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Cornish, New Hampshire | Home of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

The little town of Cornish, New Hampshire, is a quiet place—no bustling shopping malls, no varied dining options. Yet folks here have themselves a pleasant setting along the Connecticut River, and some impressive covered bridges. Here’s the largest …

The Cornish-Windsor Bridge kept the vintage sign, alerting folks of the $2 fine should they ride, not walk their horses across.

The Cornish-Windsor Bridge kept the vintage sign, alerting folks of the $2 fine should they ride, not walk their horses across. Built for $9,000 in 1866, it cost more than $4 million to repair in 1988. Until the 2008 opening of Ohio’s Smolen-Gulf Bridge, it was the longest covered bridge in the country.

(As an aside, if you wonder who repairs such structures, read about the Graton family in Ian Aldrich’s story, “The Man Who Saves Covered Bridges” from Yankee’s Sept/Oct 2013 issue.)

And, the town hosts an old-fashioned fair each August …

Soon it will be fair time in Cornish.

Soon it will be fair time in Cornish.

But, Cornish is also the home of one of the most appealing National Historic Sites, Saint-Gaudens. Visit the estate and its gardens once, and you’re sure to be charmed by its serene setting, the former home of one of the country’s most celebrated sculptors.

The former residence of the famed sculptor is known as "Aspet."

The former residence of the famed sculptor is known as “Aspet.”

Ever heard of Augustus Saint-Gaudens? Gus (I feel I can call him that, now that I’ve been to his house) was born in Ireland in 1848, but his family emigrated during the potato famine years, in search of a better life in New York. An artistically inclined teen, Gus apprenticed with a cameo cutter—the folks who made those delicate silhouettes for jewelry. He was only 19 when he headed to Paris and Rome seeking more refined training in the trade. As befitting such a romantic destination, he soon fell in love—with an American, ironically named Augusta (that’s right, Gus and Gussie)—but he needed his first big break in the sculpting world before he would be deemed capable of supporting a wife. Fortunately, that came swiftly, with his assignment to sculpt Admiral David Farragut—a work installed in New York’s Madison Square Park in 1881.

The base of the Adm. Farragut Memorial is carved of soft bluestone, the built-in bench invites visitors to linger.

The base of the Adm. Farragut Memorial is carved of soft bluestone; the built-in bench invites visitors to linger.

Gus didn’t go for stiffly posed sculptures; his forms were alive and dynamic. Among his most famous works are Boston’s Shaw Memorial, which took 14 years to complete; the Sherman Monument, a fixture in New York’s Central Park; and the Standing Lincoln, a tribute to the 16th president, installed in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

When visiting the property, you can take a guided tour through the home itself, Aspet, named after the region in France where Gus’s dad was born, and also around the grounds. But it’s easy enough to just take the property map in hand and make your own way around the many sites at the estate. It’s clear why this place would grow from a summer home into the Saint-Gaudenses’ year-round residence. Who could resist the lure of such a beautiful, tranquil place?

The gardens inspire artists to paint and sketch.

The gardens inspire artists to paint and sketch.

Photo taken from a bench facing the garden fountain at Saint-Gaudens.

Photo taken from a bench facing the garden fountain at Saint-Gaudens.

Delightful details on the edge of the gardens.

Delightful details on the edge of the gardens.

 

A gorgeous birch-lined pathway on the Saint-Gaudens estate brings you back to the Visitor Center.

A gorgeous birch-lined pathway on the Saint-Gaudens estate brings you back to the Visitor Center.

Part of the charm of Saint-Gaudens is discovering the many sculptures mixed into the landscape. Find a little opening in the hedges, like so …

A secret passage way?  Not so secret...venture on through.

A secret passage way? Not so secret…venture on through.

 

… and there’s sure to be something worth seeing in the enclosure …

The fantastic Shaw Memorial depicts Robert Gould Shaw and the first unit of African-American volunteers raised in the North during the Civil War.

The fantastic Shaw Memorial depicts Robert Gould Shaw and the first unit of African-American volunteers raised in the North during the Civil War.

There are also a number of imposing sculptures on display within the Little Studio and the New Gallery—reduced in size though these works may be from the originals.

The Little Studio was erected in 1904. Its impressive Doric columns and pergola are currently covered in thriving grapevines. Stake out a bench under the arbor and you’ve got a lovely lunch spot with views to Mount Ascutney …

The Little Studio.

The Little Studio.

 

View to Mount Ascutney from the Little Studio.

View to Mount Ascutney from the Little Studio.

It’s interesting that Gus returned to miniature works near the end of his career. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt requested that he design three coins for the U.S. mint; he was the first sculptor to receive a commission to design American coins. Two of the three coins were issued in gold after the sculptor’s death in 1907 and minted until 1933.

Over time, other widely known artists would follow Gus to the Cornish area. Painters Maxfield Parrish and Thomas Dewing, the American novelist Winston Churchill, and several other writers, sculptors, and dramatists of the day formed what came to be known as the Cornish Colony.

With the passing of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Cornish Colony dwindled. Eventually, this Temple was placed on the grounds of the Saint-Gaudens site, and serves as the final resting place for Augustus and several members of his family …

The Temple is the resting place for Augustus, his son, wife, and other family members.

The Temple is the resting place for Augustus, his son, wife, and other family members.

The grounds also offer a few wooded walking trails in addition to the various buildings and artworks.

The bridge along the Ravine Trail.

The bridge along the Ravine Trail.

You needn’t be an art aficionado to appreciate the Saint-Gaudens site, or the many vignettes discovered around the grounds. If you marvel at the kind of obsession required of work that’s so exacting and tedious in process, and if you enjoy an interesting life story, so much the better. But this place really requires only an appreciation for natural beauty. If you have that, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site will speak to you, too.

How about one last parting garden shot?

The garden outside Aspet, Saint Gaudens[1]

 

 

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Debbie Despres

Author:

Debbie Despres

Biography:

Debbie Despres is an associate editor for the magazine. Deb is the primary fact checker for Yankee Magazine and also contributes content to each issue. A member of YPI’s corporate staff since 2000, Deb joined Yankee’s editorial team in 2011. A native of New Hampshire, with a work history that includes several years in the travel industry, she enjoys discovering new destinations, and the myriad of road trip opportunities unique to New England.
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One Response to Cornish, New Hampshire | Home of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

  1. Jean July 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    Haven’t been to White Mountains as planned every year until Fall. These are such beautiful sites,
    Enough to make me homesick. Love to hear the accents also.

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