For most, nothing symbolizes the celebration of this time of year with as much wonder and beauty as a Christmas tree. But in New England, it is emblematic of so much more: our evergreens have grown and soared for generations, and the traditions surrounding them represent the timelessness this season brings. These trees are of the same essence as the crackling cold air on a night of starry skies; of spiced hot cider and the glowing warmth of woodsmoke; of snow-topped hills turning blue in the light of winter sunsets. They speak of the magic made by children every year, waiting for Santa and playing in pageants. They bring that special joy which makes us all a bit happier, and a bit kinder, and a bit better – the special joy that makes the world a more hopeful place, even if just for a week or two. This is an annual respite for New England, and no place shows it quite as beautifully as The Rocks Estate.
Open throughout the year from dawn until dusk, The Rocks is truly a marvel tucked away in the New Hampshire countryside. Comprised of several historical buildings, sweeping farmland, and decadent gardens, the Estate is dedicated to nature conservation and community. Donated by the Glessner family to the Forest Society in 1978, the only caveat was that a crop must be grown in the fields every year – and since that time, Christmas trees have always been the choice.
The Glessners began journeying from Chicago to visit the beauty of New Hampshire each summer beginning in the 1870s, but were enchanted by a 100-acre farm nestled in Bethlehem in 1882. On purchasing the land, they began building their new summer home, and started collecting more nearby acreage until the little farm grew into the gorgeous 1,400 acre Estate. As their summer visits continued, more structures were added throughout the property – many of which still stand today as listed entities on the National Register of Historic Places.
While these structures are excellent educational tools and stunning architectural examples – particularly for those classic Victorian New England summer homes that inspired the world – the land itself hosts the true treasure of the The Rocks. In its era, no large home would be complete without at least a formal garden for daily strolls, and ideally a secondary garden to grow fresh produce and herbs for the chef’s kitchen. In the United States of the nineteenth century, there was nothing quite so glamorous as having an Olmsted garden – something that remains a celebrated feat to this day. A master of his craft, Frederick Law Olmsted revolutionized how outdoor spaces were created, designing some of the greatest natural masterpieces of contemporary times: Boston’s Emerald Necklace surrounding Jamaica Pond, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Chicago World’s Fair, and New York City’s Central Park. The Glessners ensured their estate would have a lush formal garden designed by the Olmsted firm, and their grandchildren’s generosity in donating The Rocks ensures it can now be enjoyed by the public, from verdant summers to winter wonderlands.
When it comes to the treasured seasonal tradition of choosing a Christmas tree, no other place does it like The Rocks Estate. Select from a radiant array of perfectly shaped trees already prepared, or wander the farm until you find the tree that’s meant for you. As it’s being felled and bundled, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and roast marshmallows over an open fire while you wait, or amble down trails through the wood and take a carriage-ride drawn by horses bedecked in jingle bells. You might wonder if you’ve been magically transported into a Norman Rockwell painting, but this picturesque place is a real life example of just how lovely life can be.
Whether it’s the scent of pine or the sound of crunching snow, this time of winter at The Rocks Estate shines as brightly as those twinkling lights of a tree. A walk amongst the sparkling branches, along the snowy paths, and you’ll realize you’re walking with the same Christmas magic as someone did a hundred years ago – and that the same hope, joy, and light of the season still shines just as bright.