A House for All of New Hampshire

Through substantial fundraising efforts, the state’s Executive Residence is being renovated to serve the governor’s office and the people of New Hampshire.The Bridges House, New Hampshire’s executive residence in East Concord, is one of the state’s most important-and overlooked-resources. The handsome, brick, Greek Revival house was built in 1835 and served as the residence of influential New Hampshire statesman Styles Bridges from 1946 until his death in 1961. In 1969, the Bridges family gave the house, with its furnishings and collections, to the state. Since then, it has served as a symbolic (and occasionally actual) governor’s residence as well as the setting for many state functions. Yet many citizens are unaware of the existence of this historically significant property.”People will say, ‘I didn’t even know it was there,'” says Tom Raffio, a board member of the nonprofit organization Friends of the Bridges House and president/chief executive officer of Northeast Delta Dental.In recent years, it has become clear that this beautiful house and its grounds were in need not just of recognition but also of substantial renovation and modernization to better serve the government and people of New Hampshire.For this reason, Friends of the Bridges House was formed in 2005 to initiate a capital campaign to improve the usefulness of the house while also retaining its historic character. (It is on both the National and New Hampshire Registers of Historic Places.) “The home is an extension of the governor’s office,” says First Lady Dr. Susan Lynch, who is president of the Board of Friends of the Bridges House, noting that the site and house are both of great historical significance for our state. The house contains many important artifacts, including antique clocks and a set of official White House diplomatic china.”I felt sad that the house was not getting the attention it deserved,” Lynch says. Throughout the years, many members of “first families” have helped repair and improve the property, with the state providing basic upkeep; but by the mid-2000s, the house had been relatively unchanged for forty years. Among the most pressing needs were security and climate control, more functional meeting rooms, a kitchen that could support the service of large groups of people and wheelchair access.Though the term “governor’s residence” might conjure the idea of a sumptuous dwelling for an elected official, in actuality, a number of governors’ residences across the United States do not provide a home for the first family, but rather a site for official functions. The Bridges House, with just two bedrooms on the second floor, is in this category.Once restored, the house will be used for nonprofit and community events, and as an educational and historical resource. It will also provide an executive facility where the governor can hold meetings, such as with dignitaries or business leaders who are considering New Hampshire as a place to expand or relocate their companies. “The word that describes the property is ‘potential,'” says Susan Strickler, director of the Currier Museum and a member of the committee that is organizing a show house fundraiser for the Bridges House. “The house has a great location for the state to hold events. It has a certain graciousness.”The original goal for the Friends of the Bridges House, says Raffio, who is overseeing public relations for the project, was to raise more than $2.5 million. Since then, the committee has reset its sights on $900,000. “That will get the house to where we need it to be,” says Raffio, who envisions a second phase of fundraising later to build an endowment for future repairs. Fundraisers include a designer show house at Bridges House planned for November 11-25 and a holiday show house from November 29 to December 16.Historical significanceThe property dates back to the 1600s, when it served as a ferry landing. During the 1700s, Revolutionary War veteran Joshua Thompson occupied the property, and in the 1830s, Charles Graham built the stately home. Lynch notes that it’s an early example of Greek Revival architecture and is unusual for New Hampshire at that time. “So there is lots of history here before Styles Bridges even set foot in the home,” she says.Bridges, who moved to the property in the mid-1940s, is one of the more famous New Hampshire politicians. Born in 1898 in Maine, he was a teacher, editor and Republican Party politician who served one term as New Hampshire’s governor and twenty-four years in the U.S. Senate. He was a confidante of President Eisenhower.Planned renovationsIn addition to all the history with the house, “it’s just a lovely, charming New Hampshire home,” Lynch says. The Bridges House stands on eleven acres in East Concord, not too many miles from the State House. The Capitol dome can be seen from the new dining area in the Bridges House.That home is now undergoing a transformation that will retain its historical significance while making it more useful. TMS Architects in Portsmouth and Cobb Hill Construction in Concord have assisted and made in-kind donations for architecture and building, respectively. The porch, not original to the house, is being converted to a multifunctional dining/meeting room. A space that had originally been a barn, then a garage, then a meeting room with a small attached apartment and kitchenette has become a great room. In the kitchen, space was limited and the equipment was getting on in years. “We’re talking harvest-gold appliances,” says Ken Moulton, executive director for the Friends of the Bridges House, who is supervising the building. The new kitchen has doubled in size.Making it new againOne of the most exciting fundraising projects for the Bridges House is also a renovation project. Sixteen New Hampshire designers are transforming thirteen rooms that will be showcased in mid-November.What’s special about this show house is that the designs are not only for short-term “show,” but also for long-term day-to-day use afterward. Consequently, the designers were tasked to work in the same period and create rooms to harmonize with each other. Another difference is the furnishings-which, for most show houses, are on loan from the designers or other providers, and are removed when the show is over.”Normally you keep the paint on the walls and that’s about it,” says furniture maker and committee member Douglas Dimes of D.R. Dimes American Furniture in Northwood. “What’s different about this show house is we hope most of the furnishings will become permanent.”Interior designer Cindy McLaughlin of Upstairs Downstairs in Manchester, who is coordinating the show-house project, notes that there is an artifact in almost every room that the designers have to use as the basis for their designs. “For example, in the old dining room, the designer had to use the antique dining set,” she says. McLaughlin and Dimes have designed the master bedroom together.Julia E. Dias of Julia Dias Interiors, LLC in Bedford designed the great room, now known as “The Mount Washington Room,” a space of about twenty-two-by-thirty-three feet. For inspiration, she had several sources: a seven-drawer chest and an old train station clock, both original to the home; her research on Senator Bridges and historic homes, such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon; and the majestic White Mountains region of New Hampshire. Because Senator Bridges was a proponent of New Hampshire agriculture, Dias envisioned two landscape paintings by Lisa Nelthropp that would feature farmlands as well as the White Mountains, and would be placed in the recessed niches at either side of the fireplace. Furnishings based on the period of the home include two Sheraton settees and a Federal-style gold-leaf mirror with an eagle. The room will be a formal meeting spot, and Dias says, “The feel of the room is historically elegant and American. I really want you to feel like you’re stepping back in time”Stephanie Wentworth and Marcia Cotter of Decorative Interiors in Laconia designed the approximately twenty-foot-by-twenty-foot meeting/dining room that replaces the original porch or three-season room. Inspiration came from the original reason for the porch addition; according to the designers, years earlier, Mrs. Bridges had wanted a seasonal room where she could enjoy the outside in a protected space. “We wanted to continue the theme by bringing the outside in,” Wentworth says. By keeping the palette neutral in all seasons, the designers are allowing the décor to be secondary to the wooded view outside.The kitchen is being rebuilt by Sue Booth of Vintage Kitchens in Concord, who wanted to complement the Greek Revival period of the house in terms of colors, woods and moldings. “I took cues from what I know about the house and the period,” she says. Like some of the other designers, she liked the fact that she was designing for the long term and in harmony with the rest of the house. “You’re showing off not just what you can do, but what you can do within certain parameters,” she says.Booth also liked the challenge of creating a room that serves as a bridge between the great hall and the new meeting/dining room. And she was intrigued by having to design a kitchen that could serve between twenty and one hundred people, yet also offer a space that would be intimate enough for guests or any governors who might live there in the future. “I didn’t want you to feel like you’re sitting in a commercial kitchen,” she says. The kitchen’s double ovens and refrigerator are modest but well made, so they can stand up to years of service. A microwave is in an adjacent pantry but can sit out on the shelf when needed. Above the stove are special carvings created by New Hampshire Furniture Master Jeffrey Cooper of Portsmouth.Another fundraiser related to the show house is a commemorative chair by Dimes. He had already designed a “recognition rocker” for a New Hampshire politician, with black crackle paint and tiger maple arms and crest. He adapted that design, adding the seal of New Hampshire, and is selling the handmade chairs for $1,300 apiece, $650 of which will go to the Bridges House and also serve as a tax deduction for the buyer. A sample chair will be on display at the show house in November. The chair is also for sale from the Friends of the Bridges House.Plans for serviceAlthough the newly renovated Bridges house won’t likely be an actual residence for the governor, it could certainly serve as temporary lodging for visiting dignitaries. (Future New Hampshire governors could also decide to live there.) Lynch envisions concerts and art exhibits there, in addition to the kinds of events that already take place (although usually outside), such as entertaining soldiers who have returned from active duty. New Hampshire elementary school children who visit the State House each year could add the Bridges House to their tour and learn more about the history of New Hampshire.Lynch also sees the Bridges House as an extension of the governor’s office. “The State House can be a pretty chaotic place,” she says. So when staff members have “thinking work” to do, such as long-range planning, the Bridges House could serve as a quiet getaway. Lynch also envisions more partnerships, similar to existing ones with University of New Hampshire students and local gardening clubs that help with the landscaping. For the show house project, the landscape architecture firm Pellettieri Associates, Inc. of Warner has been helping with in-kind donations.As important as the house’s role will be in a practical way, its value is also symbolic. “People visiting New Hampshire ask all the time about touring the governor’s mansion,” Lynch says. In fact, fewer than six states (the numbers vary according to the source) are without such residences. Many governors’ residences serve as actual homes, and the majority are attractive, useful assets for their states. Although the modest Bridges House will never be a “mansion,” it can be a great asset for New Hampshire, especially as more people have the opportunity to visit.”In other states,” Lynch says,” when you walk into the governor’s house, you get a feel for the state, just from the furnishings and the artwork.” She looks forward to a day in the near future when people can walk into Bridges House and through the grounds to gain a sense of the Granite State. “It’s very New Hampshire in that it’s not ostentatious,” Strickler says.Bruce Bridges of Manchester, who is the eldest grandson of Styles Bridges, says: “My grandfather loved the state of New Hampshire and its people, and very much wanted the governor to have an official residence. First Lady Susan Lynch and the Friends of the Bridges House have worked hard for several years to make these improvements possible. I know my grandfather would be extremely pleased with the improvements being made to the house, which will increase its usage according to his initial wish.”Lynch acknowledges that, in tough times, people may balk at donating money to help the “governor’s mansion,” but, in fact, the property is so much more. It’s a gift to the people of New Hampshire that, with a little help, can give a great deal back.