Once the nineteenth-century summer retreat of American statesman and author John Hay, the landscape was enhanced by his son Clarence Hay. A blend of formal and naturalistic gardens – including a perennial border, walled woodland garden, and large rock garden – complement the stunning beauty of the surrounding hills, lake, and forest. The Fells is now a regional center for conservation and horticultural education.
After quietly buying abandoned farms that eventually total nearly 1,000 acres, John Milton Hay, President Lincoln's private secretary and later Secretary of State under President's McKinley and Roosevelt, creates a summer estate in Newbury, New Hampshire. The main house is designed by the architect, George Hammond.
Hay's son Clarence and his wife Alice transform the large 35-room Colonial Revival cottage and, over the next 40 years, tend and nurture 15 acres of formal lawns, gardens, and surrounding woodland, creating a varied estate landscape of both natural and cultivated elements.
Clarence and Alice Hay deed 675 acres of the property to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which carves out hiking trails and institutes a year-round series of public programs. 30 years later, John Hay, son of Clarence and Alice, provides the funds to establish a conservation education program associated with the parcel.
Clarence Hay passes away.
Alice Hay passes away and the remaining 164 acres of the estate, including the buildings and gardens, is deeded to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and becomes the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge.
The Friends of the John Hay Wildlife Refuge forms as an advisory committee to advocate for the preservation of the buildings and grounds for educational purposes.
With the gardens in a state of disrepair, the State of New Hampshire asks the Garden Conservancy, in partnership with the Friends, to take on the day-to-day operations of the gardens and landscape and authorizes the Conservancy to manage the restoration and interpretation of the landscape.
The Friends incorporates and the Garden Conservancy and the State of New Hampshire turn over management responsibility to the Friends of the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge. The perennial border, rose terrace, rock garden, and Old Garden are revived through the efforts of our staff and volunteer gardeners.
The Fells is entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
84 acres of historic gardens, structures, and woodland are successfully transferred to The Fells, the nonprofit organization that has been managing the property for over a decade. The remaining 80 acres continue to be owned and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, while the Forest Society continues to manage its 675 acres of woodland.
For more information, visit thefells.org.