John Milton Hay
Born in 1838, son of a rural Illinois doctor, Hay graduated from Brown University and at age twenty-two was chosen as private secretary to Abraham Lincoln. He went on to serve as ambassador to Great Britain and served as Secretary of State under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
The Fells, named after Hay's ancestral Scotland, is situated on a hillside in Newbury, NH and overlooks scenic Lake Sunapee. It was on these shores that John and his wife, Clara Louise Stone, sought refuge from public life and in 1888 Hay quietly began acquiring abandoned farms that would eventually total nearly 1,000 acres.
In 1889 John and Clara hired architect George F. Hammond to design the Colonial Revival, gambrel-roofed structure that reflected the prevailing summerhouse style of the time. Construction was completed in 1892 and was followed by a renovation in 1897. Clara had a garden of roses and hydrangeas, but the lawn was still littered with boulders left from the ice-age, and sheep grazed nearby. When John Hay died at The Fells in 1905 the property passed to his son Clarence.
From 1906 through the 1930s, Clarence Hay and his wife, Alice Appleton Hay, transformed The Fells into an exceptional American estate and working farm. They remodeled the cottage into a stately country home and undeterred by the encroaching pines and boulder-strewn fields of Newbury, the Hays transformed sheep pasture into terraced lawns and formal gardens.
The Fells served as a summer retreat for three generations of the Hay family, each generation leaving behind its own special legacy in either history, horticulture or ecology. Experiencing the connections between this landscape’s diverse elements is often the visitor’s strongest memory.