Hildene is formed from two old English words: “Hil” meaning “hill” and “dene” meaning “valley with stream.” Robert and his wife Mary gave their Vermont home this name because it is perched on a hill overlooking the Taconic Mountains to the west, the Green Mountains to the east, and the Battenkill river flowing through the great Battenkill Valley below.
The Lincolns built Hildene as a summer home at the turn of the 20th century. Robert was the only child of Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln to survive to maturity. He first visited Manchester as a young man in the summer of 1864 when he came to the Equinox Hotel to meet up with 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.
Peggy Beckwith, Abraham Lincoln’s great-granddaughter and the last Lincoln descendant to live at Hildene, added more acreage to the estate. When she died in 1975, she left Hildene to the Church of Christ, Scientist in accordance with grandmother's wishes. The will stipulated that the Church maintain Hildene as a memorial to the Lincoln family. It didn't take long for the Church to realize it was not in a position to do so and to make plans to sell Hildene to developers. When local neighbors and community members learned of the Church's plans, they fought to save Hildene and, after three years in court, they finally won 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.
The now 412 acre estate, with its Georgian revival mansion and 14 historic buildings, includes the home, formal garden and observatory; Welcome Center and The Museum Store in the historic carriage barn; 1903 Pullman car, Sunbeam; and Hildene Farm. The farm includes a solar-powered goat dairy and cheese-making facility and, in the lower portion of the property—the dene--includes a teaching greenhouse, composting facility, animal barn, vegetable gardens, apple orchard, 600 foot floating wetland boardwalk and an 1832 schoolhouse still used for education programs. The dene is also where Burr & Burton Academy high school students take courses on agriculture and the environment throughout the school year. The deeply immersive BBA-Hildene program embodies Hildene’s deep commitment to conservation, stewardship and sustainability and to its mission Values into Action.