Even with the first name of Salmon, he succeeded.Here’s a quick history quiz for New Hampshire-philes:
Which U.S. Supreme Court Justice wrote the lone dissent in Bradwell v. Illinois in 1873, asserting the constitutional right of women to practice law? (The seven-member Supreme Court majority disagreed, famously opining: “ ... the paramount destiny and mission of woman is to is to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.”)
Whose portrait appears on the (admittedly seldom seen) $10,000 bill?
Who was known as the “Attorney General for Fugitive Slaves” because of his principled pro bono advocacy against slavery in the 1830s?
Answer to all of the above: Salmon Portland Chase, New Hampshire’s only Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the 33rd Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in President Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War Cabinet.
If you hurry before January 12, 2009, you can celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chase’s birth in the stately and elegant Cornish home nestled in the lovely Connecticut River Valley — now Chase House Bed & Breakfast — where Chase was born on January 13, 1808.
The Chase family was one of Cornish’s first: Chase’s great-grandfather Samuel purchased large tracts of virgin wilderness in the 1760s and laid out a town he called Cornish, a name derived from the English county of Cornwall, ancestral home of the Chases. (Depending on which historian you consult, the name also derives from Samuel Cornish, a distinguished admiral of the Royal Navy.)
Chase’s father, Ithamar, married into wealth and built his substantial family homestead, where Salmon and some of his eight sisters and brothers were born in the 1790s. It’s the only surviving childhood home of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the nation.
Ithamar’s prosperity is evident in the architectural details of Chase House, with its formal entranceway, high ceilings and commodious rooms. Originally four rooms, he built an addition as more children arrived. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Chase House B & B welcomes guests year-round, providing creature comforts in nine warm and sunny guest rooms furnished with period antiques and reproductions, most with private baths, all stylishly appointed, with a dollop of New Hampshire history — biographies of Chase provide bedside reading.
“The room where Salmon was born” — according to local oral tradition — serves as the inn’s dining room, spilling out through French doors to a lawn with perennial gardens. A hearty country breakfast is served at 8:30 a.m. by proprietors Paul and Terry Toms, who took over the B & B in 2002. Since then, the inn has welcomed 22 wedding parties. The central gathering space is the reconstructed upper floor and attic of a vintage Vermont farmhouse. With its high exposed 1810 posts and beams, it’s large enough and has the atmosphere for an old-fashioned hoe-down, with a seating capacity of 75.
The 160-acre property on Route 12A is its own nature and hiking preserve. You could spend an entire activity-filled weekend at Chase House without leaving the property, except for lunch and dinner. (More about dining later.)
Depending on the season, hiking, snow-shoeing and cross-country trails take you to a hilltop overlook where the scenery is more than pleasing. It’s a 40-minute jaunt to the top by foot. A pond the size of an acre is cleared of snow for skating when conditions permit. The Toms own 14 acres of Connecticut River frontage, perfect for picnics. On the walk to the river, look for the specimen poplar tree more than 20 feet in circumference which is at least 200 years old.
Of course, wanderlust may seize your fancy. If so, venture north on Route 12A, past the tableau of fields and well-preserved early American farmhouses and Trinity Church, also celebrating its bicentennial in 2008. You’ll soon arrive at the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, where you are reminded by a sign to walk your horses or pay a $2 fine. It’s one of four covered bridges in Cornish — all are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and it’s the longest double-span covered bridge in the world. Cross the bridge and enter and explore historic Windsor, Vt., as Chase doubtless did, mindful that at Old Constitution House, then a tavern, Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery in 1777.
Or cross back into New Hampshire and head north to visit nearby Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and learn about the fabled “Cornish Colony” of 1885-1935, the “American renaissance” when artists, writers and architects occupied the pretty landscape and creativity flourished.
Adventures within a short drive of Chase House abound: Paragliding (Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown, 603-542-4416, www.flymorningside.com), horseback riding (Rivers Edge Stables in Plainfield, 603-298-9053, www.riversedgestables.com), canoe paddling (North Star Canoe Rentals in Cornish, 603-542-5802, www.kayak-canoe.com) and of course hiking or even mountain-biking Mt. Ascutney, vertical rise 2260 feet, 3.7 miles to the summit (802-674-2060, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/ascutney.cfm).
Chase House is minutes from dozens of ski areas in New Hampshire and Vermont. Visit www.skinh.com or www.skivermont.com for ideas.
There’s nightlife in nearby Lebanon (Lebanon Opera House, 603-448-0400, www.lebanonoperahouse.org) and Hanover (Hopkins Center, 603-646-2422, www.hop.dartmouth.edu). Although Cornish has little to offer in the way of eateries, not far away are restaurants of every description, from the trendy Canoe Club in Hanover (603-643-9660, www.canoeclub.us) to Chinese buffets in Lebanon. Minutes away and recommended is the Windsor Station Pub. It occupies the grandly ornate train station which was rebuilt in 1901 after a fire with separate waiting rooms for men and women and offers a varied and tasty menu. Visit www.windsorstation.com.
Great museums are in every direction: the pre-Revolutionary Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown (603-826-5700, www.fortat4.org), Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth in Hanover (603-646-2808, http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/), Montshire Museum in Norwich, Vermont (802-649-2200, www.montshire.org) and Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont (802-457-2355, www.billingsfarm.org). On Main Street in Windsor you can visit Old Constitution House (www.historicvermont.org), Cornish Colony Museum (cornishcolonymuseum.org) and the American Precision Museum devoted to the history of machinery. Visit www.americanprecision.org.
Or if your idea of a weekend getaway is to drive to a destination point to spend quiet moments cozying up with a good book, you could do worse than go to Chase House in Cornish and immerse yourself in a well-stocked collection of books about the accomplished and upright Salmon Portland Chase, the New Hampshire native whose visions were large and ahead of his times. NHMore informationVisit www.chasehouse.com or call (603) 675-5391.
A great post on Salmon Chase can be found on the Cow Hampshire blog: http://tinyurl.com/4juq9d
This article appears in the November 2008 issue of New Hampshire Magazine