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Fri December 7, 2012
Historic Bridges House Gets A Makeover
The newly renovated Bridges House, New Hampshire’s official but unused governor’s residence is now opened for tours.
Dozens of families and middle school carolers gathered beside the Bridges House in East Concord to watch a giant pine tree illuminate the December sky.
“… four, three, two, one… [cheers]!”
The tree lighting was a celebration of the holiday season but also of the Bridges House, a brick, Greek Revival built in 1835 and donated to state in 1969. It’s known as the governor’s mansion but it was only actually used by one governor, Mel Thomson. It then began to fall into disrepair.
Soon after her husband took office, first lady Dr. Susan Lynch decided to try to raise money to renovate the mansion.
“I thought it was really sad that not only were we not taking care of these beautiful things that a family had donated but nobody was getting to see them and hear about the stories and learn about it. So that was one of the inspirations for me to keep moving forward with this.”
After a slow start, the Friends of Bridges House raised more than $600,000 for the project.
Once inside, you can see the improvements. In the Great Room, for instance, there’s an ornate dining table with elaborately carved chairs. A high chest stands against one wall, on another hangs a large, antique clock. Lynch says the clock is what this room was designed around.
“And the clock is probably one of the most valuable pieces in the home itself. It was originally in the Concord Railway Station that was torn down I believe in the ‘60s.”
According to Lynch, this room got the most attention during the renovation. It was once a barn, then a garage. And then, Lynch says, when the Thompson administration moved in, it was converted to a meeting room.
“And I would say it looked a little bit like a 1970s ski lodge. It had shag carpet, it had dark beams, it had an old stone fireplace. And what we basically did is we gutted that structure.”
The original idea had been more grand. The plan was to expand the house so that a first family could live there and host state guests overnight. The recession prompted the Friends of Bridges House committee to scale back.
In some ways, the Bridges House is a little like the man it’s named after. Styles Bridges was a proud and tenacious man.
“I certainly have no intention of giving up my public career as of yet.”
That was Bridges in 1961. He died in office later that same year. He’d served New Hampshire for nearly three decades. First as governor and then as a U.S. senator.
Born in Maine, Bridges was a farmer by trade, whose education stopped after a two-year agricultural program at Orono. Historian James Kiepper says Bridges’ rise, which coincided with a rise of progressives within the GOP, was remarkable.
“One of the poorest governors the state of New Hampshire ever had, to become one of the Granite State’s most prominent political figures.”
Bridges was also powerful in Washington. He was one of just four senators privy to the super-secret Manhattan project. Something he reflected on in an interview in 1961.
“I’ve often wondered, if the atomic bomb had not been a success, had it been found afterwards that we spent $2.5 billion, whether we wouldn’t have been indicted rather than praised as we were when it was a success.”
Bridges’ career was not without scandal. He was accused of blackmailing a Democratic fellow senator from Wyoming, in an effort to drive him from running for reelection. Bridges allegedly threatened to publicize that the senator’s son was gay. The Wyoming senator killed himself in his office.
And later in his career, as money became tight, historian James Kiepper says Bridges may have gotten a bit too close to some special interest groups.
“I believe the depression hit Styles Bridges very, very hard. And although he’s accused, and in some cases appropriately so, of taking money, I think that he wanted the money so that if anything happened again, he would have some protection.”
Kiepper says Bridges squirreled away money in as many as 40 different bank accounts across New England. Kiepper chalks that up to Yankee frugality. And Kiepper says, in fairness the Bridges House, even in its improved form, is something only a frugal Yankee would describe as a mansion.
“I think maybe ‘governor’s house’ is probably more appropriate.”
Either way, the house can be seen as emblematic of a man who did a lot after starting out with very little. And a man who, in the end, left a valuable gift to his native state.
The Bridges House is open to tours until the sixteenth. Go to FriendsOfBridgesHouse.org for more info.
Show House Tour Schedule
Tickets can be used at any time the house is open except during scheduled events.
- Thursday - Sunday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Ticket includes tour and program
- Tickets: $15.00 online
$20.00 at the Door