Gov. Chris Sununu and predecessors celebrate the ‘Bridges House’ and thank supporters
BY LEAH WILLINGHAM
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Gov. Chris Sununu has fond memories of the Bridges House from when he was a child.
When his father, John Sununu, was governor of New Hampshire in the 1980s, he and his seven siblings would spend their days playing in the loft of the old barn attached to the main house and at holiday parties, where friends would gather outside for Christmas tree lightings or the annual state Easter egg hunt.
“My parents held a lot of different events here,” Sununu remembered of the historic governor’s residence on Mountain Road in East Concord. “We’d be here once every couple of weeks for some kind of meeting or party. I personally always enjoyed it.”
Sununu never stayed overnight, though; in fact, few governors have chosen to live in the Bridges House full-time at all.
Built in 1835, the Bridges House was gifted to the State of New Hampshire in 1969 by former governor and U.S. senator, Styles Bridges, and was originally meant to be used as a residence for the state’s governors. However, the house has only two upstairs bedrooms, making it hard to accommodate a larger family. Over the years, the house fell into disrepair, and wasn’t equipped for extended use.
In recent years, however, state leaders noticed the house’s potential as a New Hampshire landmark and community gathering place and decided to put in efforts to return it to its former glory. On Saturday, Gov. Sununu and two former governors – U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and John Lynch – gathered at the house to celebrate those efforts and pay tribute to their supporters.
In 2004, former first lady Susan Lynch launched an aggressive effort to restore, preserve and update the Bridges House. She created the nonprofit “Friends of Bridges House,” to raise funds for repairs and renovations.
Lynch said she knew she wanted to do something to support the Bridges House the first time she saw it during a visit when Jeanne Shaheen was governor.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is so sad. It’s a beautiful old home and nobody’s taking care of it,’ ” Lynch remembered. “It was just falling apart.”
Lynch had a vision for the home that included building meeting space for visiting dignitaries, hosting concerts, art exhibits and special displays of the work of local furniture masters and artists.
“She’s the one that really led the effort, understood the necessity and the value of a place like this for the state,” Sununu said.
This was a challenge to do in the mid-2000s, when the economy was tanking. But Lynch worked on the project through both of her husband’s terms and the renovations were eventually competed before Hassan took office.
The old barn from Sununu’s childhood was turned into a multi-purpose room called the “Mt. Washington Room,” with a fireplace, wall exhibits and group seating. The kitchen was also renovated, along with the porch, which was turned into a sit-down dining room that can accommodate larger events.
Now, the Bridges House is not only used by the governor, but for other community purposes.
Capital Area Beekeepers Association uses it as a gathering place for meetings and educational programs. The Friends of Bridges House started an author’s series, where they host readings from New Hampshire authors like Tomie dePaola and Jodi Picoult. They have also hosted programs for fifth-and-sixth graders to build off what they learn about New Hampshire history as fourth graders.
Valerie Sununu said there is a lot to learn from the Bridges House: Past owners of the property include Revolutionary War soldier Joshua Thompson and Ebenezer Eastman, a businessman whose ferry business across the Merrimack River helped develop East Concord in the 1700s.
Bridges, who donated the home where he lived with his family, served as New Hampshire governor from 1935 to 1937 and as a U.S. senator from 1937 to 1961. He served on the Appropriations Committee, and was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb via the Manhattan Project.
MAKING IT THEIR OWN
First Lady Valerie Sununu said her family has done what they can to make the space their own. They brought in a Thomas The Tank Engine train set, picture books and a basketball hoop for their young kids. Gov. Sununu said he reached out to governors from New England states about starting aproject to plant a tree representing each state in the Bridges House yard.
Diana and Mike Eaton of Chichester, who were present at the event on Saturday, said they helped donate to the Bridges House renovation because it was a “worthy cause.
“They needed to have a place that wasn’t falling in,” Mike Eaton said. “Plus the property is beautiful – it’s a real symbol of New Hampshire.”
Valerie said the house is an important “non-partisan” space, where New Hampshire leaders can greet each other on equal ground.
“It’s nice to see how public leaders actually come together in the community and there’s not animosity, but a spirit of cooperation,” she said.
Gov. Sununu said that to him, the Bridges House is more than just a house.
“It’s a place where people can gather and learn and be a part of a bigger community,” he said. “It really embodies everything that New Hampshire is about.”