A twofold treat, the summer home of Abraham Lincoln's son Robert provides insight into the lives of the Lincoln family, as well as an introduction to the lavish Manchester life of the early 1900s. The only son of the president to survive into adulthood, Robert Lincoln served as secretary of war, U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, and general counsel and later president of the Pullman Palace Car Company. In 1905, Robert built a 24-room mansion where he and his descendants lived until 1975. The sturdy Georgian Revival house, the centerpiece of a beautifully preserved 412-acre estate, holds many of the family's prized possessions, including one of three surviving stovepipe hats owned by Abraham and a Lincoln Bible. When the 1,000-pipe Aeolian organ is played, the music reverberates as though from the mansion's very bones.
Rising from a 10-acre meadow, Hildene Farm, which opened in 2008, is magnificent. The agriculture center is built in a traditional style—post-and-beam construction
of timber felled and milled on the estate. Best of all, you can meet the resident goats and watch goat cheese being made.
The highlight, though, may be the elaborate formal gardens, where a thousand peonies bloom every June. To get a glimpse of luxury travel in the Gilded Age, step aboard the restored 1903 Pullman car parked in a patch of forest north of the house. There is also a teaching greenhouse, a 600-foot floating boardwalk across the Battenkill wetlands, and more than 10 miles of walking trails. When conditions permit, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the property.
In good weather, a restored 1928 Franklin car once owned by Robert's daughter Jessie is parked in front of the carriage house, now occupied by a gorgeous museum store and welcome center. Allow at least half a day for exploring Hildene.