 wooden Pullman palace car, Sunbeam. This railcar was produced while Robert Lincoln was president of the Pullman Company. Robert took over as president of the company in 1897 after the death of founder George Pullman. In 1911 he became chairman of the board and served in this position until 1924 and was a board member until his death in 1926. During his Robert Lincoln presidency, the Pullman Company became the largest manufacturing company in the world.
Lincoln purchased the Dene Farm in 1902 when it was an active dairy farm. While Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln got out of the dairy business fairly quickly, their granddaughter Peggy Lincoln Beckwith revived the dairy business on the farm and she tapped the maple trees on the property for syrup.
You can either take the Maple Trail down the hill or take a free shuttle. This is a short ride that brings you through the maple tree forest where you will see miles of plastic hoses that are used to collect the maple tree sap in late winter/early spring that is then converted into Vermont maple syrup.
The shuttle will drop you off and later pick you up at a shuttle stop near River Road.
From here, walk southwest to the red building, which is the 1832 Hollow School house. Take a look inside and see how the desks are arranged.
This school house is the only remaining school house, of originally 14 in Manchester, which is still on its original foundation and still used as a schoolhouse. It was on the property when Robert Lincoln purchased it.
Now continue your walk and take the path which branches off to the left. It will bring you to an animal shelter where pigs and goats and other animals live.
Then continue on the path which will lead you on a short nature path through the Dene Wetlands.
After you are done and come back to River Road, continue on the path father southwest until you reach the much more modern farm with its greenhouse where you can learn about Farmscaping, Sustainability and the nesting program that aims to protect nesting birds like the bobolink.