Upcoming Rocks Estate tour offers insight into life at Downton Abbey

Union Leader Correspondent
June 02. 2014 8:43PM

BETHLEHEM — Later this month, a small number of guests will get a first-hand look at how, despite the thousands of miles in between them, The Rocks Estate here and the fictional Downton Abbey based in England shared a number of similarities, first and foremost, the challenge of keeping a large property functioning and in the family.

Spaces for the inaugural “Heritage, Flowers and Birds” at The Rocks are still available, said Nigel Manley, the facility’s long-time director, but are limited to just 25.

Billed as an “educational adventure,” the tour will be held June 14, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will offer a behind-the-scenes look at The Rocks – which is the handiwork of International Harvester founder John Jacob Glessner, who, to get away from the congestion of his native Chicago, built a 1,400 acre estate and two mansions, now gone, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century.

The Glessner family estate also had formal gardens, and the Mile Path where a lady from the city could come dressed in her best white hoopskirt and get what Manley called the “rural experience” without getting dirty.

Fearing dissolution of the property and its being developed, Glessner’s grandchildren deeded The Rocks to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and it is now a Christmas tree farm and the Forest Society’s North Country Conservation & Education Center.

For many of Manley’s 28 years at The Rocks, visitors have asked for an in-depth look at some of its history and on Monday, Manley said he had been thinking of the best way to sum up what The Rocks is when, during a maple-sugar tour on the property last year, someone – who was a fan of the Downton Abbey series on PBS – did it for him.

Thus was born “Heritage, Flowers and Birds,” the first part of which Manley will present while Rocks Estate volunteers Tanya Tellman and Mary Boulanger will discuss, respectively, the flora and bird life that can be found there.

Manley said life at The Rocks was a lot like that at Downton Abbey, including colorful daughters at each place.

Although Glessner was “self made” and Lord Grantham inherited his money, both of the patriarchs were primarily concerned with maintaining what they had and passing it down for future generations.

Both men, said Manley, had to concentrate on generating income to keep their estates running and Glessner and his immediate successors, buoyed by the International Harvester fortune, kept The Rocks humming along even though it was not a sustainable operation.

At its height, The Rocks employed about 100 people, Manley said, a number that included local farmers who supplied what John Glessner didn’t grow on his own, and some of which was shipped to be consumed in Chicago.

Manley summed up that Downton Abbey is a great way to get people thinking about The Rocks, adding that it’s already a common occurrence on some of the private tours he’s conducted since the show began airing.

“What I’ve tried to do for a few years is get the image of what it (The Rocks) was really like to people on the tours and it’s so different that people weren’t getting to grips with what it was, so when we started talking about Downton Abbey on the tours, 90 percent of the people on the tours could see the comparison” because they watched Downton Abbey.

Tickets for the Heritage, Flowers and Birds tour are $10 per person, and participants should bring a brown bag lunch. For more information and to make reservations, send an e-mail to info@therocks.org or call 444-6228.



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