Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Visit to the Hay House in Newbury, New Hampshire

We drove up this morning to see the Hay house and gardens in Newbury. John Hay was a friend and secretary to President Lincoln and also served under McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. He married into money and bought land on Lake Sunapee at a time when New Hampshire was trying to lure wealthy tourists to buy up the abandoned farms left behind by the exodus to the western states. His son Clarence studied landscaping and forestry at Yale and created an outstanding rock garden, which, along with the perennial flowerbeds in the front of the house, have been brought back to life by the trust which now runs the property. The house itself is interesting to see, and there is an informative video on the Hay family which is part of the guided tour. There are whimsical sculptures dotting the garden and a fairy garden where children can build their own rock cairns and fairy houses.
Today there was a wedding being prepared for on the grounds and cars rolling down the gravel drive with suited guests and caterers. A woman in a maid's uniform came out from the kitchen, her hair up in braids, with a cake in her arms, and ducked behind the honeysuckle.
Some of the titles in the library were the collected works of Tolstoy, the life of Thomas Howard Fourth Duke of Norfolk, an account of the sack of Paris during the Napoleonic wars, and the volumes written by Hay about Lincoln, his mentor. The woman giving the tour opened up a door on the halls and let me have a peek at an entire wing which was left in a decrepit state by the family before the state took it over. The bare lathe and ribs of the rafters were a testament to the mortality of houses. The tour guide, an older woman, had built a house herself in the 1950s in Massachusetts, she told me, using the old lathe and horse hair plaster for the walls in the days before sheet rock was mass produced. You can't find people any more who know how to build a wall this way.
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