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The Park-McCullough House Is A Touch of Downton Abbey in Vermont

By Pamela Sosnowski

England may have Highclere Castle, otherwise known as the setting for the popular British series Downton Abbey. But in New England, the quaint Vermont town of North Bennington has its own historic mansion, the Park-McCullough House. The 35 room Victorian country home sits on 200 acres of lush grounds and is open for tours, cultural events, and private parties from May through October.

Vermont native Trenor W. Park, an attorney and entrepreneur, commissioned a New York architectural firm to build the house in 1864. The structure is an example of Second Empire architecture, named for building elements popular in France at the time. Park's eldest daughter Eliza Hall "Lizzie" Park married John G. McCullough, inherited the home, and together the couple made enhancements in the late 1880s. Up until 1965, McCullough's descendants lived in the house until it was donated to the Park-McCullough House Association, which still manages the property today.

"Because of community interest in the mansion, the family opened the house to visitors on weekends shortly after the last member of the family who had been living there died," Mary Feidner, the association's vice president, said. "When the Park-McCullough House Association was formed a few years later money was raised to maintain a small staff, to increase the number of days the house was open and to provide programs and exhibits to the general public."

Photo by Christina Florada

Although the grounds are open every day, the house is only accessible for guided tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Besides viewing the preserved Victorian furnishings, decor, and architectural details, guests learn how ahead of its time the house was; it was equipped with indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, and gas lighting.

"Visitors will learn about the family, how the money was made to build the house, about the furnishings of the house, about the visit of President Benjamin Harrison in 1891, and much more," Feidner said. "School groups, bus tour groups, and walk-in visitors find the tour to be an enriching experience of that historical period."

The surrounding land features a doghouse that was later used as a children's playhouse, a carriage barn, several gardens, and a walking trail called the Mile-Around. The property's historic prominence and Vermont scenery have made it a very popular location for weddings and other private celebrations.

Photo by Carolyn Beaudreau

"Park-McCullough is a dream venue," Dahlia Wood, the events coordinator, said. "From getting dressed in the mansion to a ceremony in the formal gardens, cocktails on the gracious veranda with tours of the house and finishing with your customized reception in the historic carriage house, Park-McCullough offers a unique and memorable experience for you and your guests."

The grounds serve as a setting for special events throughout the season to engage the local community. These include live concerts, theater, road races, and croquet, where teams compete every Thursday evening just like the house's family did during its heyday. Croquet tournaments were resurrected at the house in the 1980's by a local group of croquet enthusiasts and follow the six-wicket rules of the United States Croquet Association.

With so much to see on the premises and a fascinating history behind it, the Park-McCullough House truly offers a chance to step back in time.

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