Charles Elliot Tilton was born on September 14, 1827 in the town of Sanbornton Bridge. He attended local public schools, as well as Sanbornton Academy on the site of the present Tilton School. He made his fortune operating a branch of the family hardware business in California during the Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s. Tilton returned to New Hampshire in 1856 to marry, build a home and have a family. In 1861 he began construction on the house which he named “The Terraces,” now the Charles E. Tilton Mansion, which houses the Lucian Hunt Library and the Daly Arts Center at Tilton School.
Completed in 1864, the original house was the present mansard roofed, three story main block, with a one story front porch. In the late 1870s, the house was enlarged by the addition of the west and east wings, both containing two-story high rooms, the drawing room to the west, and the aviary/conservatory to the east. By 1884, a second story was added to the porch, and eventually the verandah was extended to embrace the wings. The mansion overall represents an eclectic style with elements of classical, Italian and Victorian influence.
The room that now serves as a casual reading room, housing the library's newspaper and magazine collection, was once a two story high aviary built for Tilton's daughter Myra. The room was filled with palm trees and other exotic plants, featured a fountain, and served as a home for several birds. Later the room was remodeled and divided into upper and lower stories. The lower story became the dining room and the upper story a nursery for Charles, Jr. and every other Tilton born in the mansion thereafter. The old dining room later became a billiard room where men took shots within inches of large china closets.
The west wing of the building served as a massive, two-story drawing room. Tilton personally selected 7,500 feet of South American mahogany for the room's elaborate wainscoting and for the ornate pilasters which spring from the floor on either side of the room and meet in the ceiling above.
The wood divides the room into square or oblong panels which were hand decorated in floral designs of a stylized geometric form. The focal point of the room is its large Tudor fireplace rising 22 feet to the ceiling.
The mansion was the site of receptions for many of the day's celebrities, including Civil War Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, and even President Benjamin Harrison on a spring day in 1891. The Tilton children took long slides down the mansion's mahogany banisters and played many ping pong games in the drawing room- which was also the site of 20-foot Christmas trees.
Charles Tilton contributed much more to the architecture of the town of Tilton – he built the wrought-iron footbridge to the island in the Winnipesaukee River directly below the mansion, and put trees, fountains, walking paths and statues, and a Pagoda-like summer house on the island. He built the town hall on the corner of Main and School Streets, and in 1879 convinced the village to secede from the town of Sanbornton and name itself after his family. He constructed the elaborate Tilton Arch as a focal point for his mansion, on a hill across the river in Northfield. The Arch, inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome, rises 55 feet from a gigantic 40-foot-wide granite base. Beneath the Arch is a tomb which was supposed to be Tilton's final resting place (although he was finally buried in the Park Cemetery in Tilton). Sprawling on top of the tomb is a 40-ton Numidian lion carved from Scotch granite.
Charles Elliot Tilton died in 1901, leaving The Terraces to his son, Charles Elliott Tilton II, for whom the Tilton School Athletic Fields are named.
The house was sold by the Tilton heirs to Dr. and Mrs. Charles Powers in 1952, who operated it for several years as a boarding house. The Powers, in turn, sold the house and its accompanying six acres for $60,000 to Tilton School in 1962. The school library, which had previously been housed in several rooms in Plimpton Hall, was moved to the mansion at that time. For a time in the late 1960's the third floor bedrooms were used to house students. The Mansion was accepted for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. During the 1980's the Trustees contracted restoration specialists to repair the damaged ceilings, plaster moldings and the porches. The barn was also renovated at that time to house the school's Daly Arts Center.
Didsbury, Kendall. In the Shadow of the Tower Clock. Tilton School, 1988.
The Tilton Review, Summer 1975.
Whitehead, Mary. The Terraces: The House that Charles Tilton Built. Concord Monitor, January 21, 1983.