I am not sure why we torture ourselves and visit exquisite mansions; neither of us has a job that pays that well, and every time the lotto is played, our numbers never come up. Yet, these mansions are the top destination for Charlene and me.
It can be easy to pretend to be fabulously wealthy enough to own a summer home. With a tiny more effort, we can imagine owning five homes. This was the situation for the original owners of Sonnenberg. It was one of five houses owned by Frederick Thompson and his wife.
This home was the favourite of Mary Clark Thompson, who had outlived her husband, who founded what is currently known as Citibank. She loved her gardens and had a large herd of deer in the one corner of this expansive estate. Gardening was her passion, and in her life, she allowed regular folk like my missus and me onto the grounds to admire the sculpted beauty of her gardens. A lover of the arts, many of the items she collected is now in the Smithsonian. In its heyday, Sonnenberg had to be one of the most beautiful places around.
Sonnenberg changed hands a few times, mainly with various levels of government. Today, it is a State Historic Park that a dedicated group of volunteers runs. Although probably not as picturesque as the original, these volunteers are working hard to improve the grounds to their intended state. The most extensive plan currently at hand is to fix the underground watering system to bring back the fountains and ponds. This would be a significant addition to what is already a stunning location.
When we first arrived, we walked through the greenhouse and were able to see varieties of orchids that we had never witnessed before. We followed the path out and walked the grounds seeing the Japanese, Italian, rose, “old fashion,” and rock gardens. My favourite was the rock garden which reminded me of many of the hikes my wife and I have taken. There was the option to take a tour with a guide on a golf cart, but we like exploring each nook and cranny of the grounds that the cart did not go.
Finally, we walked into the mansion. Two of the three floors are open to the public. Much of the original furnishings were given or sold after the death of Mrs. Thompson, but there is an effort by the volunteers to bring as much back from that period to make it as authentic-looking as possible. With the grounds, the gardens and being inside the mansion, it was easy to understand why this was the favourite home of the Thompsons. We slowly travelled from one room to another, marvelling at the decorations and wondering what this place would have looked like with all the statuary that was once here.
We left impressed. We left appreciating the work of the volunteers in maintaining the gardens and the upkeep of the home. Although we will never likely be wealthy enough to own a home of this grandeur, it is something we like to dream. Someday, maybe one day, we will have a rock garden like Sonnenberg and add elements from all the other places we have seen.
A bit of escapism.
But isn’t that what travel is all about?