As you first drive up the pretty gravel road to this estate, you might not realize that you're face to face with U.S. history andnatural history. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the former U.S. president, summered in this stately 24-room Georgian Revival mansion between 1905 and 1926 and enjoyed showing off its remarkable features -- including a sweeping staircase and a 1908 Aeolian organ with a thousand pipes (you can hear it played during the house tour). This place was built with an eye toward quality, rather than showiness or stuffiness. Lincoln also had formal gardens (designed after the patterns in a stained-glass window) planted on a gentle hill outside, with outstanding views of the flanking mountains -- one of southern Vermont's most popular wedding spots every summer and fall. The home and lovely, expansive grounds can be viewed only on group tours that start at an informative visitor center; budget 2 to 3 hours for the tour plus extra time exploring the pretty grounds and diversions. (In summer there are fun wagon rides to the Hildene farm for $1, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are allowed with admission to the grounds in winter.)
Vermont's Honest Abe Connection
Robert Todd Lincoln was the only son of assassinated U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to survive to maturity; the other three boys in his family all died before the age of 18.
Robert earned big bucks working as a corporate attorney and later served as Secretary of War and an ambassador to Britain. He also stepped in as president of the Pullman Company -- makers of those deluxe train cars -- from 1897 until 1911 following the death of founder George Pullman. Though he was sleeping at the White House when his father was shot and killed, Lincoln was coincidentally present at two other presidential assassinations (James Garfield's and William McKinley's). And he infamously committed his own mother to an insane asylum after his father's assassination. Quite a life. He died right here at Hildene on July 26, 1926, a week shy of his 83rd birthday.