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A New England Christmas: A History of Stonehurst Manor

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There’s Christmas — and then there’s Christmas in the New England mountains, tucked away in a cozy, beautiful, 140-year-old manor.

New Hampshire’s Stonehurst Manor, nestled among tall pines amid a White Mountain backdrop, offers eye-catching views and rustic Victorian elegance. Situated near the famed “Castle in the Clouds” mansion, Stonehurst is unusual among NH hotels. But the most intriguing thing about Stonehurst isn’t an amenity or natural feature — it’s the manor’s history.

In the 1870s, Erastus Bigelow was a successful and accomplished man. So successful, in fact, he had become one of the country’s great carpet barons. Bigelow wanted a summer estate. He found the ideal land near the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Bigelow, an industrious young man, had worked several jobs with an eye toward eventually gaining entrance into Harvard. But lacking familial financial support, he instead went into the dry goods business. Despite his frustrated academic ambitions, Bigelow would go on to become an economist and inventor. One of his inventions, a coach lace power loom, would prove key to his future. Bigelow and his brother eventually went into business selling looms. This first foray into business would ultimately lead to a vast carpeting empire, with factories spread across New England.

After a lifetime spent running his business interests, inventing new products, writing books about the economy and running unsuccessfully for Congress, Bigelow was ready to build the estate of his dreams. Buying a farm in 1870, he began purchasing neighboring tracts until he owned a few hundred acres. Construction on the family house began a year later — it was to sit on a ridge overlooking the beautiful Saco River. The house was designed by a well-known New England architectural firm and featured many unusual design elements. Unfortunately, disaster struck a few years later, as a fire destroyed the family house. Undeterred, the Bigelow family rebuilt their home, using the original building plans to create a near replica of their beautiful, lost home.

Erastus Bigelow died a few years after construction was complete. But his daughter, the artist and writer Helen Merriman, continued his dream. She oversaw expansion of the estate, turning it from a large, rustic refuge into something more like a fashionable English Manor. Today the main house has 23 rooms and is full of English oak woodwork. The estate still possesses original working model farm buildings.

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Helen Merriman would go on to host captains of industry and even the British ambassador James Boyce at Stonehurst. At Boyce’s behest, Stonehurst even served as the temporary British embassy for one summer, and was a whirl of diplomatic activity.

These days, Stonehurst Manor offers guests striking views, natural beauty and comfort. It also allows guests to peek back into time, and to appreciate Erastus Bigelow’s vision for a peaceful summer retreat.

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