After five of us spent a couple of days together in the house fixing Thanksgiving dinner, getting errands done, doing a little Black Friday shopping, we were ready to do something different. Grey Towers, the Gifford Pinchot House, is in nearby Milford. They were having an open house with self-guided tours, in anticipation of the arrival of the National Christmas tree that was going to make a stop at Grey Towers on its way to the Capitol Building in Washington. This sounded like just the thing, so we all piled in my car in the sub-40-degree weather, all bundled up, and headed to Grey Towers. Vanessa took this photo of Kirsty, me, Rachel and David. If we look like we’re huddling together, we are — it was freezing!!
Milford’s claim to fame as the home of the American conservation movement, is thanks to James Pinchot who endowed the Yale School of Forestry, the first graduate program of its kind in the US. It was his way of atoning for the damage that was done to the environment from industries that were dependent on the forest. He made his fortune in wallpaper. James built Grey Towers when he returned to Milford where he was raised. While he was famous in his own right, it was his son Gifford who put Milford and Grey Towers on the national map. One of the rooms, in fact, is devoted to political cartoons that include both Gifford and Theodore Roosevelt. Gifford was Governor of Pennsylvania and his wife, Cornelia, an early women’s rights activist, ran for Congress three times. In 1963, the Pinchot family turned over the property to the US Forestry Service and John F. Kennedy visited Milford (which explains his photo in the Milford Diner!) to accept the property on its behalf. His speech is on film and is a stunning reminder of how far we have not come in protecting the environment for future generations. My friend Kim and I watched that film this summer — she was in tears by the time it ended and I was astonished at how on point his message is today!
Back to the visit and the tree. The tree was supposed to arrive at around 4:30. Kirsty, Dave and Vanessa took beautiful photos of the house and grounds and then we all went to the pavilion for hot chocolate and cookies, courtesy of a local historic preservation group. Forest Service staff encouraged all to wait for the tree which was slightly delayed. By about 5:00, we were very cold and tired of waiting (as were about a hundred other people), so we decided to leave and go into Milford to see Potter Dave at Bluestone Studios. In a way we regretted not staying to see the tree, but found a way to cope with antipasto from Fretta’s Italian Deli and chianti.
The postscript to all this is that, according to the Pike County Dispatch, the tree never made it to Grey Towers because it couldn’t get up the winding, hilly road. It didn’t arrive until after 6:30 PM and most people had left at that point anyway. So, we didn’t get to see the National Tree, but we did have a wonderful time learning about Grey Towers and spending a day together, each of us taking from the home and story behind it what interested us most. A wonderful shared experience.