Our History

Hildene, is formed from two old English words, “hil” meaning hill and “dene,” meaning valley with stream. Robert and wife Mary named their Manchester home based on their view of the Taconic Mountains to the west, Green Mountains to the east and the Battenkill flowing through the great valley of Vermont below, hill and valley with stream.

Robert Lincoln built Hildene as a summer home at the turn of the 20th century. He was the only child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive to maturity. Robert first visited Manchester as a young man in the summer of 1864 when he came to the Equinox Hotel to meet his mother and his brother Tad. Some forty years later he returned to purchase 392 acres of land to build what he would call his ancestral home. At the time, Robert was president of the Pullman Company, the largest manufacturing corporation in the country.

When Peggy Beckwith, the last Lincoln descendant to live at Hildene, died in 1975, she left Hildene to the Church of Christ, Scientist - as was her grandmother's wish. The will stipulated that the church maintain Hildene as a memorial to the Lincoln family, but It didn't take long for them to realize they were not in a position to do so and made plans to sell Hildene to developers. When local neighbors and community members learned of the church's plans they fought to save Hildene and for the next three years waged the battle in court to finally win the right to purchase Hildene. The non-profit Friends of Hildene raised the money to purchase the estate in 1978 and began the long process of restoring the home and formal garden.

Now, the 412 acre estate, with its Georgian revival mansion and 13 historic buildings includes the home, formal garden and observatory; Welcome Center and The Museum Store in the historic carriage barn; 1903 Pullman car, Sunbeam; a solar powered goat dairy and cheese-making facility and the lower portion of the property, Dene Farm, was recently incorporated into the guest experience. This land functions as a campus for environmental and agricultural education for high school students and includes a teaching greenhouse, composting facility, animal barn, vegetable gardens, apple orchard, and 600 foot floating wetland boardwalk. Nearby, the 1832 schoolhouse, still used for education programs, stands in contrast to the new facilities. The agricultural project in the Dene embodies Hildene’s deep commitment to conservation, stewardship and sustainability and to its mission Values into Action.