The Job Interview: There's history and nature at the Fells on Lake Sunapee
A view of Lake Sunapee from the library of The Fells, the home of John Hay and his descendants; Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Hay was Abraham Lincoln's personal secretary and Secretary of State under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt visited the Fells in August, 1902.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Visitors inspect a stone lantern in the rock gradens at The Fells, the home of John Hay and his descendants; Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Hay was Abraham Lincoln's personal secretary and Secretary of State under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. The gardens were designedHay's son, Clarence Hay, who lived there from 1906 to 1969.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Tucked away off Route 103A in Newbury lies The Fells Historic Estate & Gardens, situated on 1,000 acres on Lake Sunapee.
The property served as a summer home for the family of John Milton Hay, who was secretary of state for two U.S. presidents in the late 1800s. Today much of the land is conserved and owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Fells, an independent nonprofit organization, owns the 83 acres that encompass the house and gardens. The group is run by member support and offers an array of services to visitors, including house and garden tours, art exhibits and educational programs.
At the end of May, Darlene Marshall of Stoddard was chosen as the next education director at The Fells.
Marshall, whose resume includes years of working at museums in Massachusetts, toured the grounds with the Monitor last week and discussed the opportunities she envisions for education at the estate.
Why did you want to come work at The Fells?
I live in New Hampshire and have worked for Massachusetts organizations for the past 10 years. I’ve always been looking for an opportunity to bring the skill set I have developed working for museums in Massachusetts back to New Hampshire.
Plus, John Milton Hay and the Hays are fascinating people. John Milton Hay knew so many people so integral to the 19th century. Like Mark Twain, Henry James, the writer . . . Queen Victoria requested to sit next to him at dinner. I think that through John Milton Hay you can explore so many aspects of late 19th-century America. The same is true of his family, and there are so many opportunities in that.
What are the different aspects of The Fells that its educational programming focuses on?
There are three strands of educational initiatives – history, gardens and ecology.
Not only can we focus on history and the Hays, but we bring in visitors interested in gardens and ecology and the forest. We can go in so many directions with the public and educational programming.
We have a lot of programs here. That’s what’s exciting at The Fells: There’s always something going on. We try to design programming for all audiences.
We’re really interested in education, but also the visitor experience. We hope there are opportunities for them to learn, but for them to also have the lovely experience of just walking around the grounds.
What exactly is the difference between gardens and ecology?
Any land on the property that bears the touch of a human being, these fall into gardens. For example, anything that’s been landscaped.
But then the original property, the original estate, had over 1,000 acres. And much of that is the ecology. So that is our forest trails, programs that explore nature. Not nature that has been touched by humans, but what humans have left alone. It includes habitats, animals, plants, wildlife.
The trails we have cross all of these 1,000 acres, so when visitors come here, they can walk along many acres of untouched nature.
Do you hold any programs in the house or are they all outdoors on the grounds?
We do have receptions in the house . . . and we have house tours every week, too.
There are a variety of exhibits in the house. We have one coming up called “Animals of the Fells.” My understanding is the sky’s the limit for what kinds of programs we can have in the house.
How often do you hold educational programming?
Currently, we have several programs a week. I think during the summer weather we have several a week.
In the winter, we do continue to have programs; we have a little less, but we do continue to have them. For example, we had snowshoeing last winter. I’d say there are one to two programs a week then.
What are some of your upcoming programs?
This weekend we have Artists Weekend. We’ll have about 14 landscape artists who will choose a spot here on the grounds where they’ll paint on Saturday. And there will be more things Sunday, like a children’s art table, a reception. Later this month, Tracy Kane will be reading from her book Fairy Houses, which will take place in The Fells Fairy Village.
What is a fairy village?
It’s a place where every weekend kids come and use natural objects to create their own fairy houses.
It’s so popular that we have volunteers who disassemble it each week – that’s how many kids come build fairy houses every weekend. It’s an inventive use for a natural landscape.
What are some of your ideas for future programming?
One idea is to develop a series of programs on the veranda that can be repeated whenever we’re open.
For example, John Milton Hay worked on the Open Door Policy, a trade agreement with China. . . . It’s a real opportunity to think and learn about the Open Door Policy. I have a volunteer working on an interactive program to think about and explore that, so when he’s volunteering here he can do that. So plans for permanent programs on the veranda, and a million ideas for temporary programs. I work with a great team of people that can do something for everyone.
Is there a large staff at The Fells you’ll be working with?
Most of the efforts are volunteer efforts.
We rely on member support to keep the house in the state it’s in. It’s a great story of how a group of volunteers wanted to save the land and the house. The Fells has about 1,000 members.
Then there’s a group of about 300 volunteers. They present house tours, work at public programs. . . . They really bring some interesting talks and great skills for many people.
(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or