Sunday, August 16, 2009


Today we drove two hours to the western side of New Hampshire along the Connecticut River to tour the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. A tip of the hat to the National Park Service for their fine stewardship and interpretation of this lovely 150-acre public site tucked away in Cornish, New Hampshire. We met there for a picnic lunch with family from Massachusetts and Vermont, each of us about equi-distant from Saint-Gaudens. Somewhat by coincidence this was a fee-free weekend here and at many other National Parks and Monuments. The Friends of Saint-Gaudens also hosted a free afternoon concert featuring a brass quintet.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) is considered one of the greatest American sculptors and many of his works are on display here at Saint-Gaudens. You can tour his home, gardens, studios, and grounds, which were donated to the National Park Service in 1965. Augustus named the estate Aspet, after the place of his father's birth in France. Today the entrance to the home is graced by a massive 123-year old honey locust, planted in 1886 before Saint-Gaudens lived here.

The grounds around the home are separated into outdoor "rooms" by well-manicured tall hedges. You can seclude yourself in the cutting garden, or wander through the stable and ice house, admire the formal perennial gardens, cool off in the air-conditioned visitor's center while watching a short film about the sculptor, peer into the reflecting pool and wander through the gallery of his sculptures.

The formal perennial garden

Adams Memorial, a commission by historian Henry Adams
for his wife Clover. Saint-Gaudens called it
"The Mystery of the Hereafter... beyond pain and beyond joy."

The reflecting pool

Set against a tall hedgerow, the 11 foot by 16 foot Shaw Memorial may be one of the best known sculptures by Saint-Gaudens. He spent 14 years working on the original version of this monument to Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment that Shaw led. The 54th was the first African American unit from the north to fight for the Union during the Civil War. The 1989 movie Glory depicts Shaw and the actions of the 54th Regiment. The final version of this sculpture completed by Augustus in 1900 is the one on display here in Cornish.

Saint-Gaudens was lovely even in the heat and humidity of a mid-August day. With all the fuss over what government can and can not do, the national park system is perhaps one of the greatest legacies of our country. These public places preserve natural and cultural beauty for everyone to enjoy and admire. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable; the facilities clean and accessible; and at Saint-Gaudens dogs are welcome (on leash).

We will return to see and learn more as the few hours spent today were not enough. We did not have time to hike the Ravine and Blow-Me-Down Trails, or visit the temple, or fully study each of the sculptures. There are many paths to walk at Saint-Gaudens with something different to see around each hedgerow.

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