By SUSAN LYNCH
It was early in 2005, not long after John had won his very first election and was about to be sworn in as governor of New Hampshire. The kids and John and I had our first opportunity to visit and briefly tour Bridges House.
To say it was in disrepair was an understatement, especially considering this home was gifted to the state of New Hampshire in 1969 by the family of former governor and senator Styles Bridges to be protected and cared for as a place for special events and gatherings by the first family. So here we are, walking through a home that had an odor of mildew and everything seemed dirty. We had all three of our children with us walking through Bridges House for the first time. I remember John turning to our son and two daughters, telling them they would be able to have a sleepover here soon. I was slightly horrified by the thought and recall saying, “It is a health hazard right now.” I flashed my husband a look and the conversation went no further. However, it served as an inspiration to make some serious and immediate changes.
Not long after, I worked with some terrific people in the private sector and connected to state government and helped create Friends of Bridges House, a nonprofit board of directors tasked with renovating Bridges House and restoring it to its former glory. I specifically recall hearing stories of the contributions of other former first ladies, so I wanted to honor the efforts of my predecessors while taking steps to repair and renovate the property. For example, first lady Nancy Sununu gardened and would add plants on the property; she has a green thumb. Mrs. Sununu also did stenciling and painting in the home during her husband’s terms in office. First lady Kathy Gregg launched a nonprofit, but the recession of the 1980s limited her ability to tackle any big tasks. First lady Gale Thomson and her husband, Gov. Mel Thomson, were the first and only fulltime residents of the home. They renovated the kitchen in the late 1960s with harvest gold appliances and dark wooden cabinets.
Following years of neglect, the great room had become an outdated, moldy, largely uninhabitable room. We removed the old stone fireplace and giant moose head and created a beautiful new room, which we now use for special events. Known as the North Country Room, as a way to honor the major donors to the renovation, the room features two dramatic landscape mural paintings by local artist Lisa Nelthropp – one of Mount Chocorua and Mount Washington.
Our redesigned kitchen was created by local designer Sue Booth. When planning the renovation, consideration was given to make it function both for a first family as well as for the capacity to cater special events. Today, it features specially carved wood panels created by furniture master Jeffrey Cooper, which include scenes of Mount Washington, Saint Gaudens, Canterbury Shaker Village, Manchester’s textile mills, the Portsmouth seacoast and the Old Man of the Mountain. Other features include various historic china on display in the dining room, some of the original furniture on display in the family’s living room, a collection of children’s books by New Hampshire authors on display in the upstairs nursery, and one or two ghost stories that are focused largely on the master bedroom. The Bridges House library features a collection of New Hampshire authors and was recently updated and reorganized with help from the State Library. We now host N.H. author events twice a year.
By VALERIE SUNUNU
As first lady, our state’s children are my primary focus. It is a privilege to oversee the management of Bridges House. I view this as a unique space for diverse thoughts, where politics is left at the door, and people can come and connect for a greater good. We are, in essence, building bridges and erasing the silos that can keep us apart. During my time here, I have hosted teachers, community leaders, professors, deans, superintendents, researchers, philanthropists, state legislators, moms, kids, students and a governor twice a year since 2017 to talk about Littles, as I affectionately call 0- to 8-year-olds. Littles!!
They are the future. They are our reason for being. To me, they are everything. Bridges House gives us a special and unique backdrop for our ongoing work on behalf of Littles and their well-being. I’m a school teacher, so to me, everything around us can provide a lesson of some sort. Through Bridges House, I have learned about the result of dedication and devotion to preserving our history. I am so appreciative of the efforts of Susan Lynch and so many others to restore this beautiful home to its former glory. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the donation of this gorgeous property to the state of New Hampshire, it is important to rededicate ourselves to its upkeep and original mission as envisioned by the family of Styles Bridges.
The concept behind the generous donation was to ensure this property continues to be meaningfully used in some capacity. That is my goal as well.
For example, working with the awesome volunteer group Granite State Ambassadors, we are opening the doors of Bridges House to school groups and young visitors. I wanted this home to be an inspiration for young minds, so I developed a day-long lesson plan for visiting students, focused on learning the home’s history, but also to discuss our democracy and the importance of respect, good listening and learning how to discuss tough issues.
Soon, we are installing a free lending library at the entrance to the Bridges House property. This is a small way of saying thank you to our East Concord neighbors who always keep a watchful eye on the home. And look, I’m a teacher. If I can help inspire anyone to read, that’s a win!
Friends of Bridges House is also working toward making the property “greener” through the recent addition of four beehives that are managed by volunteers from the Concord Area Beekeepers Association, and we treat nearby fields with pollinator-friendly materials that work well for the environment. We hope to reduce the long-term carbon footprint of Bridges House and use some of these small projects as a learning tool for all who visit the property.
There’s much more to come. The next 50 years will include new steps to preserve this incredible property. Our collective legacy is ensuring this elegant brick home remains for future generations to enjoy, to visit and to use as a way to celebrate New Hampshire. u