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April 11. 2014 10:08PM

Ex-governors gather to boost Bridges House


Former Gov. John Lynch stops a group shot to add someone during a gathering of former NH governors to benefit the Bridges House in Concord on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Members of New Hampshire's first families past and present gathered Friday at a fundraiser for Bridges House, the executive residence left to the state by former Governor and U.S. Sen. Styles Bridges.

An extensive renovation of the historic home northeast of downtown was completed late in 2012, but work on the interior continues.

Friends of the Bridges House hosted the event, which was an intimate cocktail reception accompanied by the sounds of a string quartet playing in a corner of the home built in 1835.

The guest list included Gov. Maggie Hassan, several of her predecessors and family members of others who have held the state's highest elected office.

"It's a wonderful combination of a great historic tradition and a wonderful modern uplifting," former Gov. John Sununu said. "It's a great treasure and they've done a wonderful job."

Dr. Susan Lynch, who helped lead the renovation project, said she had always thought it would be a great event to gather New Hampshire's surviving governors and their families, which was more of a challenge than she expected. When she finally found a date convenient for the many parties involved.

Hassan was equally glad for the gathering.

"It's a really great evening. I think what tonight celebrates is how connected the office of governor is to the people of New Hampshire," Hassan said. "When people come here, they get a real sense of what our state is like and how accessible our government is. And that's really important to each and every one of the governors here."

John Lynch, Sununu and Steve Merrill were among the former governors who attended the fundraiser, which was not cheap. Susan Lynch said tickets were $500 and fire code limited the attendance to about 75 people.

The money raised goes to the non-profit Friends of Bridges House, founded in 2005 to restore the property given to the state in 1969 by the Bridges family.

In the 25 years that followed, the home began showing its age and was in need of modern amenities such as climate control, an upgraded kitchen space and some expansion.

"I just thought this house was just crying out. It was a beautiful, old home," Susan Lynch said. "I just thought it was so sad it wasn't being cared for and wasn't being used. Nobody was getting to see it and learn about its history."

The home was bequeathed to the people of New Hampshire by Bridges, who served as governor from 1935-37 and spent 25 years representing the Granite State in the U.S. Senate.

Mementos from Bridges' lengthy political career are still featured in the home, including a painted portrait at the entrance and photos of Bridges with some of the most important leaders of the 20th Century. One photo features Bridges in a convertible with U.S. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

While most other states have ornate mansions built specifically as the governor's residence or donated to serve the purpose, Bridges House is something more fitting to New Hampshire, Lynch said. Too small to be a mansion, the 18th century home is still quite grand and is an asset for the state to host events like dinners or staff meetings away from the State House.

"It's certainly not a mansion and even if we could afford to build a mansion, I don't think anybody in New Hampshire would," Lynch said.

"It's just not in character."For New Hampshire's Colonial heritage, it seemed much more fitting to take a property that dated to the 1600s and refurbish it, encompassing some of the state's history within the two-bedroom house east of the Merrimack River.

"This really reflects what New Hampshire is all about," said Tom Hassan, the governor's husband and chairman of Friends of Bridges House board. "It's a place to put your head that is elegant but not ostentatious."

dalden@unionleader.com


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